• Martin Bednall was previously co-head of iShares’ European ETP team and led FinEx Capital Management’s ETF business
  • BlackRock is “many years away” from launching a bitcoin ETF, says the former managing director

Jacobi Asset Management has named a new CEO with deep ETF experience as the firm is set to launch a first-of-its-kind product in Europe, with additional crypto funds in the works.

Former Goldman Sachs investment banker Jamie Khurshid has led London-based Jacobi since it launched in May 2021, and Martin Bednall will replace him as CEO on Aug. 1, the company revealed Thursday. Khurshid will become the chairman of the company’s board, and current chair Roy McGregor remains as a director at the firm.   

Bednall served as a managing director at BlackRock from 2000 to 2013, according to his LinkedIn profile. There, he was co-head of the iShares product team responsible for new exchange-traded product (ETP) development and management in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

More recently, Bednall led FinEx Capital Management’s ETF business, including portfolio management, capital markets, operations and product development.

The Jacobi Bitcoin ETF, the first such product in Europe, is set to launch on Euronext Amsterdam next month with a 1.5% annual management fee, and Bednall will help the firm expand its crypto fund slate. 

Bednall called ETFs the “go-to structure” for investors, arguing that they are superior to the exchange-traded notes (ETNs) currently on the European market. 

While ETNs are debt instruments that are typically collateralized by the underlying exposure, such as bitcoin, he told Blockworks, Jacobi’s ETF was approved by a regulator and holds bitcoin directly.

“You’re bringing the digital exposures but doing it in a way that investors are very comfortable with,” Bednall said. “If you put the time and the effort in, you get a better product, and that’s what Jacobi has.”

Regulatory process and future products

Jacobi’s upcoming bitcoin ETF product had received regulatory approval from the Guernsey Financial Services Commission last October, but it took months for the firm to find a place to list it.

Christopher Jehan, head of fund architecture and former chair of the Guernsey Investment & Funds Association, helped the bitcoin ETF meet regulatory standards. Several exchanges in the region “didn’t have the appetite” for the ETF, he told Blockworks. 

“Being the first thing of a kind, it is satisfying but it is always significantly more work and a lot more handholding than taking the well-traveled path,” Jehan added.

Jehan said he expects launching more crypto products will be a more “streamlined” process going forward. Executives noted that the company could seek to launch additional single-asset crypto funds, such as one that owns ether, as well as crypto basket products and funds that hold crypto alongside non-crypto assets, such as traditional commodities. 

“Already there has been discussion going on about potential funds two, three, four and five,” Jehan said. “Have we got an absolute sense of direction yet? No.”

Bednall added that investors are expressing interest in yield products. 

“We have to be very wary of that, as we know there have been issues in the market around stablecoins,” he noted. “So when we look at that, we’ll need to design it so there’s a lot of investor protection.”

Who will emerge as competitors?

Bednall called this a pivotal time for digital assets, noting that many interested institutional investors have been on the sidelines seeking the best way into the space. 

“[This] is going to be the product that many of the institutional investors have been waiting for,” he explained. “It then gives them that first taste, that first access and then builds their comfort around investing in digital assets.”

While Bednall expects smaller, nimble companies to launch similar crypto ETFs, he said BlackRock, for example, — the world’s largest asset manager — is likely “many years away” from doing so. 

BlackRock added the iShares Blockchain and Tech ETF (IBLC) to its megatrends product suite, but has declined to comment on whether it would seek to launch products that hold cryptoassets directly.

“There are a lot of competing voices within those institutions where many will be wary, some people will be totally against it and then you’ll have people that want to do it,” Bednall said. “They’re slow-moving organizations and the bureaucracy doesn’t allow them to come into something like this at this stage.”

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  • Ben Strack is a Denver-based reporter covering macro and crypto-native funds, financial advisors, structured products, and the integration of digital assets and decentralized finance (DeFi) into traditional finance. Prior to joining Blockworks, he covered the asset management industry for Fund Intelligence and was a reporter and editor for various local newspapers on Long Island. He graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in journalism. Contact Ben via email at [email protected]