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Grayscale Investments, which makes cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin available to investors in the form of shares, announced Thursday that longtime managing director Michael Sonnenshein has assumed the post of chief executive.
The move comes amid a remarkable bull run for cryptocurrencies that has seen Bitcoin eclipse $35,000 this week. The sudden rise has helped Grayscale grow from $2 billion in assets under management at the start of 2020 to more than $20 billion today.
‘The Pimco of crypto’
Grayscale has carved out a lucrative niche for itself by packaging cryptocurrencies as shares in a trust, and then selling those shares to wealthy individuals and institutions, some of which face legal obstacles to holding crypto directly. Those who purchase shares in the trust can sell them to the general public at a later date, often for a healthy markup.
In recent years, Sonnenshein has played a pivotal role in bringing in new investors and expanding Grayscale’s offering from a single Bitcoin trust to 10 different offerings. In an interview with Fortune, Sonnenshein said he plans to introduce more new products in the coming year and to further establish Grayscale as a brand.
“I want to make Grayscale synonymous with digital investing like Pimco is with fixed income and Vanguard is with index funds,” he said.
Grayscale has gained attention in the past year owing to a national TV advertising campaign that encouraged investors to “drop gold” in favor of Bitcoin. The company has also found special transaction with millennials. According to a 2019 survey by Charles Schwab, Grayscale’s Bitcoin trust was among that group’s five most popular stock choices, ahead of familiar names like Netflix.
The Coinbase question
Sonnenshein’s ascendance to the top role at Grayscale is notable in part because his background is in traditional finance. He began his career at investment bank J.P. Morgan, which stands in contrast to many other influential figures in the crypto world, who came up in Silicon Valley or hacker circles.
Sonnenshein takes over the CEO role from Barry Silbert, the founder of Grayscale. Silbert will continue to preside over Grayscale’s parent company, Digital Currency Group (DCG), a sprawling conglomerate whose other properties include the media venture CoinDesk and a new crypto mining firm called Foundry.
Silbert said he is passing the Grayscale CEO role to Sonnenshein in part because of the rapid growth at both Grayscale and DCG, which, he said, will be announcing another new subsidiary in the near future. He also predicted an eventful 2021 for crypto.
“All eyes are on the Coinbase IPO, which will result in the repricing of many companies in the space, and accelerate M&A,” said Silbert, referring to the recent announcement by Coinbase, America’s biggest cryptocurrency exchange, that it will go public.
It’s unclear how much longer the current bull market, which has seen the price of Bitcoin increase more than fivefold since March, can continue. The crypto market has imploded spectacularly several times in the past—most recently in 2018—and is currently facing fresh scrutiny from U.S. regulators.
Sonnenshein said he is not fazed by the prospect of price or regulatory turmoil, noting that Grayscale has weathered such events in the past. He predicted the current rally could gain further momentum in 2021 as more large companies look to add cryptocurrencies to their balance sheets.
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