These crypto lending & borrowing services found early traction. Are they capable of bundling more financial services and winning the broader consumer finance market?submitted by mickhagen to genesisblockhq [link] [comments]
This is the third part of Crypto Banking Wars — a new series that examines what crypto-native company is most likely to become the bank of the future. Who is best positioned to reach mainstream adoption in consumer finance?
While crypto allows the world to get rid of banks, a bank will still very much be necessary for this very powerful technology to reach the masses. As we laid out in our previous series, Crypto-Powered, we believe a crypto-native company will ultimately become the bank of the future. We’re confident Genesis Block will have a seat at that table, but we aren’t the only game in town.
In the first post of this series, we did an analysis of big crypto exchanges like Coinbase & Binance. In our second episode, we looked at the world of non-custodial wallets.
Today we’re analyzing crypto lending & borrowing services. The Earn and Borrow use-case covers a lot of what traditional banks deliver today. This category of companies is a threat worth analyzing. As we look at this market, we’ll mostly be focused on custodial, centralized products like BlockFi, Nexo, and Celsius.
Many of these companies found early traction among crypto users. Are they capable of bundling more financial services and winning the broader consumer finance market? Let’s find out.
Institutional BorrowersBecause speculation and trading remains one of the most popular use-cases of crypto, a new crypto sub-industry around credit has emerged. Much of the borrowing demand has been driven by institutional needs.
For example, a Bitcoin mining company might need to borrow fiat to pay for operational costs (salaries, electricity). Or a crypto company might need to borrow USD to pay for engineering salaries. Or a crypto hedge fund needs to borrow for leverage or to take a specific market position. While all of these companies have sufficient crypto to cover the costs, they might not want to sell it — either for tax or speculative reasons (they may believe these crypto assets will appreciate, as with most in the industry).
Instead of selling their crypto, these companies can use their crypto as collateral for loans. For example, they can provide $1.5M in Bitcoin as collateral, and borrow $1M. Given the collateralization happening, the underwriting process becomes straightforward. Companies all around the world can participate — language and cultural barriers are removed.
The leader (and one of our partners) in this space is Genesis Capital. While they are always the counterparty for both lenders and borrowers, they are effectively a broker. They are at the center of the institutional crypto lending & borrowing markets. Their total active loans as of March 2020 was $649M. That number shot up to $1.42B in active loans as of June 2020. The growth of this entire market segment is impressive and it’s what is driving this opportunity for consumers downstream.
Consumer ProductsWhile most of the borrowing demand comes from institutional players, there is a growing desire from consumers to participate on the lend/supply side of the market. Crypto consumers would love to be able to deposit their assets with a service and watch it grow. Why let crypto assets sit on an exchange or in cold storage when it can be earning interest?
A number of consumer-facing products have emerged in the last few years to make this happen. While they also allow users to borrow (always with collateral), most of the consumer attraction is around growing their crypto, even while they sleep. Earning interest. These products usually partner with institutional players like Genesis Capital to match the deposits with borrowing demand. And it’s exactly part of our strategy as well, beyond leveraging DeFi (decentralized finance protocols).
A few of the most popular consumer services in this category include BlockFi, Nexo, and Celsius.
BlockFiBlockFi (Crunchbase) is the leader in this category (at least in the West). They are well-capitalized. In August 2019, they raised $18.3M in their Series A. In Feb 2020, they raised $30M in their Series B. In that same time period, they went from $250M in assets under management to $650M. In a recent blog post, they announced that they saw a 100% revenue increase in Q2 and that they were on track to do $50M in revenue this year. Their growth is impressive.
BlockFi did not do an ICO, unlike Celsius, Nexo, Salt, and Cred. BlockFi has a lot of institutional backing so it is perceived as the most reputable in the space. BlockFi started with borrowing — allowing users to leverage their crypto as collateral and taking out a loan against it. They later got into Earning — allowing users to deposit assets and earn interest on it. They recently expanded their service to “exchange” functionality and say they are coming out with a credit card later this year.
It’s incredible that BlockFi has been able to see such strong growth despite their numerous product and security woes. A few months ago, their systems were compromised. A hacker was able to access confidential data, such as names, dates of birth, postal addresses, and activity histories. While no funds were lost, this was a massive embarrassment and caused reputational damage.
Unrelated to that massive security breach and earlier in the year, a user discovered a major bug that allowed him to send the same funds to himself over and over again, ultimately accumulating more than a million dollars in his BlockFi account. BlockFi fortunately caught him just before withdrawal.
