Westpac Banking Corp said its venture capital fund had invested an undisclosed amount in U.S. bitcoin start-up Coinbase in the first such deal by an Australian bank in the largely unregulated virtual currency.
Westpac, Australia’s second largest bank by market value, said the investment would allow its Reinventure Group fund to monitor and gain insights into the use of cryptocurrencies.
Invented six years ago, bitcoin is not backed by or controlled by any government or central bank and its value fluctuates according to user demand.
Last year Mt. Gox, a Tokyo-based bitcoin exchange, was forced to file for bankruptcy after hackers stole an estimated $650 million worth of customer bitcoins.
The currency, however, is gaining supporters, including the British government which earlier this year said it would regulate digital currencies in a bid to become a global bitcoin hub.
Bitcoin has yet to gain legitimacy in Australia, where a top law enforcement agency last December said it was investigating the currency’s role in organised crime.