By Tom Wilson
LONDON, Dec 3 (Reuters) - U.S. asset manager WisdomTree launched on Tuesday its first investment product that tracks bitcoin, a rare example of a mainstream money manager offering exposure to the volatile world of digital currencies.
WisdomTree, which specialises in exchange-traded funds, said in a statement the bitcoin exchange product (ETP) will offer large investors exposure to bitcoin without the need to directly hold the asset.
The ETP is the first of its kind by a mainstream, established asset manager, said Jason Guthrie, WisdomTree Europe's head of capital markets. WisdomTree oversees assets worth over $60 billion.
Cryptocurrency markets remain opaque and largely unregulated, suffering from frequent hacks and heists, with big money managers from pension funds tending to steer clear as a result.
Virtual currencies, including bitcoin BTC=BTSP, can be used to move money around the world quickly and with relative anonymity without the need for a central authority such as a bank or a government. Until now, though, bitcoin has seen little practical use, and is instead mostly used as a speculative asset.
The ETP, which will trade on Switzerland's main stock exchange, will offer more liquid and transparent bitcoin trading, WisdomTree said. Its format will circumvent the need for investors to store the private access keys needed to safely hold cryptocurrencies, it added.
The product's underlying bitcoin will be held in "cold," or offline, storage by Swissquote bank SQN.S, Guthrie said.
It is unclear whether WisdomTree's move will tempt major investors to dabble in cryptocurrencies.
Other large financial firms already offer crypto products and services, including futures from the New York Stock Exchange owner the Intercontinental Exchange Inc ICE.N and CME Group Inc CME.O.
WisdomTree's Guthrie said the product would be popular with long-term investors who may find futures difficult to trade and manage.
"There is a demand for things in an exchange-traded format," he told Reuters. "There are plenty of clients that either can't trade futures, or find a physically-backed exchange traded product to be operationally more efficient."
(Reporting by Tom Wilson; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)
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