Fisherman who became billionaire says Bitcoin shapes his business empire

Norway's Kjell Inge Rokke says the crypto's entry into the mainstream economy is inevitable

Norwegian oil billionaire Kjell Inge Rokke says Bitcoin's entry into the mainstream economy is inevitable. Courtesy Aker Solutions
Norwegian oil billionaire Kjell Inge Rokke says Bitcoin's entry into the mainstream economy is inevitable. Courtesy Aker Solutions

Bitcoin is building a loyalist following in Norway’s industrial heartland as one of the country’s richest people embraces the ever-controversial cryptocurrency.

Kjell Inge Rokke, who started out as a fisherman to build a fortune of about $5 billion in Norway’s offshore industry, has already revealed his belief that Bitcoin will be “on the right side of history”.

Now Aker Asa, Mr Rokke’s industrial investment company, said it is open to the idea of accepting payment in the cryptocurrency.

“We are curious about this technology,” said Oyvind Eriksen, who has been chief executive of Aker for more than a decade. That includes understanding how Bitcoin and the blockchain it is based on “will change behaviour patterns and the markets we are in”.

Mr Eriksen said Aker, which owns oil producer Aker BP and has more recently branched out into green technology and renewable energy, is not reconfiguring its payments system just yet, but “things happen very quickly here”.

“I am no stranger” to the idea of receiving payment in Bitcoin, he said.

The comments represent a small leap of faith in Norway, where the governor of the central bank, Oystein Olsen, lambasted Bitcoin earlier this year.

Mr Olsen called it “far too resource-intensive, far too costly and most importantly, it does not preserve stability”.

Concerns over the carbon footprint of Bitcoin mining this week prompted Tesla's chief executive Elon Musk, a former fan of the cryptocurrency, to turn his back on it.

However, Mr Aker says Mr Musk’s latest comments “have not changed anything”.

Mr Rokke, who owns about 70 per cent of Aker through his holding companies, says Bitcoin’s entry into the mainstream economy is inevitable.

“The question is not if, but when,” he said in a letter to shareholders earlier this year. Aker needs to “keep up with the times”, he said.

Bitcoin has been winning over prominent members of the financial industry since its resurgence last year. Notable investors and proponents include Dan Loeb, chief executive of Third Point, and Cathy Wood, chief executive and chief investment officer of Ark Investment Management.

Wall Street is also becoming more comfortable with Bitcoin, with Morgan Stanley offering its customers a Bitcoin fund that tracks the coin’s performance. J P Morgan Chase is working on a similar fund for its clients.

Mr Musk had been an outspoken supporter but said last week that he is worried that Bitcoin mining relies too much on coal. Although he underpinned his belief that cryptocurrencies still have a future, Mr Musk’s comments this week triggered a sudden Bitcoin sell-off.

Over the past year, though, the cryptocurrency is still up more than 400 per cent. Mr Rokke has already created a Bitcoin investment company, called Seetee.

The idea is to explore the potential of the cryptocurrency using an initial capital injection of only 500 million krona ($60m). Seetee’s liquid assets will be in Bitcoin, which Mr Rokke said enjoys such a “huge lead” that other cryptocurrencies are unlikely to challenge its dominance.

Bitcoin continues to be an extremely volatile prospect. Earlier this year, Nassim Taleb, author of The black swan: the impact of the highly improbable, said he was selling his holding of Bitcoin, noting that “a currency is never supposed to be more volatile than what you buy [and] sell with it. You cannot price goods in BTC”.

But in his letter to shareholders, Mr Rokke said: “We have to expect a lot of volatility. But we do not care because we believe in the long-term functionality.”

Updated: May 16, 2021 01:07 PM

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