Tether was once the stablecoin king. Now its dominance is threatened by newcomers and legal uncertainty.

Chess business concept, leader & success

In 2018, Jeff Bezos told Insider that innovators “have to be willing to be misunderstood.” So when Stuart Hoegner, the top lawyer at tether, began an indignant blog post in May citing Bezos, it suggested he saw his product as the unfairly maligned bleeding edge of a crypto revolution.

Others aren’t so sure. Regulators are training their sights on tether, the biggest of the dollar-pegged cryptocurrencies known as stablecoins.

On Monday, reports circulated that the DOJ was eyeing a criminal bank fraud case against tether execs’ conduct years ago. The next day, further reports indicated a presidential committee led by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen was homing in on tether, likening it to an unregulated money-market fund – the kind which caused financial turmoil during the 2008 crisis and again when COVID-19 rattled markets.

But even as tether’s legal troubles reach an apex, the stablecoin has in some ways become less relevant.

So far this year, tether’s share of the overall stablecoin supply has tumbled from 75% to 57%, according to data from The Block. Behind the decline are new challengers, including Circle’s USD Coin, Binance USD, Gemini, and DeFi-focused Dai.

The problem for tether is that the technological barriers around its stablecoin business are not very high.

All the various US dollar-backed stablecoins “are not that different in terms of what they’re representing,” Denelle Dixon, CEO of the Stellar Development Foundation, told Insider. Stellar hosts USD Coin on its network.

“But the companies that support those tokens and what they do behind the scenes is really important,” she added.

And what tether does behind the scenes has become a central focus. Alongside the recent bank fraud allegations, past issues with its parent company’s misconduct have dogged tether, leading New York state to ban trading.

Moreover, there are two sets of complaints about the stablecoin itself: the quality of its reserves and transparency.

First, regulators worry that tether’s reserves – which in principle should back each tether with one dollar – could be of dubious quality. After the company released a reserves breakdown this year, JPMorgan estimated that its $30 billion in commercial paper, a cash-like type of short-term corporate debt, would make tether one of the world’s biggest investors in the asset.

Yet unlike other massive commercial paper holders, tether does not disclose the make-up of what it owns. Hoegner told CNBC his company’s holdings included international paper – leading anchor Jim Cramer to speculate tether could be a “ticking time bomb” holding default-prone Chinese paper. A recent academic paper suggested tether could be subject to bank runs, where the company is unable to meet a wave of dollar redemptions.

Second, some think tether’s disclosures, which were recently beefed up, are still insufficient. The company has not yet produced a full independent audit, though Hoegner told CNBC that one was “months away, not years.” It has, however, produced an independent “attestation” – essentially verification that tether’s balance sheet is what the company says.

Tether has disputed or denied the accusations against it. It says its commercial-paper holdings are highly rated, it has plenty of cash to cover redemptions, and its disclosure efforts are setting a “new industry standard for transparency.”

“It’s a classic entrepreneur’s dilemma,” Sadie Raney, CEO of crypto hedge fund Strix Leviathan, told Insider. Firms operating in scantily regulated industries, like tether, must choose whether to plow ahead and risk blowback or take it slow and give up market share, she said.

For Raney, who also co-founded the SEC-registered crypto robo-advisor Makara, using tether is too risky when her business relies on a government green light.

“If we utilize a stablecoin, we do not use tether, [although] we have in the past,” said Raney, whose company now uses Gemini. “The regulatory uncertainty with tether was what kept us from continuing to use it.”

Not everyone is deterred, though. Valkyrie CIO Steven McClurg told Insider that tether’s public attestation helped soothe some of his prior fears, saying its publication has been “really good for the industry.”

“I don’t think there are really any concerns anymore,” he added.

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A crypto chief explains why investors need to ignore short-term price drops in bitcoin – and says innovation will always be way ahead of regulation

Bitcoin crypto currency physical banknote and coin imitations.
  • Investors shouldn’t pay much attention to the short-term drops in the value of bitcoin, MoonPay’s CEO said.
  • It’s normal for regulation to be a couple steps behind financial innovation, Ivan Soto-Wright said.
  • Further waves of retail adoption will allow cryptocurrencies to have everyday use cases, he predicted.
  • Sign up here for our daily newsletter, 10 Things Before the Opening Bell.

Crypto investors shouldn’t be too focused on short-term swings because prices will become less volatile as adoption expands, according to Ivan Soto-Wright, co-founder and CEO of MoonPay.

“Bitcoin is one of the best performing asset classes if you look at the last five years,” he told Insider in an interview. “So when you take the long-term horizon, you don’t look day-to-day or month-to-month.”

Bitcoin has rebounded to trade near $40,000 after three consecutive months of losses that were driven by a host of worldwide crackdowns on crypto trading and mining. Experts across the digital asset space called China’s crackdown the largest sovereign assault on the asset class since its inception, a report from Galaxy Digital showed.

