Brazilian lender Itau launches crypto trading

FILE PHOTO: A man walks past an Itau Unibanco logo in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares/File Photo

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazilian bank Itau Unibanco on Monday launched a cryptocurrency trading service for clients of its investment platform, making the nation's largest lender the latest local player to enter the market for the digital asset's exchange.

Initially, Itau's new service will allow trading of bitcoin, the most popular cryptocurrency, as well as ether, but the lender aims to later add others, said digital asset head Guto Antunes in an interview.

"It starts with bitcoin, but our overarching strategic plan is to expand to other crypto assets in the future," he said, adding any expansion would depend on how crypto regulation in the country evolved.

The move sets Itau up to compete in Brazil with other locals such as crypto exchange MB and investment bank BTG Pactual's digital assets unit Mynt, as well as global giants like Binance.

Itau argues it will stand out from rivals as it also acts as a custodian, safeguarding users' assets, Antunes said.

The move comes about a month after two local players announced they were leaving the crypto market.

Brokerage and investments company XP did not say why it was shutting down its crypto service, but financial services firm PicPay, owned by conglomerate J&F which also controls meatpacker JBS, cited regulatory uncertainties.

(Reporting by Paula Arend Laier; Writing by Andre Romani; Editing by Kylie Madry and Chris Reese)

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