When Bitcoin fans were hoping for fast track adoption by the mainstream, catching the attention of the all-seeing eye of Sauron Goldman Sachs was probably low on their list of action items. Yet that is precisely what they got with the arrival of a Goldman Sachs board member M. Michele Burns, who recently joined the board of Boston-based Bitcoin payment processing system startup Circle Internet Financial.
As Fortune reports "Circle launched earlier this year, and was founded by Jeremy Allaire, who has led other Internet start-ups, but recently has become a Bitcoin evangelist. The company got $9 million in funding from a number of venture capitalist firms. Jim Breyer, a partner at Accel and an early backer of Facebook (FB), is also on Circle's board, as is Raj Date, who recently left a top post at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Circle declined to comment about Burns. Two sources with knowledge of her move confirmed it."
Perhaps of same or greater importance is that in addition to being the chair of the audit committee at the preeminent FDIC-backed hedge fund, Burns also was a board member of the largest retailer in the world, Walmart (WMT accepting BTC?), and is currently on the board of the one company that is at the nexus of the Internet economy, Cisco (and which was punished furiously following Snowden's NSA-spying revelations after projected Chinese revenues imploded and that Cisco may or may not have been collaborating with the government in leaking private data).
In fact, when one considers that in the face of Burns, Circle's proximity to Bitcoin now allows no less than three of the preeminent companies of the old and new economy to keep a close eye on the digital currency and one must be either very excited about the future of BTC.... or very worried. Because if escape from the mainstream is the main target behind the Bitcoin movement, this could be problematic now that Goldman, Cisco and Walmart are all starting to sniff around.
Why a Bitcoin transaction processing company? Simple - these companies are the middlemen that will allow much broader acceptance of BTC by merchants. Consider this in the context of the recent announcement by Overstock that it would begin accepting Bitcoin by mid-2014:
Currently 12.1 million Bitcoin are in circulation, with a total value of about $8.8 billion. At this size, the value of Bitcoin can fluctuate violently based on actions by a few big investors or the Chinese government. This is a problem: If a retailer saves 3 percent on credit card transactions, but the value of Bitcoin loses 5 percent before the retailer can convert it back into dollars, the concept will quickly lose its luster.
Bitcoin-processing companies such as Bitpay and Coinbase take on this risk for merchants, offering to convert Bitcoin into U.S. dollars immediately. But they might not be able to handle that risk if any serious slice of Overstock’s transactions comes in Bitcoin, says Barry Silbert, the founder and chief executive of SecondMarket and an investor in both companies. “When you start talking to companies like Overstock or Amazon, they’d only be able to guarantee those rates to a certain transaction amount,” he says. Bitpay processed $100 million in transaction in 2013. “I think the system is going to expand as quickly as it needs to,” says Stephanie Yargo, the company’s vice president of marketing.
Well, maybe not Bitpay, but its competitors such as Circle might, especially if directly or indirectly backed by the balance sheet of, say, Goldman Sachs, especially if in some joint venture with Walmart. Because whereever the money is, either fiat or digital, one can be sure to find Goldman.
Finally, here is the full bio of the Goldman and Cisco, and now Circle, director:
M. Michele Burns
Director Since: October 2011
Committees: Chair, Audit Committee; member of all other standing committees
Other Current Public Company Directorships: Cisco Systems, Inc.
Other Public Company Directorships within past 5 years: Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
Chief Executive Officer, Retirement Policy Center, sponsored by Marsh & McLennan Companies, Inc. (MMC); Center focuses on retirement public policy issues (October 2011 - Present); Center Fellow and Strategic Advisor, Stanford University Center on Longevity (August 2012 - Present)
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Mercer LLC, a subsidiary of MMC and a global leader in human resource consulting, outsourcing and investment services (September 2006 – early October 2011)
Chief Financial Officer, MMC, a global professional services and consulting firm (March 2006 – September 2006)
Chief Financial Officer, Chief Restructuring Officer and Executive Vice President, Mirant Corporation, a competitive energy company (May 2004 – January 2006)
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Delta Air Lines, Inc., an air carrier, which filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code in September 2005 (including various other positions, 1999 – April 2004)
Senior Partner and Leader, Southern Regional Tax Practice, Arthur Andersen LLP, an accounting firm (including various other positions, 1981 –1999)
Other Professional Experience and Community Involvement
Board member and Treasurer, Elton John AIDS Foundation
Experience and Qualifications
As the former Chief Financial Officer of several global public companies, Ms. Burns brings to our Board substantial expertise in accounting and the review and preparation of financial statements, which she draws upon as our Audit Committee Chair. In addition, as the former CEO of Mercer LLC, Ms. Burns brings to our Board her experience in human capital management and strategic consulting, which assists our Board in its oversight of our firm’s strategy. Through her service on the boards of directors and board committees of other public companies and not-for-profit entities, Ms. Burns has developed additional leadership and corporate governance expertise.