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72-year-old Fidelity bets on the future with blockchain, virtual reality and AI

Fidelity recognized as potential blockbuster before it became the corporate buzzword of 2018. CEO Abby Johnson led the charge into cryptocurrency, one of the most volatile asset classes of the past year.

"A few plus years ago," Johnson said. "We're getting to understand this."

The curiosity led them to start bitcoin "mining," at a location in New Hampshire when the crypto price was around $ 180.

Flash forward to December, last year when bitcoin rose to almost $ 20,000, "Johnson said. She did not specify how much bitcoin has been mined, or how much money Fidelity made.

There's a clear interest in the topic by Fidelity employees. Its blockchain club for employees called "bits and blocks," hosts seminars, office hours and meet ups, now has roughly 2,600 members.

The company has an arrangement with Coinbase that allows Fidelity customers to check their cryptocurrency balances on the Fidelity mobile app. In 2015, it started facilitating charitable donations in bitcoins.

Many other potential uses for bitcoin and cryptocurrencies have been scrapped by now or "put on the shelf," Johnson said. "We're trying to listen to the marketplace."

In the meantime, Katie Chase, the head of strategy for the Fidelity Center for Applied Technology and the head of the Blockchain Incubator (which is a part of FCAT), is exploring the private blockchain and enterprise blockchain. But she said she was a massive interest from clients and partners, as well as their own employees.

"It's still very nascent," Chase said. "We tried to apply blockchain to some use cases where we learned to solve these problems."

For now, the group is focused on what some of those barriers are, she said. They are looking at "tokenize" physical items, like a piece of art for example, or how to use blockchain in the supply chain space.

"Those are on the shelf, but we think they'll eventually come off," Chase said.

Fidelity will be well-equipped when they do. Pebble watch, a failure by retail standards, but something paid off for Fidelity. Her group had created an app for the smartwatch, which shut down three years after raising millions through a crowdfunded kickstarter campaign.

When the Apple Watch finally came to market, Fidelity was ready. It's used to pebble to quickly go live on Apple's new product.

"We were not betting that the Pebble watch is the next big thing – but in the case we have people wearing these things on their wrist," she said. "It gave us the learning for the smart watch, and we were able to be there."

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