Bakkt Is Scheduled to Start Testing Its Bitcoin Futures Contracts Today

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Bitcoin futures platform Bakkt is scheduled to begin testing its new contracts Monday.

Nearly a year since revealing its ambitious vision, Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) is still waiting on regulatory approvals to take the platform live. Still, despite having to delay its new market multiple times, the parent of the New York Stock Exchange is moving forward with plans to offer potentially the first physically-settled bitcoin futures in the U.S.

Bakkt announced in May that it would begin testing its bitcoin futures contracts in July, later firming up a July 22 test date.

It will apparently be testing two different types of contracts Monday: a daily and a monthly contract. Bakkt aims to list the futures, which would be traded through ICE Futures U.S. and cleared through ICE Clear U.S., the parent company’s clearinghouse.

It is unclear what specifically will be involved in the testing process. Bakkt did not reply to multiple requests for comment.

The company plans to offer U.S. traders access to physically-settled bitcoin futures contracts, which differ from the cash-settled futures contracts that Chicago exchanges CME and Cboe offered starting at the end of 2017. With cash-settled contracts, traders receive the cash equivalent to the contract’s value when it expires, while with a physically-settled contract they receive the actual underlying commodity – in this case, bitcoin.

Bakkt hopes to draw fresh institutional funding to the bitcoin ecosystem with its regulated product, which may attract investors wary of the broader market.

Launch delays

Bakkt initially announced a December 2018 launch date, before delaying to January 2019. The company announced another, indefinite delay later as it continued working with regulators to secure the necessary approvals to launch.

While Bakkt was initially said to have asked the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to approve its new product, Bakkt announced in May that it had filed to self-certify the contracts instead.

Under a self-certification process, a company essentially verifies for the CFTC that its futures contracts fulfill all legal requirements. The CFTC can review this certification, but unless there are any legal or regulatory violations, it cannot stop the product from moving forward.

While Bakkt has self-certified its contracts, it cannot launch the product until it secures a trust company charter through the New York Department of Financial Services. It is unclear if Bakkt has also applied for one of New York’s signature BitLicenses.

Bakkt isn’t alone in trying to launch the first physically-settled bitcoin futures contracts in the U.S.: LedgerX and ErisX have both recently received CFTC approvals to offer their own such product. Neither company has yet announced a firm timeline for when they might launch.

Separately, Seed CX wants to launch forwards contracts, though it is waiting on regulatory approval.

CoinDesk’s Michael Casey, Bakkt CEO Kelly Loeffler and ICE CEO Jeff Sprecher at Consensus: Invest 2018, image via CoinDesk archives