With Bitcoin’s newfound legitimacy and riches in 2017, it’s time to look again at some of its fans in the corporate world over the years. Are they in a better position to influence their companies to use digital currencies? For starters, let’s look at Alibaba’s high-achieving vice president Brian A. Wong — whose influence could be powerful for bitcoin if applied.
[Update Dec 10th 2017, 05:50 EST] This article is an opinion piece — please note the following clarification:
An Alibaba spokesperson clarified that Alibaba and Jack Ma are not involved in any bitcoin investments and have no plans to do so. Brian Wong’s role at the company doesn’t relate to advising the company or Mr. Ma personally on any bitcoin-related matters.
Alibaba the Global e-Commerce Giant
Alibaba and its celebrity founder Jack Ma (Wong’s boss) are part of that “will-they-or-won’t-they” group of e-commerce/fintech businesses whose names will always be connected with Bitcoin speculation. Like Amazon and Rakuten, it seems like a perfect match and only a matter of time.
Alibaba Group is an e-commerce, tech and financial giant that’s bigger than Walmart, and one of the world’s largest internet companies. It has over 50,000 employees and operates in 200 countries, taking $23.8 billion USD in revenues in 2017.
Ma has played coy with Bitcoin so far, though. In a recent discussion he said he was “not shameful that I don’t know about bitcoin”, before making the corporate-standard overtures to its “underlying blockchain technology” and generic references to digital money.
That’s not really surprising, given the Chinese government’s attitude to Bitcoin over the years — which is extremely skeptical, to say the least. Ma is instantly recognizable globally, and probably China’s most well-known businessman.
Alibaba’s Resident Bitcoiner?
Brian A. Wong has been a vice president at Alibaba Group since February 2014, and worked in other positions there from 1999-2012. He was one of Alibaba’s first 60 employees and the first American to work there.
Media photos of Jack Ma over the years show Wong is often near his side, suggesting he has his boss’ ear.
Wong is also managing director of Seacliff Partners Limited, his Hong Kong-based investment company that specializes in seed capital for tech and hospitality companies.
He is a commentator on Hong Kong economic and political affairs, and has been photographed with the territory’s leader, chief executive C.Y. Leung.
And… he’s a bitcoiner.
One mashup of Seacliff’s two favorite industries is Mr. Bing in Hong Kong, where Wong was a partner through Seacliff and with Brain Goldberg. Mr Bing, a small crepe restaurant in central Hong Kong, has been famous as a bitcoiner hangout and in 2014, installed Hong Kong’s first-ever Bitcoin ATM.
Wong’s Bitcoin Involvement Three Years Later
That was 2014, though. Bitsonline contacted Wong to ask if he’s still an active member of the Bitcoin community, as an investor or otherwise. He said:
“I’m unfortunately not so involved in bitcoin directly anymore as I have been more focused on Alibaba. I’m an investor in a bitcoin-related fund in HK but that’s the closest I can say I am to it all.”
“No so involved.” In other words, Wong — one of the top players at Alibaba — is likely still a bitcoiner in some capacity. However on an official level, that’s separate to his work at Alibaba.
Whether it can or will stay separate in the longer-term is open to speculation, though. Wong obviously has a strong grasp on the realities of the digital economy, and would be trusted to make a strategic decision, should it come to that.
Remember there were many in the record industry who realized digital music downloads were the future of sales — they just had to wait for the right conditions to say it out loud.
Expect to Conquer More New Territory in 2018
We’re not suggesting Wong could, or even should, have definite plans to introduce cryptocurrency services at any of Alibaba’s businesses. But just the fact that one of the world’s biggest e-commerce and fintech players has a Bitcoin believer in a senior role is impressive.
The question now is, what would create those ideal conditions? Bitcoin is accepted at department stores in Japan and, from this month, traded on well-known U.S. derivatives markets.
Alibaba may be Chinese but it’s a global behemoth, with lots of opportunities to experiment. It could happen here and there via subsidiaries, a la Rakuten and Microsoft.
Things happened fast for bitcoin and digital currencies in 2017, there’s every reason to expect growth to continue in new territories in 2018 and beyond — whatever happens to the price in the meantime.
Do you have any predictions for bitcoin and cryptocurrencies in Alibaba and other conglomerates like it? Let’s hear your thoughts.
Images via Facebook, Weibo, Mr. Bing, CNBC, AGLA, Alibaba