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Jim Messina. Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images

Former Obama aide Jim Messina is joining the board of Blockchain.com in anticipation of enhanced regulation from the Biden administration and other governments for its business trading and processing digital coins.

Why it matters: Cryptocurrency companies are currently operating in a regulatory no man’s land. Some firms are looking for more government guidelines while others prefer to have as few rules as possible — and operate offshore, if need be.

  • By bringing on Messina, Blockchain.com, a London-based cryptocurrency firm that says it does roughly 30% of all bitcoin transactions, is trying to become a key player in the onshore market.
  • It also wants a say in helping develop standards and rules.
  • “Crypto has been the Wild West, and now it's time for some regulation,” Messina told Axios. He served as Obama's 2012 campaign manager and deputy White House chief of staff.

The big picture: With the value of bitcoin surpassing $1 trillion in Tuesday's trading, the industry is calling for regulatory clarity in anticipation of even more growth.

  • Brad Garlinghouse, CEO of Ripple, another cryptocurrency exchange, told "Axios on HBO" that if he were starting a company today, he would base it outside of the U.S., where the rules are clearer.
  • Meanwhile, cryptocurrencies continue to rise in prominence. Tesla, for example, announced it bought $1.5 billion worth of bitcoin and would start accepting it as a payment for its products.
  • Coinbase, another crypto company that competes with Blockchain.com, is preparing to go public. Axios has reported it could have a $100 billion valuation, a watershed moment for an industry craving legitimacy.

Between the lines: New regulation and clarity may also mean more restriction for the industry.

  • Gary Gensler, President Biden’s nominee to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission, said during his Senate confirmation hearing: “Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have brought new thinking to payments and financial inclusion, but they’ve also raised new issues of investor protection that we still need to attend to."

What they are saying: Blockchain.com likens itself to a crypto version of JPMorgan Chase & Co., with revenue from consumer trading and institutional accounts.

  • “We don't want crypto to be a fly-by-night place," said CEO Peter Smith. "We want it to be a real market. We want it to be transparent, regulated and serve customers well.”
  • Other blue-chip companies like Coinbase and Gemini have also put great effort into crafting an image of strong regulatory compliance.
  • “There's no question that electronic currency is going to be the way that most transactions are done in the future,” said Messina, who's been trading crypto for roughly a year. “And it is incredibly important to get the regulatory part of this right.”

Go deeper

Updated 7 hours ago - World

UK government: Kremlin has plan "to install pro-Russian leadership" in Ukraine

British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss. Photo: Gints Ivuskans / AFP via Getty Images

The United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary on Saturday night said the government has "information that indicates the Russian Government is looking to install a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv as it considers whether to invade and occupy Ukraine."

Driving the news: U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne called the intelligence "deeply concerning" in a statement to Axios. The Biden administration has said Russia is actively manufacturing a pretext for invasion and warned that Putin could use joint military exercises in Belarus as cover to invade from the north.

Updated 9 hours ago - Science

This powerful new accelerator looks for keys to the center of atoms

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Nuclear physicists trying to piece together how atoms are built are about to get a powerful new tool.

Why it matters: When the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams begins experiments later this spring, physicists from around the world will use the particle accelerator to better understand the inner workings of atoms that make up all the matter that can be seen in the universe.

Updated 9 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: FDA OKs antiviral drug remdesivir for non-hospitalized COVID patients — Walensky: CDC language "pivoting" on "fully vaccinated" — Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Teens and adults missed 37 million vaccinations during COVID — Team USA 100% vaccinated against COVID ahead of Beijing Olympics — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America — Annual COVID vaccine preferable to boosters, says Pfizer CEO.
  3. Politics: Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates — Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults — Beijing officials urge COVID-19 "emergency mode" before Winter Olympics.
  5. Variant tracker