It sounds like a line from Mission Impossible. “Our coins are kept on a server in a former Swiss military base that’s built into a mountainside. To access it, three different passwords have to be entered at three different locations around the world at the same time.”
That’s the kind of safeguarding it took to convince the B.C. Securities Commission to let Marc van der Chijs and his business partner, Sean Clark, launch Canada’s first cryptocurrency investment fund last fall. “First, we educated them about Bitcoin,” van der Chijs says. “Then we explained our custodianship of our investments.”
Their fund, FBC Bitcoin Trust, is now registered in both B.C. and Ontario. It allows wealthy individuals to easily buy into Bitcoin as though it’s a commodity like gold. Requiring a minimum investment of $10,000, it has so far attracted $30 million.
Van der Chijs, who made his original fortune founding a YouTube-like website in China, caught the Bitcoin bug back in 2013 after the Cyprus banking crisis froze several of his accounts. “I realized that money is at risk in a bank — it isn’t really yours.” At first, Bitcoin seemed too far-fetched as an alternative. “But as I started to understand what blockchain really is — the most secure way of storing data — I saw how it can really change the internet as we shift from physical to digital assets.” After investing early, he’s now earned “enough to buy a few nice sports cars.”
As a Bitcoin evangelist with serious business credentials, van der Chijs is part of a growing group. In January, he made his way to Miami for the city’s annual Bitcoin conference. “For the first time ever, there were people in suits there,” he reports. “Ties, even.”
That corporate attire is a sign of the times. Once at odds with the traditional financial industry, cryptocurrency is now attracting its attention. “Banks may still be wary, but their wealthy clients want in,” says van der Chijs. His firm, First Block Capital, is here to help.
“Buying Bitcoin is still quite hard. We want to open it up,” he explains. “And we’re regulated, so we’re not going to run away with your money.”
While van der Chijs cautions his clients not to invest more than 1–5 per cent of their net worth in cryptocurrency, he’s optimistic about the market. “I still see Bitcoin hitting $40,000 this year,” he says. “Demand is exploding, and supply is fixed. There’s no other way it can go.”