When bitcoin first appeared a little over eight years ago, early adopters saw the potential to disrupt the big banks of the world.
It’s all there in the very first line of the abstract to the paper that introduced the cryptographically powered currency. “A purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution,” wrote bitcoin’s mysterious creator, Satoshi Nakamoto.
The new form of digital money attracted attention from fans of Occupy Wall Street and contrarian businesspeople alike, including Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne, who is perhaps known as much for his battles with Wall Street brokers as for his online retail success; in 2007, Overstock sued Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs over alleged stock market manipulation that Byrne claimed caused his company’s shares to drop.
But while big banks have generally avoided dealing in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, many have become quite taken with the underlying technology behind these alternative monetary systems: the digitally shared ledgers known as blockchains. In fact, within the past year or so, a Who’s Who list of the world’s largest banks—from