If regional banks such as the Greek Piraeus Bank are cracking on cryptocurrencies in 2017/18 it is most likely that international-scale banking institutions were already holding on to some precious Bitcoin, even at the time when they practically ‘barked’ at it, saying to financial consumers that cryptocurrencies are ‘dangerous’ if not volatile, and should be avoided at all costs.
Did the banks acted in such a way to protect us, or it was simply the best period time-wise for them to invest in crypto, even if it was ‘under-the-table’, we’re going to find out in this article.
Piraeus Bank’s stance against crypto
The Greek commercial bank which operates in the broader Balkan and Mediterranean area, central Europe, and Asia, is one of the largest domestic banks in Greece, and probably the largest investment bank in the country.
Back in 2017, Piraeus’ issued debit cards which offered the most efficient way to buy cryptocurrencies off brokers of the likes of Coinbase, for Greek crypto enthusiasts.
Now, we all know that 2017 was a hell-of-a-year adoption-wise, considering that most cryptocurrencies hit their respective all-time-highs by the end of the year, and through Q1 2018.
Since the majority of Greek investors used Piraeus banking accounts to access the crypto domain, the banking institution was able to accumulate a large pouch of financial behavioral data from its customers.
In early 2018, Piraeus Bank seizes the ability to purchase cryptocurrencies through their network, following other major commercial and central banks on the matter.
The scientific meeting held at a Piraeus conference center that was all about blockchain
Later in 2018, the Alexandre Technical Institute of Thessaloniki in association with the IEEE, organized a ‘scientific meeting’ in Greece’s second-largest city, more specifically at a Piraeus safe-house, that was used for diplomatic events and government-level meetings.
The topic of the conference was dubbed as “The digital future of Europe and Greece: security and cybersecurity challenges”, and while nothing is mentioned about blockchain, most of the speakers, attendees, and organizers would spill the term prior to the event, as the DLT community in Greece is very pact.
Among high-profile IoT and cybersecurity experts, you could find government Ministers, and EU Parliament members speaking at the event, with Eva Kaili being the highlight of the day.
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While some of the speakers mentioned DLTs and blockchain’s role in cybersecurity in a shy matter, Mrs. Kaili, who is also the Head of the Hellenic S&D Delegation, Chair STOA Scientific Foresight Unit & Science Media Hub, Chair DNAT of NATO, Co-Chair Future Council, focused strictly on blockchain technology, attracting all the ears, and eyes in the room.
According to Kaili, blockchain technology is not only necessary for evolution but unavoidable and soon enough a mandatory step in order to get to that next level we’re all talking about.
Kaili believes that blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies will be adopted not because people will understand how or why Bitcoin works, but when they will be able to pay for their coffee using their phones, thinking nothing more about how the transaction is performed, what DLT the app utilizes, or where is the chain stored?
Similar to the SWIFT system underlying credit cards, we just swipe our cards to pay for the coffee thinking nothing about SWIFT, how it works, where is it stored, what encryption it uses, etc.
Hearing Kaili, inspired me to pay a visit at Piraeus Bank, more specifically at their brand new e-branch downtown at Tsimiski Street in Thessaloniki, where the bank showcased how future Piraeus branches will look like.
Despite the fact that everything from the doors, ATMs, and the intercom were subject to your Piraeus card to operate, there was minimum personnel, and none of them was a cashier or a desk representative.
Instead, the personnel available were a couple of young people, who were dressed casually, sat on a lobby-like installment in the middle of the branch, and asked you to join them for a brief chat to help you understand the future of Piraeus bank(s).
In case you were new in the e-branch, some personnel would navigate you through all the different smart machines and computers, showcasing how you could send money just by talking to a Skype-like session, without any buttons or documents – just with your card, id credentials, and face-recognition AI.
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This really inspired me, as it looked like Greek banks went from a 60s nursing-home-like design to a more modern and futuristic cyberpunk aesthetic. Not only that but among the young personnel, I could spot a classmate of mine, who I instantly approached and bombed with questions about the bank and of course, about cryptocurrencies.
In the beginning, my classmate, who asked not to be named after what follows, was very diplomatic and keeping a typical employee/customer stance, telling me that cryptocurrencies were considered as volatile and therefore the bank decided to seize any outbound transactions that were targetting crypto-related businesses such as Coinbase in my case.
I asked him several times: “isn’t that my money?”, and he categorematically replied “Yes! of course”, following up asking me: “why you wanna spend them at that particular shop? Try buying a pair of new shoes, or a new smartphone, and you’ll see that your card works just fine”.
I kept insisting on the fact that if this money is really mine, I should be able to spend them the way I see fit, especially when people are allowed to spend their hard-earned money on fixed gambling sites. I just couldn’t see the reason why cryptocurrencies were ‘banned’ in such a disrespectful way.
After a couple of minutes, he joined me on my way out, and we shared a smoke just outside the Piraeus e-branch.
Feeling more relaxed, my former classmate told me almost whispering that Piraeus has a 5-year plan to transform all their stores into e-branches similar to the present one. By that time, and considering that customers will be more familiar to perform their banking tasks without the help of young ‘banking escort’, all e-branches will be machine-only, and maybe one or two human operators will be left in each store’s ‘backstage’ for internal operations, and emergency situations.
As for cryptos, he told me that the Coinbase ban might be most likely a temporal barrier, as Piraeus executives, traders, and investment officers, we’re cracking on cryptocurrencies, and more specifically on ETH since late 2017.
That was exactly the time when Ethereum (ETH) jumped from $300 per piece to its ATH of $1400 in a matter of months.
So while we all think nowadays that banks are against cryptocurrencies, well, at least public blockchain-powered digital currencies, and they’re aiming at their own centralized digital currencies, some banking institutions didn’t just ‘pass’ on the opportunity that was present during the big pump of 2017-18.
In my opinion, if Piraeus Bank was investing in ETH, even if under-the-table, I can’t even imagine how other major financial power-brokers were involved in the processes, despite the fact that they called it ‘volatile’ for the average customer.
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