Sberbank-Backed FinTech Investment Fund Sees Blockchain Potential

Mircea MihaescuSBT Venture Capital, a $100m venture fund backed by Sberbank, the largest Russian bank, has suggested it is interested in bitcoin and blockchain innovations.

The statements, issued by SBT partner Mircea Mihaescu to online news source Roem.ru, stand in contrast to continued suggestions by government officials that the use of bitcoin will be formally outlawed this spring.

In the interview, Mihaescu was largely dismissive of legislation and regulation in general, stating his belief that laws often lag behind innovation, and as such, perhaps shouldn’t be a key concern for global entrepreneurs.

Still, Mihaescu suggested that SBT is interested in investments that impact the larger financial space, stating:

“We have our own interests here. We are not interested in stocks investments funds, buying bitcoins, etc. Rather we’re interested in fundamental changes that will affect the whole financial sector.”

Mihaescu went on to suggest he sees bitcoin’s open ledger as an innovation that could have such an impact.

“The current system where 10,000 banks are used to transfer funds can be replaced by the blockchain,” he noted.

SBT was launched in 2012 with $100m in backing, though it was said that this figure could rise to $700m over three years. The fund has expressed an interest in a wide range of verticals, including big data, cloud computing, mobile payments and online banking.

Mining critic

Though largely positive about the technology, Mihaescu did suggest that SBT may be more keen to invest in bitcoin alternatives.

For example, he spoke out against the concept of mining, likening the process by which new bitcoins are created to a bartering market. However, he balked at the idea that banning bitcoin would be an effective approach to handling the potential disruption caused by the technology.

“There is an opinion that cryptos are used by criminals, drug dealers. Do you know what they also use? Cash! Interesting, but no one is going to ban the cash money,” he said.

Further, he suggested that the larger innovations surrounding decentralization and elimination of third parties from the financial system “sound very promising”.

Bitcoin-friendly portfolio

While SBT has yet to invest in a Russia-based startup, the comments are suggestive of the evolving narrative surrounding bitcoin and blockchain solutions in the country. Government officials continue to suggest that the bitcoin ban will be passed this spring, a deadline originally set by the Ministry of Finance last year.

Since first announcing the proposed ban, Russia has seen many of its entrepreneurs relocate to more favorable jurisdictions, a development that has only accelerated as rhetoric worsened and proposed fines were introduced.

Still, individual members of major financial agencies such as the Bank of Russia have offered more positive comments.

SBT’s portfolio includes a number of bitcoin-friendly startups including risk management platform IdentityMind and social trading marketplace eToro, both of which serve customers in the bitcoin market.

Investment image via Shutterstock

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