• By Amy Castor and David Gerard

“i have a lot more respect for the binance guy, having seen a competitor stumble and taken the opportunity to very publicly shank them five or six times while they’re on the ground, under the guise of trying to help”

— infernal machines, SomethingAwful

We’re exhausted keeping up with all the good news for bitcoin.

Crypto.com didn’t have the greatest weekend. As we write this, withdrawals are clogged, but some are reported to be coming through okay.

The test an exchange faces is: can it stand a run on the bank?

The test bitcoin as a whole faces is: how will the price hold when lots of people are dumping for cash?

Number go down

After the bitcoin price had been floating at around $20,000 for several months, FTX crashed. On the day Binance reneged on its offer to buy FTX’s remains, BTC dropped below $16,000. It’s a bit above that now.

The actual dollars have gone home, and the wider crypto casino is having to pretend harder and harder that the alleged mark-to-market value of illiquid trash means anything.

Real dollars continue to disappear from crypto. Retail trading at Coinbase was down 43% in the third quarter of 2022, compared to Q2.

Reddit /r/buttcoin has a new header image

A slight case of the runs

Crypto.com is not having a great time.

The crypto markets are jittery. After the dramatic collapse of FTX, crypto holders are left shell-shocked and traumatized. They don’t trust any centralized exchange now at all.

It doesn’t take much to set the markets off. 

Despite claiming to have near-zero exposure to the fallout of FTX, over the last year, Crypto.com sent multiple very large stablecoin transfers to FTX, totaling approximately $1 billion. [Reddit, Australian Financial Review]

On November 12, crypto Twitter caught wind of the fact that Singapore-based Crypto.com and China-based Gate.io were passing funds back and forth to post stronger-looking proof of reserve statements, suggesting they didn’t have the funds they purported to have.   

Crypto.com CEO Kris Marszalek waved it off as just a whoopsie, saying they accidentally sent $400 million of their ETH to Gate.io on October 21, instead of their cold wallets, but that Gate.io had sent the money back. Everything was fine. [Twitter, archive; WSJ]

The crypto market wasn’t buying it. Instead, the news set off an FTX-style bank run, as panicked users raced to get their funds off Crypto.com. Within hours, more than 89,000 transactions pulled customer funds out of Crypto.com wallets. You could watch it in real time on Etherscan. [Chainsaw, Twitter]

Picture old-timey cartoons of guys in a stock exchange, hats popping off their heads and cigars falling out of their mouths in shock, shouting, “SELL! SELL! SELL!” Crypto.com was like that but in basements around the world.

By Monday, the run had made mainstream international news —  Sky, AFP, and Reuters, as well as financial outlets such as Bloomberg. [SkyNews]

Crypto.com should have collapsed right then, but it didn’t. Binance bailed Crypto.com out with infusions of ETH and USDC from their “recovery fund.” Cryptocurrency just reinvented the idea of a central bank as a lender of last resort. [Twitter; Twitter; Twitter]

Of course, given what he had just done to FTX, is it really a smart idea to let CZ know you have liquidity problems?

The following day, Marszalek did an Ask-Me-Anything to reassure everyone that the funds were safe. “At no point were the funds at risk of being sent somewhere they could not be retrieved,” he said. “It had nothing to do with any of the craziness from FTX.” [YouTube

Binance also held an AMA to tell everyone that everything is fine. [Twitter; Verge]

The life and times of Kris Marszalek 

Kris Marszalek co-founded Crypto.com in 2016. It was initially called Monaco but bought the “crypto.com” domain from cryptographer Matt Blaze in 2018.

Based in Singapore, the firm has spent huge money on ad campaigns, including a $700 million deal to put its name on LA’s sports arena (formerly Staples Center) and a “Fortune Favors the Brave” Super Bowl commercial featuring Matt Damon. [GQ]

The company makes money by charging fees for trades on its smartphone app. It promises Ponzi-like yields — up to 14.5% annually, paid out in stablecoins. 