Poor Product Execution
Beyond their poor security — which they are now trying to get serious about — their products are notoriously buggy and hard-to-use. I borrowed from them a year ago and used their interest account product until very recently. I have first-hand experience of how painful it is. But don’t take my word for it… here are just a few tweets from customers just recently.
For a while, their interest-earning product had a completely different authentication system than their loan product (users had two sets of usernames/passwords). Many people have had issues with withdrawals. The app is constantly logging people out, blank screens, ugly error messages. Emails with verification codes are sometimes delayed by hours (or days). I do wonder if their entire app has been outsourced. The sloppiness shines through.
Not only is their product buggy and UX confusing, but their branding & design is quite weak. To the left is a t-shirt they once sent me. It looks like they just found a bunch of quirky fonts, added their name, and slapped it on a t-shirt.
To the innocent bystander, many of these issues seem totally fixable. They could hire an amazing design agency to completely revamp their product or brand. They could hire a mercenary group of engineers to fix their bugs, etc. While it could stop the bleeding for a time, it may not solve the underlying issues. Years of sloppy product execution represents something much more destructive. It represents a top-down mentality that shipping anything other than excellence is okay: product experience doesn’t matter; design doesn’t matter; craftsmanship doesn’t matter; strong execution doesn’t matter; precision doesn’t matter. That’s very different from our culture at Genesis Block.
This cancerous mentality rarely stays contained within product & engineering — this leaks to all parts of the organization. No design agency or consulting firm will fix some of the pernicious values of a company’s soul. These are deeper issues that only leadership can course-correct.
If BlockFi’s sloppiness were due to constant experimentation, iteration, shipping, or some “move fast and break things” hacker culture… like Binance… I would probably cut them more slack. But there is zero evidence of that. “Move fast and break things” is always scary when dealing with financial products. But in BlockFi’s case, when it’s more like “move slow and break things,” they are really playing with fire. Next time a massive security breach occurs, like what happened earlier this year, they may not be so lucky.
Based on who is on their team, their poor product execution shouldn’t be a surprise. Their team comes mostly from Wall Street, not the blockchain community (where our roots are). Most of BlockFi’s blockchain/crypto integration is very superficial. They take crypto assets as deposits, but they aren’t leveraging any of the exciting, low-level DeFi protocols like we are.
While their Wall Street heritage isn’t doing them any favors on the product/tech side, it’s served them very well on winning institutional clients. This is perhaps their greatest strength. BlockFi has a strong institutional business. They recently brought on Three Arrows Capital as a strategic investor — a crypto hedge fund who does a lot of borrowing. In that announcement, BlockFi’s founder said that bringing them on “aligns well with our focus on international expansion of our institutional services offering.” They also recently brought someone on who will lead business development in Asia among institutional clients.
BlockFi Wrap Up
There are certainly BlockFi features that overlap with Genesis Block’s offering. It’s possible that they are angling to become the bank of the future. However, they simply have not proven they are capable of designing, building, and launching world-class consumer products. They’ve constantly had issues around security and poor product execution. Their company account and their founder’s account seem to only tweet about Bitcoin. I don’t think they understand, appreciate, or value the power of DeFi. It’s unlikely they’ll be leveraging it any time soon. All of these reasons are why I don’t see them as a serious threat to Genesis Block.
However, because of their strong institutional offering, I hope that Genesis Block will ultimately have a very collaborative and productive partnership with them. Assuming they figure out their security woes, we could park some of our funds with BlockFi (just as we will with Genesis Capital and others). I think what’s likely to happen is that we’ll corner the consumer market and we’ll work closely with BlockFi on the institutional side.
I’ve been hard on BlockFi because I care. I think they have a great opportunity at helping elevate the entire industry in a positive way. But they have a lot of issues they need to work through. I really don’t want to see users lose millions of dollars in a security breach. It could set back the entire industry. But if they do things well… a rising tide lifts all boats.
Honorable MentionsCelsius (ICO Drops) raised $50M in an ICO, and is led by serial entrepreneur Alex Mashinsky. I’ve met him, he’s a nice guy. Similar to Binance, their biggest Achilles heel could be their own token. There are also a lot of unanswered questions about where their deposits go. They don’t have a record of great transparency. They recently did a public crowdraise which is a little odd given their large ICO as well as their supposed $1B in deposits. Are they running out of money, as some suggest? Unclear. One of their biggest blindspots right now is that Mashinsky does not understand the power of DeFi. He is frequently openly criticizing it.
