Fortune

WALL STREET’S POWER COUPLE TAKE ON BITCOIN

Intercontinental Exchange CEO Jeff Sprecher has revolutionized electronic trading and revitalized the NYSE. Now he and a key ICE exec—who happens to be his wife—are launching a startup to bring cryptocurrencies to your 401(k). Are crypto credit cards next?
DYNAMIC DUO Jeff Sprecher and Kelly Loeffler at ICE headquarters in Atlanta.

Jeff Sprecher is explaining his radical plan to help Bitcoin break through as a mainstream currency—and making it sound surprisingly simple. As the CEO and chairman of trading colossus Intercontinental Exchange, he has already revolutionized the world of electronic marketplaces and revitalized the New York Stock Exchange, which he acquired in 2013. Now he intends to add to his legacy by addressing problems with cryptocurrencies that have limited their adoption thus far.

As he talks, Sprecher is sitting with his wife and business partner Kelly Loeffler in the plush Bond Room of the NYSE, its walls festooned with framed bond certificates chronicling the great railway and infrastructure financing that built America. The setting is appropriate, because Sprecher believes Wall Street’s acceptance is just what Bitcoin needs. “We’re planning to give Bitcoin the same protections the big banks and money managers provide in trading stocks and bonds in venues like the NYSE,” he says. “Once that happens, Bitcoin could be on its way to changing the world.”

The conversation would turn out to be the first in a series of exclusive interviews that Sprecher and Loeffler gave to Fortune over the spring and summer as they formalized their strategy to make Bitcoin a safe and easy-to-access asset for the masses.

Sprecher and Loeffler went public with their Bitcoin blueprint in early August, when ICE announced that it is forming a startup called Bakkt. The new venture, which is expected to launch in November, will offer a federally regulated market for Bitcoin—as we’ll see, a key factor in creating scale. According to Loeffler, ICE and its partners have been “building the factory” that will power Bakkt in the strictest secrecy for well over a year. The name of the company is a play on “backed,” as in “asset-backed securities,” and it’s meant to evoke a highly trusted investment.

To build Bakkt, ICE is partnering with some of America’s leading companies: Microsoft, Boston Consulting Group, and Starbucks. ICE isn’t yet disclosing the total investment of the partners—a group that also includes Fortress Investment Group, Eagle Seven, Susquehanna International Group, and others—or the ownership stakes.

The founding imperative for the startup will be to make Bitcoin a sound and secure offering for key constituents that now mostly shun it—the world’s big financial institutions. Doing so, believes Sprecher, will clear the way for major money managers to offer Bitcoin in mutual funds and ETFs.

If the Bakkt blueprint works as planned, a panoply of new Bitcoin funds will tap pent-up demand for the cryptocurrency, making it a safe and easy choice for everyday investors—notably millennials getting their first 401(k)s. Wall Street could then tap Bitcoin’s popularity to generate giant trading volumes.

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