To access the higher stake yield, you have to buy Cronos (CRO), the platform’s native trader token, whose price floats freely. CRO tanked over the weekend over concerns about Crypto.com’s reserves. [BeinCrypto]  

Marszalek, 42, is a Polish-born serial entrepreneur who lives in Hong Kong. He dropped out of college and started his career selling computer equipment. He doesn’t appear to have any trading experience at all prior to Crypto.com.

You’ll be delighted to hear that Marszalek has the sort of background you want in a crypto CEO. Specifically, running a voucher sales company that collapsed in 2016 and stiffed everyone.

Founded in 2010 in Singapore, Ensogo offered Groupon-style “daily deals” and so forth. After going through multiple name changes and acquisitions, Ensogo was listed as a standalone company on the Australian Securities Exchange. It pivoted to an “open marketplace platform” in late 2015. [ASX, PDF]

By April 2016, Ensogo had closed its Malaysian office and had stopped paying merchants. The company’s first-quarter report to the ASX showed an AUD$5 million deficit, despite firing half its staff in the first quarter of 2016. It had already lost AUD$67 million in 2015. Ensogo finally stopped operations in June — leaving merchants and consumers in the lurch. One Hong Kong merchant lost HK$20,000. [Tech in Asia; Tech in Asia; Tech in Asia]

Other exchanges 

In the third quarter of 2022, US exchange Coinbase suffered “another tough quarter.” Institutional trading was down 22% and retail volume was down 43%, compared to the previous quarter. Net revenue in Q3 was $576 million, down from $803 million in Q2, and $1.2 billion the year before. The company lost $545 million in Q3, compared to a net profit of $406 million in the same period last year. [FT, archive; Shareholder letter, PDF]

In Hong Kong, AAX has suspended withdrawals. The crypto exchange had just blogged that it had no exposure to FTX and that user funds were never exposed to counterparty risk. [AAX; AAX; Coindesk]

What’s a user to do?

The FTX collapse has taken out a variety of firms across crypto, including other exchanges and crypto hedge funds. Many projects used FTX like it was a bank. So many projects are now wrecked because they treated FTX like it was a safe place to store their cryptos.

Expect more trouble and possible bankruptcies to come. People keep treating crypto exchanges as banks. They are not banks.

The hard part is: what do you do instead?  

Loud and weird crypto nerds, particularly bitcoin maxis, are saying “not your keys not your coins” again a lot.

Back in the real world, approximately 100% of crypto users are in it for the money. And that’s only achievable with the coins on an exchange, where they can actively buy and trade them.

More importantly, almost all crypto users have flat zero technical knowledge. They have no idea how any of it works. They trusted the newspaper headlines. They just about get “number go up.” They won’t be self-custodying en masse.

DeFi traders will tell you that self-custodying is the only way to do anything, but they also get rekt a whole lot.

We concur that users should treat centralized exchanges as risky places to store cryptos. The trouble is, what else to do with them? If you don’t want to do the sensible thing — i.e., dump your coins and get the heck out of crypto — you’re going to have to learn way more about how the technology works than you ever wanted to.

It’s going to suck because — despite the user-friendly Super Bowl ads — crypto is not a product. It’s a pile of wires on a lab bench. Get out your soldering iron, you’re gonna be your own bank.

2 thoughts on “Crypto.com’s bad weekend — crypto exchanges are shaky

  1. I used to buy office supplies at the Staples right near the Staples Center. It’s still there. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Staples near the now-Crypto.com-Arena outlives Crypto.com (and their naming rights to the arena), too.

  2. Love y’all’s \content now more than ever! Would love to see a list of the remaining big players in crypto with which ones offer yield on stablecoins (i.e. are likely ponzis) and which ones have their own tokens on their balance sheet and at what amount/%, which to me is akin to an airline listing frequent flyer miles as an asset

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