Ariel Ling, as the co-founder and COO of BitMax.io (BTMX.com), was invited to the interview by Fred Schebesta, the CEO of Crypto Finder (Finder.com). Ariel has 18-year progressive executive experience in strategic planning, business development, budgeting and financial analysis risk management, regulatory program implementation, and process improvement for operational efficiency. She has an in-depth understanding of capital market products (stocks, fixed income, foreign exchange) in financial services and the development of international banking strategic trends (M&A, market structure, regulatory reforms and their impact). Her lustrous career on Wall Street made this interview a popular link on YouTube.
F: Okay. Let’s go back and talk about BitMax in terms of markets. What markets do you mainly trade with geographically? Because you have the sites in Korean, English and Chinese. Where is your focus from a market perspective?
A: When you have those three languages, it almost tells those must be my top three. The reason why we have an office in Beijing is to gear towards the Asian, Pacific Asian type of market. So most people think our users are Chinese. Actually, no. If you look at our user base from a community of fan respective, within 4 month after launch, we’ve got 35,000 members and the number is growing every single day. But out of 35,000 community users, actually, 1/3, even more than 1/3 are from English channels. For example, the English telegram is one of the biggest. We also have WeChat channel. So when you ask where the trading volume comes from, I would say 40–50 percent predominantly from Chinese speaking countries, which means China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and some of our equity investors are based there. And then when you’re looking at the development of the neighbor countries, Japan and Korea, especially Korea, are very active. So when I look at the second tranches, depending on which month, it’s either Korea or sometimes the South East countries that are very active too. And for Korean, it’s very interesting because I’ve done several conferences there too. Korean market is quite mature, the same thing with Japanese market. If you look at the adoption of Bitcoin, there’s a tight regulation, but people are used to trading. And they even have Bitcoin ATM in Japan.
F: When I was ordering the equivalent of Uber when I was in Korea, it was like Credit card, Cash, and Bitcoin.
A: Oh my god yes!
F: It’s awesome!
A: Exactly. I actually met couple of projects that are trying to optimize the payment channels, e-payment channels, or this kind of payment channel that includes crypto. So it’s interesting that they are very mature in terms of adoption acceptance. And also from the understanding of trading, Korea also has very large transaction mining exchanges. So when you go to Coinmarketcap, looking at the reported volume, you will see Bithumb is like №1 in ranking, because they have a pretty significant transaction mining as well. And in last couple of days, if you went to Coinmarketcap, you would see us, BitMax.io, moving up to №2, sometimes №3, 5, 10. That was when the Korean market was very vibrant and they are used to trading. So that’s number two market for us. And the next you will be surprised. We actually have very substantial group of users coming from Europe. Because last month, speaking of the volume, when I looked up at a daily report of trading analytics, where a lot of decisions are based on, I found we actually had five percent of total volume from UK, Russian and France last. And right now, we are listing a very significant project from India. And suddenly we see a lot of India users trading. So it is very diversified. It is not what people thought that only Chinese users are trading on the platform. It’s almost like 1/3 or 2/5 from Chinese speaking countries, then 1/3 from other part of the Asian, and then there’s the big chunk from Europe.
F: I guess that the Chinese government is relatively hostile to cryptocurrency or relatively. So what’s your approach as an exchange dealing with the Chinese market and particularly China itself and people in mainland China.
A: First of all, I have to say this is only speaking on a personal view. When it comes down to government, what I look at or what my team look at, it is not by one particular government. I don’t particularly think hostile is the right word. It really comes down just like US — when the government takes a look at a new financial asset, their view is always about what it is, and how I can regulate it, as simple as that. So, each government is at a different stage in terms of defining the requirement, understanding what it is, and defining how to regulate. So, I would think that certain countries are way ahead of certain countries, like Japan, let’s just look at it. They’ve already made the rules , everything you have to register. You want to be the exchange, you have to go for license. Everything has to go through all the checklist. There are very stringent requirement but there is requirement. So, for other countries such as China, US is the same where we are still waiting for either SEC or CFCT to issue the final guidance in terms of what this is and how they are going to regulate. So I think a lot of perception are really coming from a lack of clarity. At the end of day, any financial institution must work with the government, because it’s intricacy in terms of global economy and a country economy, especially from financial institutional perspective. For digital asset, I like to use the word digital asset versus cryptocurrency, because digital asset, whether its Bitcoin or ERC 20, should be really reviewed as asset class — how you define it? what is the boundary? And how does the government feel comfortable that 1) from an investor perspective, people hold it as asset to increase value; 2), from trading perspective, whether there is proper guidance or proper protection against any manipulation. This is what we all have to wait for each part of the government. And I do know for example, UK FCA, is also contemplating what is the regulation, what is the requirement. I think that they’re trying to come out soon. And Singapore has something similar. So every single country is at the different path to get to defining what it is.
