Amid debate in Australia surrounding the banking sector’s relationship with cryptocurrency, the country’s largest bank, Commonwealth Bank, will soon be allowing customers to buy, sell and hold crypto assets directly through its app — making it the first bank in the country to do so.

Fast facts

  • Partnering with leading global crypto exchange and custodian Gemini and leading blockchain analysis firm Chainalysis, the pilot program will begin in the coming weeks by offering customers access to 10 cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin, Ether, Bitcoin Cash and Litecoin. Further features are expected to be released throughout 2022. New York-based Gemini will provide its expertise in integrating the crypto wallet into the existing CommBank app, while Chainalysis will assist the bank to monitor and mitigate any illegal activity that may occur on crypto exchanges.  
  • “It just shows that the industry is really maturing,” says Blake Cassidy, CEO of Australian microinvestments firm Bamboo. “There used to be a time not too long ago when we thought the banks saw crypto as competition, but now they’re embracing it. And that’s what’s really going to allow us to continue to innovate and grow this industry as bigger groups get involved and start to embrace it like we have for many years.”
  • Despite the move being widely regarded as a positive step for the Australian crypto industry, CommBank has received some criticism for partnering with international exchange Gemini, rather than a local one. However, Cassidy sees why the bank might have chosen to look overseas for the partnership.
  • “First of all, big kudos to Gemini. They’re building the infrastructure of tomorrow to allow all financial institutions to be able to offer their customers products,” he said. “So, it’s obviously working; they’re positioned well and they’re getting massive banks using their services. Second, I just don’t think we have that infrastructure or the maturity in our industry here yet.”
  • The move follows the release of a Senate committee report that examined, among other things, the issue of the de-banking of many crypto businesses in the country by the Australian banking sector — including CommBank. The report recommended the Australian government develop clear processes for businesses that have been de-banked that should be anchored around the Australian Financial Complaints Authority. This recommendation echoed the position of committee chairman Senator Andrew Bragg, who maintained throughout the reporting process that while de-banking was a serious issue in the country, it should not be up to the government to tell banks whom they should do business with.
  • Forkast.News recently reported on former Australian crypto-business owner Allan Flynn who brought charges against two of Australia’s “Big Four” banks, ANZ and Westpac, for de-banking his business Canberra Bitcoin multiple times between 2017 and 2019. At press time, ANZ had settled its case and the three-day tribunal with Westpac had just been concluded, though no decision has yet been handed down.