Nexo (ICO Drops) is another similar service. They are European-based, trying to launch their own card (though they’ve been saying this forever and they still haven’t shipped it), and have a history in the payments/fintech space. Because they haven’t penetrated the US — which is a much harder regulatory nut to crack — they are unlikely to be as competitive as BlockFi. There were also allegations that Nexo was spreading FUD about Chainlink while simultaneously partnering with them. Did Nexo take out a short position and start spreading rumors? Never a dull moment in crypto.
Other players in the lending & borrowing space include Unchained Capital, Cred (ICO Drops), and Salt (ICO Drops).
Wrap UpWhile many companies in this category seem to be slowly adding more financial services, I don’t believe any of them are focused on the broader consumer market like we are. To use services like BlockFi, Nexo, or Celsius, users need to be onboarded and educated on how crypto works. At Genesis Block, we don’t believe that’s the winning approach. We think blockchain complexity should be abstracted away from the end-user. We did an entire series about this, Spreading Crypto.
For many of these services, there is additional friction due to ICO tokens that are forcefully integrated into the product (see NEXO token or CEL Token). None of these services have true banking functionality or integration with traditional finance —for example, easy offramp or spending methods like debit cards. None of them are taking DeFi seriously — they are leveraging crypto for only the asset class, not the underlying technology around financial protocols.
So are these companies potential competitors to Genesis Block? For the crypto crowd, yes. For the mass market, no. None of these companies are capable of reaching the billions of people around the world that we hope to reach at Genesis Block.
Other Ways to Consume Today's Episode:
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I've been getting several messages lately inquiring about my old post from which I borrowed $30k to buy ETH back in May: https://np.reddit.com/ethtradecomments/68oshw/just_borrowed_30k_to_buy_eth_stay_tuned_for_the/
I started typing a long response to someone who asked me whether he thinks there's gonna be another opportunity like ETH in the future (from which I made over 100X returns, buying most between $10 and $100, and cashing out 90% at $1000-$1200)...and I realized I typed so much info that it could be worthwhile to share it with the community.
Before I start my rant though... about the loan I had taken out at the time: don't ever invest in more than you're willing to lose.
Opportunities will always come, in one way or another. Today is crypto, yesterday was flipping houses, before that was penny and internet stocks. But from a crypto standpoint, opportunities in this field are gonna be more rare. Bitcoin, ETH, and other large caps coins are probably done for for a while -- they'll go up in the long run but I don't think we'll see another new parabolic rise of 1000+% gains for a long while. People switched to ICOs after seeing some of the 3-10X gains, but the wild west of unregulated ICOs is starting to lose steam, mostly due to regulatory barriers.
Identifying Fundamental Disruptions
I invested in ETH first at $10 and buying all the way up to $100 (the $30k loan got me ETH at $80 each), and while others were selling for 2x flips, I was able to hold it all the way to $1000+. I think this is important to mention in the context of this post because of the necessity to realize the long-term disruption that lays ahead. At the time, I realized that ETH was about to give altcoins/tokens the ability to be speculated on due to their direct utility association in a tech startup's main business mechanism. I firmly believed that ETH should be worth at nearly as much as, if not at least, BTC in market cap because of this. Prior to ETH, it was just Bitcoins and then all clones/shitcoins. ETH gave rise to ICOs and speculative coins that could be assigned potential business value to it, thereby making crypto markets what it is today. Frankly, the entire crypto market owes ETH, and respectfully BTC of course, for what is today. Note though: I rolled the dice big for ETH, but even my $30k investment at the time was only about a quarter of my savings at the time. So again, don't invest in more than you are willing to lose or sleep soundly at night.
The Future: Increasing Regulation
Anyway, turning to the future. Here's what I think is going to happen. SEC is going shutdown alot of ICOs; they are really cracking down on ICOs claiming to be utilities, even if disguised through airdrops or SAFTs. In fact, just today's WSJ news said SEC issued subpoenas to multiple ICOs and have taken interest in SAFTs for so-called utility tokens. Just like the dot-com bubble, 90%+ of these previous ICOs are gonna tank and fail. We're gonna see a massive correction probably later in 2018, when roadmaps with major expected milestones start missing their deadlines, and a domino effect happens when SEC starts really flexing their muscle and forcing exchanges to go into delisting mode (we already are starting to see this with Bittrex).
