A lot of people are getting very rich on crypto, while the rest of us have to er, “have fun staying poor”.
But it’s not just the OG HODLers who bought low and are now making silly money as bitcoin wobbles around $60k; it’s also the trading firms charging fees on crypto transactions that anyone trading a traditional financial asset would consider pretty extortionate.
You might have heard that Coinbase, the US-based crypto wallet company, is planning to go public via a direct listing at a whopping valuation of $100bn. To put that into perspective, that’s in the same ballpark as Chinese fintech collosus Ant Group’s post-Chinese-crackdown $108bn valuation, as estimated by Bloomberg. Coinbase makes its money in a very simple way: charging 1.49 per cent for every single transaction you make — meaning when you buy as well as when you sell — unless you are one of their professional trader “Coinbase Pro” clients.
Revolut, which you have probably also heard of, charges the same rate, and we understand it too is doing very well during this period of cryptomania, as it did in late 2017-early 2018 during the last period.
But unless you are particularly interested in this “space”, you might not have heard of Bitpanda, which also funnily enough charges that 1.49 per cent transaction rate for retail customers. And yet the Vienna-based firm has just today announced that it has closed a $170m Series B funding round, led by Valar Ventures, the US VC fund chaired by Peter Thiel, and that it is now worth $1.2bn, making it Austria’s first-ever unicorn.
We’ll let Bitpanda tell you what it does because honestly we couldn’t make this fluff up if we tried (emphasis ours):
Don’t you love it when companies democratise investing and harness the innovative power of a technology that was meant to allow users to avoid the middleman by charging retail investors 1.5 per cent “low fees”?
A company that most people have never heard of becoming a unicorn overnight might be kind of understandable if it’s a B2B business — think Adyen or Checkout.com — but for a consumer-facing company to spring out of nowhere to become one of Europe’s biggest private companies (according to Sifted there were 60 unicorns in Europe as of November 2020) is quite something. And raising $170m in a Series B is also quite something — Revolut, for instance, raised only about a third of that in its Series B — as is the fact that this is coming just six months after the company raised $52m in a Series A.
We had a chat with the company’s co-CEOs, Eric Demuth and Paul Klanschek, and asked them how much of their revenues came from those 1.49 per cent fees. They wouldn’t tell us, but they did say these fees represented “by far” the biggest chunk of the money they make, though they were now going into other areas like fractional stock trading. They also said that by mid-February they had already exceeded the revenues they made in the whole of 2020, and that their trading volumes were currently ten times as high as they were this time last year.
We asked them whether they felt the huge fees that inexperienced retail investors were being charged were fair. Demuth didn’t seem to want to answer that question directly although he pointed out that the price is guaranteed for a whole minute (!) so that should be taken into consideration given crypto’s volatility. He also told us:
He’s right; it is the standard. Doesn’t make it fair though. And it strikes us that retail investors might soon cotton on to the fact that this is not the kind of money you should be paying just for the privilege of buying or selling a string of 1s and 0s.
We should add that Demuth, 34, and Klanschek, 31, are each now worth more than $300m on paper. They own the majority of the company between them, though they declined to tell us how much.
There were also rumours on Monday that eToro, the Israeli “commission-free” CfD and crypto platform, is planning to merge with a SPAC so as to publicly list its shares on Nasdaq and is looking for a valuation of $10bn. (We asked eToro about this and they told us: “We do not comment on market rumours.”)
How many other crypto-focused unicorns that you’ve never heard will we see springing up in the coming months? We predict there could be several. But when the crypto-party stops, and when the belief underpinning the whole market disappears, these unicorns might just too.
Related linksCoinbase is a $100bn crypto cult - Bloomberg