Brazil’s Largest Private Bank Itau Unibanco Launches Bitcoin Trading

Brazil’s financial landscape witnessed a seismic shift as Itaú Unibanco, the nation’s largest private bank, announced its foray into the world of cryptocurrency trading Monday, introducing a service that allows its customers to engage in buying and selling Bitcoin and Ether via its ion investment platform.

Marking a significant move for a traditional banking institution, Itau follows newer financial entities like Nubank and BTG Pactual, both of which have integrated such offerings for their clientele. 

Initially, Itaú’s customers will have access to trade in Bitcoin and ether, the primary cryptocurrency of the Ethereum network. However, the rollout of this service will be gradual, with selective access granted to customers registered with ion, contingent upon regulatory clarity.

Guto Antunes, head of Itaú Digital Assets, emphasized the bank’s cautious approach, highlighting that the custody of Bitcoin traded on ion would be managed by Itaú, ensuring asset segregation but withholding access to the private keys of the wallets from platform users.

Notably, he clarified that for the initial phase, external Bitcoin deposits into Itaú accounts and withdrawals to customers’ personal digital wallets will not be available.

Instead, the bank pledges the security of its balance sheet to safeguard invested amounts, likening it to the security customers experience when their money remains in a traditional bank account.

Elsewhere, Antunes shed light on Itaú’s focus on attracting new customers by offering opportunities in Bitcoin. “We are in a generation that grows up and uses banking in a tokenized way,” he said.

Though the move is a significant step, it’s one that showcases how traditional banks still equate Bitcoin and cryptocurrency, with the bank here giving no indication of the scrutiny centralized cryptocurrencies are under in the US and other jurisdictions.