February 17, 2022

Years after calling Bitcoin ‘rat poison,’ Warren Buffett just invested $1 billion in a crypto-friendly bank


Maybe cryptocurrency isn’t “rat poison” after all?

Those were once the words of Warren Buffett, the famous investor called the “sage of Omaha” for knowing things before the rest of the market. Now his money is saying otherwise.

Specifically, his company Berkshire Hathaway has bought $1 billion worth of stock in a digital bank that focuses on crypto.

Berkshire Hathaway made its crypto investment public with a SEC filing earlier this week. It revealed that Buffett’s company had purchased $1 billion in shares of Nubank, a digital bank based in Brazil, and the largest of its kind in Latin America.

Nubank is a so-called neobank, a type of bank that operates outside of the rules of the traditional banking system. The digital bank’s investment unit, NuInvest, allows users to put money in a Bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF)—tapping a financial space that Berkshire’s leaders have shown little love for.

Berkshire’s chairman and CEO has not refrained in the past from calling cryptocurrency “rat poison” and an unproductive asset that “has no unique value at all.”

Charlie Munger, Buffett’s longtime partner and vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, has also hardly been one to shy away from voicing his strong opinions on cryptocurrency. Munger recently stated that he wished cryptocurrency had “never been invented,” and he has even indicated that he would not want any crypto trader marrying into his family.

Munger has a particular distaste for Bitcoin, the most popularly traded cryptocurrency, once calling it “disgusting and contrary to the interests of civilization.” Munger has supported China’s decision to ban Bitcoin trading in the country and has called on the U.S. to take similar measures.

“The Chinese made the correct decision, which is just to simply ban them,” he once said.

But even though its owners have expressed their personal disdain for cryptocurrencies and the crypto market, Berkshire Hathaway’s latest investment in Nubank is not the first time the conglomerate has dabbled in this market.

Berkshire already bought a $500 million stake in Nubank last summer, months before the company went public in December 2021. At the time, Nubank announced that this had been the largest single investment the fintech bank had ever received.

As Berkshire was upping its investments into the crypto sphere last year, the company also dropped some of its other, more traditional financial assets. In the same SEC filing that showed the $1 billion investment in Nubank, Berkshire revealed that it had dropped over $3 billion in its shares of Visa and Mastercard.

While Buffett and Munger may have a personal distaste for cryptocurrency, the superstar investment pair may be seeing an entirely different kind of opportunity in digital financial service providers like Nubank.

There is huge competition among up-and-coming digital banks in Latin America, where a large portion of the population feels underserved by the traditional banking and financial system. Companies like Nubank are looking to tap into a massive potential consumer market of people largely dissatisfied with the existing system.

“There is so much opportunity in the [Latin America] region. The combination of a great population, horrible customer experiences, and very high fees, it is unmatched,” Nubank cofounder Cristina Junqueira told Fortune last June. “Worldwide there is no place that is better suited in terms of having a great opportunity for fintech companies to tackle.”

By Tristan Bove

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