Bitcoin slump belied by Circle’s hire of JP Morgan alum

Bitcoin is passé to many in the tech world these days, but Circle didn’t get the memo: the virtual currency firm is plowing ahead with its outsize ambitions to integrate virtual currency into the global banking system.

On Thursday, Circle announced the hiring of Paul Camp, a big name in finance circles to be its Chief Financial Officer. The move is significant since Camp’s resume includes building out the world’s biggest euro settlement platform at Deutsche Bank and, until July, running JP Morgan’s $3.4 billion transactions services shop, which provides payment infrastructure to banks and corporations.

The upshot is that a global finance bigwig thinks that bitcoin is ready for primetime — or, perhaps, that Circle paid him enough to make him believe that he does. After all, Camp’s arrival comes at a time when media buzz about bitcoin is flagging and, despite pretty new products from the likes of Circle and rival Coinbase, the currency seems as far from mainstream adoption as ever:

I spoke to Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire this week, and asked him if he feared that the company would burn through its cash before bitcoin ever gets off the ground. After all, hiring people like Camp doesn’t come cheap, and nor does paying white shoe law firms to navigate the currency’s ongoing regulatory morass. Meanwhile, Circle and the others have little to speak of on the revenue side — and don’t forget the price of bitcoin itself is barely a quarter of what it was year ago.

Allaire, however, was totally unfazed by such skepticism and reiterated his long-held position that he’s playing a long game in which bitcoin, and the public ledger potential of the blockchain, will find a place in global finance. He also disagreed that bitcoin is in a rut.

“It definitely doesn’t feel like we’re in a holding pattern. We’re seeing an incredible amount of acceleration in products and capital,” he said, adding that objecting to the slow adoption, “is like complaining about the first web browser in 1994.”

Allaire likes to make that point frequently, in part because he was deeply involved in building early http protocol in the 1990’s. He sees the bitcoin protocol mapping the same sort of development course, and eventually becoming a mainstream financial fixture.

Still, it would be helpful to know more about how bitcoin is going to get traction in the big leagues. Allaire didn’t provide too many details, but he did suggest that Camp, Circle’s new hire, would be working his deep ties among bankers and regulators to bring bitcoin inside the mainstream financial fold. He also referred several times to “core transaction platforms,” perhaps suggesting the end game for Circle is to introduce a bitcoin-style verification process as a cheaper alternative to what is now used by global clearing houses.

This is just speculation but, even if Circle got just a foothold in one of the settlement platforms used by global banks, the sheer amount of money that washes through them would make the whole gambit worthwhile.

As for consumers, who remain oblivious as ever to what bitcoin is all about, that may not matter in the end. In Allaire’s vision, consumers in the future will carry on using dollars or whatever local currency they know — even as bitcoin does its work on the backend.

Finally, as to the existential (for some) question of whether bitcoin the currency must remain an intrinsic feature of the blockchain’s ledger function, Allaire said yes, since the “underlying units of the ledger need to have value to facilitate value through it.”