Written by Andrew Seale
Bitcoin’s arrival changed the way a lot of people thought about the future of currency. The concept felt new somehow, a decentralized digital currency – the first of its kind – independent of a central administrator or repository; instead created as a reward for mining, a process where computer power and time are leveraged to verify pre-existing transactions and generate encrypted “blocks” as part of a blockchain.
The end result is Bitcoin, an innovative digital cryptocurrency and payment system that is complicated to mine and nearly impossible to fake. But despite it’s futuristic approach, it’s not so different from the currency we’ve toyed with for the past 5,000 years: gold.
And that insight is what spurred Josh Crumb to co-found Goldmoney (originally launched as BitGold) – a gold-based payments and savings platform for acquiring, storing and spending gold that is stored in a secure vault.
“Bitcoin was very interesting both as technology and business model… anybody in the world could send a bitcoin and it’s the same,” says Crumb. “When we saw that you could use this for: cross-border micro-transactions on the internet, paywalls or exchanging e-commerce goods online without the restriction of the banking system – that all sounded great.”
But it also sounded a lot like gold, which Crumb was quite intimate with as head of metal strategy at Goldman Sachs in London.
“We thought; it’s really interesting that you’ve got all of this innovation and all these start ups building around bitcoin,” he says adding that bitcoin was at a $5 billion market cap at the time. “Whereas gold is a $7 trillion market.”
So, in 2014, they brought the concept to the gold market, launching BitGold. He and co-founder Roy Sebag, brought on Alessandro Premoli to design a platform as CTO.
“What we wanted to build was something much more like PayPal or some of the Bitcoin wallets where everything’s online, automatic, fast, and you can also send payments with gold – not just longterm savings,” says Crumb.
They headquartered the company in Toronto and tapped the former head of PayPal Canada, Darell MacMullin to be chief operating officer. Shortly thereafter, they acquired Goldmoney.
“Goldmoney has been doing that for 15 years, really more focused on the storage and long term savings aspect of holding precious metals,” explains Crumb.
As home to most of the world’s biggest gold companies, Toronto felt like the right fit.
“There’s already capital markets and a financial market appreciation for gold and gold-focused companies… that is very different than even the US,” he says. “And then from a Canadian perspective, Toronto is one of the most efficient cities in the world in that you have all your banks, the exchanges, and the regulators here.”
And, from a global trust in gold, Toronto’s reputation made it known on the world stage.
“It’s very much like Switzerland or Singapore in that regard… Canada is known for being very open, having good trade relationships around the world, particularly Asia, and for having a sound financial system,” says Crumb. “This helps our credibility internationally.”
He lauds the city’s forward-thinking with regards to financial technology.
“Whether it’s payment or people – Canada is a bit ahead of the game,” he says. “The US is now 10… 15 years later trying to figure out chip and pin – we have a very tight banking system where 90 per cent of the Canadian banking is done on four blocks in downtown Toronto, it’s obviously a financial ecosystem that works very efficiently.”
It’s within this ecosystem that Goldmoney has grown into the world’s largest precious metals payment platform, safeguarding $1.9 billion in assets for clients located in more than 150 countries.
“Being able to works with banks and regulators, it’s not really an us versus them – that’s another thing that’s been very helpful in Toronto, having great relationships with has been crucial,” he says. “The general attitude towards fintech and being progressive in this area, Canada has really been a leader, so we’ve been fortunate for that.”