But a Hidden Opportunity
So about looking for another crypto pump opportunity.... When the culling happens, the survivors are gonna be as follows. Look for US-based ICOs that have been SEC-compliant from the outset, or at least making a strong effort to do so. Having a legal advisor or team member will be big this year. Don't be afraid of lockups or holding periods if it's for the purpose of being SEC compliant (signs are mentions of Reg CF, Reg D, Reg S, and Reg A+ offerings... you could google these keywords with their company name to see if they have a filing record in SEC's database). See if these ICOs and team leaders had a successful and profitable business in the past, or at least spun out of a profitable company. Also, there's way too much bullshit with partnerships, many which are fake or with useless no/name companies. Next, a lot of these open ecosystem platforms rely on partner companies to attract customers -- but why would companies join when there are no customers, and vice versa. It's all bullshit and often pump and dump shilling. What you want is a closed ecosystem (think Apple iOS) to help consumers navigate the business model. An open ecosystem where customers have to attach their own crypto wallet, blah blah blah, yay decentralization, yeah... well that's all never gonna see mass adoption (think Linux... some hardcore advocates exist, but what layperson actually wants to operate command lines or deep menus all day long and accidentally break their system with one wrong syntax). Look how successful Coinbase has become by simplifying crap. Too much shit is focused on the crypto side and it's like a foreign language to mainstream customers who won't touch it with a ten foot pole. Look for ICOs that are consumer focused rather just have solely an ICO page. It's particularly appealing if they have a self-directing strategy in the form of a tangible product they can sell to generate data or transactions in their ecosystem, which would naturally attract additional customers/companies into their platform.
These companies with revolutionary ideas, who are making an effort to be legally compliant and also have a tangible product, are the ones that are gonna survive the mass culling of alts and ICOs later this year. If we ever get our first ICO unicorn (from revenue, not pumped market cap of their token), then it will bring truly mainstream recognition of the crypto markets that will give the traditional stock markets a serious run for their money. I'm not talking about less than 1% of the $70 trillion stock market value of the world -- I'm talking like double digit levels of the entire global stock market. And I bet you it will happen. This is the sorting-out phase of the future -- a shift from old world Wall Street-type money to Silicon Valley. Crypto allows direct investments into technology startups, and tokenization of the actual business transaction mechanism cuts down all the traditional valuation crap dealing with public relations and whatever meta valuation factors. If the business is making sales, then the token is worth something, and that's all that matters. If the business is losing sales, then the token is worth less. Straightforward.
- https://www.epigencare.com/ico - Selling a 23andMe-like skincare test to generate skincare profiles, then seeing how product ingredients affect the profiles. Then skincare companies can target their products to customer profiles through their recommendation engine, and present them as personalized solutions in the customer's test report.
- https://holo.host/ico/ - Creating a new blockchain 3.0 that allows you store full websites and databases directly on the blockchain (instead of just transaction data), in order to allow decentralized hosting via peer-to-peer internet. They're selling small server boxes or software so you get paid crypto for cloud hosting (and apps and sites needing hosting pay the hosts).
When All The Puzzle Pieces Fit Together
Two more things to note. First: If ETH successfully pulls off scaling through sharding/raiden and drastically reduces gas fees through proof of stake, then it will be fit for enterprise use. ETH's stress tested blockchain with upgrades will facilitate real world adoption (Most of these ERC20 platforms are currently not fit for real adoption due to high gas fees and low TPS). Otherwise, consider hedging into alternative smart contract-, high volume-, low cost-capable platforms with implementation documentation (e.g., Stellar) to potentially get some good gains. Second: A lot of these current crypto exchanges are not registered ATS's (alternative trading systems) that are permitted to trade securities by the SEC, so they can only trade utilities. But SEC is cracking down on these fake-utilities and are deeming them all securities... that's gonna leave these exchanges in the dust. So we're seeing big companies entering this space, Overstock building tZero, Circle/Goldman Sachs acquiring Polo, Cobinhood, etc. They are prepping for ATS compliance, and when legal tokenized securities become tradeable, they will be traded on these platforms... not hot messes like Binance. And they will be user friendly -- gateways for mainstream to invest directly in the tokenized assets of a company's core business model. It's all culminating to the survival of legit companies, mainstream adoption, and these are your clues. Enjoy trading shitcoins while they last, but don't get caught with your pants down bagholding them.
TL;DR Look for coins based on fundamentals and legal compliance so they will survive the massive culling in late 2018 when roadmaps don't meet milestone deadlines
Edit: Grammar, and Readability
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