The Rise of Crypto OTC Desks

 

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Cryptocurrencies grew immensely popular in 2017, but throughout the following year, digital asset markets fell sharply in value. However, over-the-counter (OTC) market makers thrived in 2018, with a slew of business models in the industry catering to OTC clients.

Even though digital currency markets dropped considerably in value in 2018, early investors and crypto whales who believe in the future of this asset class stocked up. Long term supporters will cost-average their positions by gaining as many coins as they can because they grasp the idea of digital scarcity. One business model that’s been thriving in 2018 is OTC crypto dealers or brokerage providers. Whales and big investors don’t purchase thousands of coins with traditional exchanges, because the premium for the trading fees would be outrageous. Instead, they use OTC providers like Circle, Itbit, Coincola, and Cumberland Mining. Other buyers will connect with miners and pool operators while other businesses and individuals will deal with Telegram, Wechat, and Skype OTC groups. This past April, reports revealed that cryptocurrency-based OTC desks using Skype have traded billions.

This year, many companies that had already provided digital asset exchange services have announced opening OTC desks for institutional clients. In June, Etoro announced opening an OTC platform for institutional buyers, and in May the OTC cryptocurrency service Genesis Global Trading received a Bitlicense to operate in New York. Blockchain.com started OTC operations in September and Coinbase and Hodl Hodl announced the launch of OTC desks in November.

After China banned crypto exchanges last year, over-the-counter trading started heating up. Throughout 2018 there were reports of a flourishing and unregulated OTC market in China. Last April, an executive at Overseas Chinese Investment Management, John DeCleene, described how bitcoin mules were making lots of money smuggling the cryptocurrency into the country.

“Selling and buying bitcoins on those OTC websites is the same as shopping on Taobao,” explained one of the bitcoin smugglers in an interview with Reuters. Average Joes Don’t Use Crypto-OTC Desks as Bulk Rates and Private Quotes Have a Minimum Membership Requirement

Last week, the crypto options market Skew gave an insightful description of how over-the-counter operations work if a customer wants to buy 1,000 BTC from an OTC desk using Telegram or Whatsapp. Tens of thousands of dollars can be saved buying in quantity and most OTC programs have a $50,000 or more minimum to use their services. For instance, those who want to join the onboarding process and trade with Cumberland Mining must understand that the minimum trade size is $100,000 before continuing to fill out the required know-your-customer (KYC) information. Cumberland has been around since 2014 and is owned by the 25-year old Chicago trading firm DRW.

“We’re dedicated to delivering professional onboarding and relationship management, timely and efficient settlements, and 24 ⁄ 7 access to a unique depth and breadth of crypto-assets,” explains Cumberland Mining’s website. You can save lots of money by utilizing OTC services but some of them have a minimum trade requirement of $50,000 or more. This type of cost averaging to accumulate larger long positions is not ideal for the average Joe investor.

OTC desks deal with a large network of mining operations and exchanges in order to serve as market makers and provide liquidity for trades. Even regulated OTC dealers use private chat rooms on Skype, Telegram, Whatsapp, and Wechat for quotes, discussions, and executing trades. Whales trading with established OTC providers use platforms that provide top of the line security like cold storage and multi-signature settlement. Like the neighborhood convenience store, a lot of the OTC desks today are open for trades 24/7.

The data stemming from 2018 and the spate of companies announcing new OTC operations indicates there’s a lot of demand for market makers executing huge trades on secondary markets. The growth of these types of businesses also shows how OTC markets have thrived despite a year of bearish cryptocurrency prices.

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