Community bank enlists Coinbase, SAP to offer crypto

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Vast Bank now lets customers buy cryptocurrency from their bank accounts — a feature more commonly associated with third-party payment apps like PayPal and Square.

Through a partnership with Coinbase, the community bank, which is based in Tulsa, Okla., and has $744 million of assets, is joining a handful of others that are seeking to meet the needs of customers who are interested in buying cryptocurrency through a regulated institution.

There’s clear demand for making crypto easier to obtain. Quontic Bank began offering bitcoin rewards on checking last year by working with the fintech NYDIG. And Square, which added bitcoin trading to its Cash App in 2018, earned $32 million in third-quarter 2020 gross profit from bitcoin alone, or 15 times more than it earned a year earlier.

In July, when he was still running the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Brian Brooks gave banks permission to handle cryptocurrency on their customers’ behalf, by providing custody and other services.

“We are the first national bank to have a seamless on-off ramp between U.S. dollar and bitcoin,” says Brad Scrivner, CEO of Vast Bank.

Around that time, Vast Bank started working with the OCC’s Office of Innovation on its crypto initiative. The bank is creating a user interface in which customers will be able to see their traditional account balances and cryptocurrency accounts side by side.

“We saw lots of changes with consumer preference and massive technology and regulatory changes,” said Brad Scrivner, the bank’s CEO. “And customers have choices in other industries that they didn’t have in the financial services industry.”

Cryptocurrency had been on the bank’s roadmap for a long time, but Brooks’ July announcement enabled it to move forward with its partnerships with Coinbase and another fintech the bank can’t yet name.

With this crypto product, announced Wednesday, Vast is targeting high-net-worth individuals and institutions.

“There’s roughly a trillion dollars in crypto,” Scrivner said. “It’s something that people are working on. In the crypto industry, many people believe that having a trusted, regulated financial institution involved will increase the adoption.”

Also, as so many others have observed in recent days, institutional investor money is flowing into cryptocurrency.

“We believe there’s a market, but fundamentally, what we believe in is putting the customer in control of their choices,” Scrivner said. “If customers want to buy bitcoins and store it in the bank, they can at Vast.”

Coinbase was a logical partner choice because it has so much of the digital wallet market, he said.

Scrivner credits SAP with providing the technology that let Vast Bank integrate with Coinbase. Vast Bank was the first national bank in the U.S. to implement SAP’s core banking system in 2018, when the bank was still called Valley National Bank.

At the time, the bank’s leadership wanted to put a more modern platform in place that would allow it to adapt to changing consumer preferences. SAP says its software is open and easily connects to other systems through application programming interfaces.