As digital currencies—including Bitcoin, Ethereum and XRP—gain legitimacy as investable assets, the number of exchanges that trade in cryptocurrency has also grown. As crypto adoption continues to increase, one prominent trend we're seeing is the proliferation of crypto-friendly exchanges based in East Asia.
One of the key reasons for this, says Joshua Greenwald, CEO at LXDX, a cryptocurrency trading platform aimed at institutional investors, is the greater diversity of fiat currency in the region.
“In Europe or US, you're generally dealing with a mono-currency regime. The greater FX diversity in the region heightens both familiarity and demand. Users, institutional and retail, are used to FX markets and FX trading; the additional utility provided through common digital assets is particularly attractive when the alternative is expensive transaction and conversion fees.”
What's behind the surge in crypto exchange launches in East Asia? Tony Gu, founding partner at NEO Global Capital says:
“In recent years, Asia has been a central hub for innovation in various TMT sectors. Crypto exchanges are just one aspect of this. I believe there are a few driving factors for this upturn, one being a large, young population, the fast-changing economic landscape, rapidly growing technology development, an ever-growing social tension, and a less mature regulatory system.”
Uneven regulation likely also has something to do with this phenomenon Gu adds:
"If we compare the regulatory stance in Asia with Western countries, there are a few important differences. Regulation in Asia is more fragmented - culturally and politically, it is less developed in terms of the capital market, and there is a less experienced investor base. These factors make it possible to arbitrage among regions and quickly establish a functioning business but that may be in a grey area - not fully regulated but also not illegal.”
There's a huge appetite for crypto in East Asia. Tal Elyashiv, managing partner at SPiCE VC agrees with Gu, the location provides a beneficial combination of key markets in terms of investors and volume and a fluid state of regulatory guidance.
A number of relatively new exchanges have gained traction with investors, below we list five. Note: The information provided below is for research purposes only. It should not be taken as a recommendation or endorsement. Do your own due diligence before investing in any financial asset or instrument.
1. Huobi is a Singapore-based cryptocurrency exchange. Founded by Leon Li, the exchange has offices in Hong Kong, Korea, Japan and the US. In August 2018 it went public in Hong Kong.
2. Binance has multiple locations in Asia and is a blockchain ecosystem. It was founded by Changpeng Zhao and Yi Hein in 2017.
3. BitMEX is based in Hong Kong. It describes itself as a next generation crypto-coin trading platform, which supports highly leveraged trading via perpetual and fixed-date contracts.
4. Bitfinex is also based in Hong Kong. Founders include Raphael Nicolle, Giancarlo Devasini. The exchange is owned and operated by iFinex Inc. which is headquartered in Hong Kong and registered in the British Virgin Islands. Media reports have suggested that price manipulation of Bitcoin on Bitfinex accounted for about half of the price increase the currency in late 2017.
5. Bibox is based in China. This exchange is an AI enhanced-encrypted digital asset exchange platform. The management team includes the co-founder of OKCoin and other core founding members from HuoBi.com, which are the two largest Bitcoin exchange platforms in China.
Though many crypto specialists say exchange security is improving, we'd be remiss not to mention that some of the most recent high-profile hacks occurred in Asia. Reports of hackers making off with millions in digital currency continue to make headlines.
Conrail, a South Korea-based exchange was hacked in July, losing 30 percent of its digital currency inventory in the process—including NPXS, DENT and Trontokens—for a total loss of approximately $40 million. In June, Bithumb, another South Korean exchange was also hacked, losing around $31 million in the process; stolen cryptocurrencies included Bitcoin, Ethereum and Bitcoin Cash. Of course, there are ways to vet an exchange in order to minimize risk, but the threat of hacking still hasn't completely disappeared.
Nonetheless,crypto specialists note that security efforts are improving. NEO Global Capital's Gu points to a few key areas where improvements have occurred including smart contract security audits from services providers such as Certik, hot/cold wallet storage, internal risk control such as private key management processes and contingency funds.
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