A long time fixture in the cryptocurrency world is jumping into the crowded exchange market. On Tuesday, London-based Blockchain announced "the Pit," an exchange that it says will match trades at "speeds a quantum faster than any other crypto exchange."
Blockchain, which launched in 2011, is best known for providing a wallet service that lets customers control access to their Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies by using a so-called private key.
In jumping into the exchange business with what it dubs the "world's fastest crypto exchange," Blockchain faces a highly competitive market where numerous other companies, notably Coinbase and Binance, offer a similar service. The company may also face headwinds, as crypto trading becomes more of a commodity business and commission fees—much as they are in the traditional brokerage world—are declining.
Blockchain CEO Peter Smith is confident, though, that his company has an opening. In an interview with Fortune, Smith said Blockchain serves 40 million customer wallets, and that 14 million of these have recently been active. He is betting that many of these clients will be persuaded to use Blockchain for trading as well as a storage service.
The company also believes that Mercury, the trade matching engine that drives Pit (the name is meant to invoke trading pits on stock exchange floors from the analog days), will offer an edge by delivering faster speeds than its rivals.
"We’re measuring in micro-seconds not milliseconds," said Nicole Sherrod, the Head of Trading Products. "It's the level of speed you find at the NYSE and NASDAQ." Sherrod joined Blockchain last year from TD Ameritrade, where she ran the active trading product division.
According to Smith, Mercury will be superior to anything in the market, and will be paired with an interface that will allow retail investors and professional traders to choose the level of sophistication they prefer. A Blockchain spokesman added that the technology will prevent opportunistic traders from exploiting delays to manipulate prices.
Sherrod added that Mercury stands out, given how other crypto companies have been unsuccessful in building new matching engines. Last year, Coinbase shut down a division of its Chicago office that had been dedicated to retooling its trading platform.
A Rare Public Gambit by Blockchain
While Blockchain has been around for more than a decade, it has kept a decidedly low profile. Its founder, Ben Reeves, is extremely shy of publicity, while many in the crypto world regard Smith as an enigma who emerged out of nowhere to become CEO.
In announcing the new exchange, though, Smith offered some details about the company and its business operations. He says the company's Blockchain Explorer tool, which helps people analyze activity related to Bitcoin, remains hugely popular and brings in over six figures a month in advertising revenue.
Smith also said that, while its wallet service remains the company's bread and butter, Blockchain does brisk business in over-the-counter trading. This entails brokering deals between large traders who do not want the market to learn of their trades and drive prices up or down.
While Blockchain has not raised venture capital money in the last two years, Smith says the company's valuation is above $3 billion. He also noted Blockchain has carried out a series of recent acquisitions.
As for whether Blockchain can compete with its larger rivals, Smith panned Malta-based Binance—which is the biggest exchange in the world—as "an unlicensed casino," suggesting it would face difficulties keeping customers in regulated markets.
Meanwhile, Smith pointed to Coinbase's recent decision to offer a service, akin to Blockchain's, that lets customers control their private keys. This he said, along with Blockchain's decision to provide a traditional exchange, suggests that the various businesses of companies in the crypto space are starting to converge.
Blockchain is making Pit available in countries around the world. In the U.S. it will be available, for now, in about 20 states, excluding New York.
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