F: And you see that coming from China as well?
A: Like I said, I don’t really have any detail. Like I said, I am just from an outside view knowing how long it took them to open their financial market. When I was working for American banks, it was also a journey to get the foreign bank established in the mainland China. That is the journey I think the government is working through in terms of what is critical for them.
F: Let’s talk about broader-based adoption in terms of the evolution of the crypto market. Obviously Wall Street has its view on crypto. What do you think would be the big steps for crypto to take to evolve to be more mainstream and institutional friendly.
A: I think I have answered part of your question. When you look at it as part of my business planning for this venture, for any business plan, you need to look at the current state. So for the current state of digital asset, the premise is that right now the digital asset as an industry is tiny. The entire trading volume for cryptocurrency is 20 to 30 billion a day. You know how much it trades in US equity cash market? It’s 400–600 billion. The difference is because of institutional investors exactly as you said. What prevents institutional investors coming to this industry? It’s fragmented. Everything is pretty much on its own. You’ve got exchanges taking on different roles. They are brokers; they are the wallet management; they are the custodian. They are doing everything. And there are very different shapes of exchanges. You’ve got blockchain people, and you’ve got the banks. It’s very fragmented. Nobody knows what is really the transparency. And all the institutional players, they are looking at what is the government’s view on this, what is my biggest risk to get into this. So a lot of them is really about transparency. But the word, crypto, is a bit more connotation from a not so positive perspective. Institutional investors, they don’t see transparency from a market structure perspective.
A: My team and I, we came from a very much Wall Street background. When you look at the Wall Street, they were not pretty in 1980s, like the Wolf of Wall Street. But over the last 20–30 years, with all the different regulations and market structures reforms, you will see it becomes very structured. So typically, there are three different roles. First, the broker dealer, which basically handles the client relationship: there’s retail, there’s financial institution, and there’s blockchain. And second, what does the exchange do? The exchange does really just trading, order matching and listing. And third, there’s another component in equity world, I mean, in every single country there’s clearing house. What the clearing house does is when you buy a stock, they verify for you. It’s the same; they are very independent. When you guy the bitcoin, there is an address. It’s transparent. But the clearing house is making sure that here’s your money, here’s your digital asset; you make the trade, you settle the trade. Clean and clear. And these three components are basically how every single security market operates in every single country. And then when you look at what is the ancillary support structure, you’ve got the KYC — to addresses all the AML risk — All the governments are also worried about AML, terrorist funding and stuff like that. So the second part is the custody. Who holds the asset? If the exchange holds the asset, how do you make sure they don’t have any fungibility moving around. So the custody component for regulatory market is very important.
F: I think a big news right now is Fidelity has come out and launched their own custodian service. They are a fairly large institution.
A: Exactly, they are the largest money managers in the world.
F: How do you think that will help clarify this custody piece? Do you think this is a good thing?
A: I think this is actually good development for the market when you look at the structure just like I pointed out. You have to have a custody for digital asset trading to prove the value of the asset in an independent and control location. Another huge custody institution in US as you know is State Street. They have to have proper books and records, a proper control mechanism to demonstrate. This is actually a very healthy development, meaning the market is getting matured. And each of their utility functions is actually having strong support from someone so successful as Fidelity. I think this is a very healthy development, because from regulator/government perspective, you need those utility check-and- balances making sure the market is transparent, the trading is fair; asset is protected, and investors are protected. That’s what it is about.
F: And TokenSoft as well has just launched a custody service for security tokens. It has a cold storage custody platform for security tokens, and I think this is part of your wallet management.