It’s gained 34% in value so far this year, and is 107% higher in the last 12 months.

Soto-Wright, who launched MoonPay in March 2019, got excited about cryptocurrencies after his friend wrote a thesis on bitcoin during college, making him see the potential of financial inclusion for both the banked and the un-banked.

MoonPay, which builds payments infrastructure for cryptocurrencies, is now live in 160 countries with over 250 partners including bitcoin.com and NFT marketplace OpenSea.

He said it’s only expected for regulators to take their time in making sure customers are safeguarded, and for crypto-focused companies to find the right balance between financial innovation and customer protection.

“The great thing that will make the industry thrive in the long term is having clarity over what those rules are in different parts of the world,” he said. “Regulators are always a couple steps behind the financial innovation component, and that’s where some of the friction arises.”

Soto-Wright spoke about ethereum’s growing efficiency, and how blockchain technologists are committed to scaling digital assets through improvements and upgrades to base protocols.

The ethereum network underpins a number of different technologies, including sales of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which come with huge hidden premia also known as “gas fees.”

He said crypto skeptics are right in that digital assets cannot be used to buy something as simple as coffee, but waves of adoption are yet to come in and allow for scaling to everyday use cases.

But as more people enter the crypto-economy, it will progress and become less expensive to make transactions, just like telephonic communication evolved from pricey long-distance phone calls, to free video-conferencing over the likes of Skype and Zoom, Soto-Wright said.

Read More: The SEC is trying to make investing apps like Robinhood less ‘fun’ in order to protect investors – but these gamified features are actually a great idea

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Bitstamp CEO says he’s been ‘blown away’ by interest in ether staking – as exchanges gear up for ethereum 2.0

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Excitement is building around ethereum staking.

  • Bitstamp’s CEO has been “blown away” by the amount of interest in ether staking, he told Insider.
  • Bitstamp is one of many exchanges to have added ether staking, amid excitement around ethereum 2.0.
  • Staking is when users put up tokens to gain the right to validate transactions and earn more crypto.
  • Sign up here for our daily newsletter, 10 Things Before the Opening Bell.

The CEO of crypto exchange Bitstamp has been “blown away” by the amount of interest in ether staking on the platform, as excitement builds around a sector that JPMorgan believes could be worth $40 billion in five years’ time.

Crypto staking is when users put up their own tokens to gain the right to validate transactions on blockchain networks and earn more cryptocurrency as a reward.

Bitstamp added ethereum staking to its offering in July. The exchange was started in 2011 and is the 11th-biggest.

“We have been … blown away, if that’s the right term, in terms of the amount of interest that has come,” Bitstamp CEO Julian Sawyer told Insider this week. He did not disclose how much had been staked so far, however.

Sawyer said Bitstamp users who were choosing to stake ether – the cryptocurrency of the ethereum network – were on average staking 50% of their holdings.

“That says a lot. That is not people playing [and saying] ‘oh, I’ll just put 1%, 10% over there, I’ll put a hundred dollars into this.’ That is people being engaged in the product set and the interest rate.”

Read more: A crypto research analyst breaks down 3 trades designed to generate 30% to 80% returns – and shares the 2 metrics that make him bullish about a bitcoin comeback

Excitement has built around staking thanks in large part to the ethereum network’s upcoming upgrade, known as the shift to ethereum 2.0.

The network will move from a “proof-of-work” system, where so-called miners use vast amounts of computing power to validate transactions, to a “proof-of-stake” mechanism. Developers hope the switch will be complete by early 2022.

The upgrades could help the staking industry grow to $40 billion by 2025, JPMorgan analysts, led by Kenneth Worthington, said in early July. Worthington and colleagues said exchanges such as Coinbase stand to profit as the sector grows.

More than 6.4 million ether – worth $15.1 billion on Friday – have been staked on ethereum 2.0 network already, according to Etherscan.

However, users who want to stake ether, including on exchanges such as Bitstamp and Coinbase, have to lock up their coins until the upgrade is complete. Ether staking is also unavailable to Bitstamp’s US customers.

Sawyer said the fact that users were willing to lock up their tokens showed how people are increasingly committed to the crypto sector.

The Bitstamp boss, who has run the company since October 2020, also said interest in ether has grown sharply compared with interest in bitcoin. He said this shows people are becoming more interested in other parts of the crypto world.

Although many retail investors are interested in ether staking, one executive at a top crypto exchange said institutional investors were warier due to the lock-up period, during which time the price could swing wildly.

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Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin is in talks to invest in CoinDXC that will seal the Indian crypto exchange’s unicorn status, report says

Eduardo Saverin speaks at the Tech in Asia Singapore 2016
Eduardo Saverin, co-founder at B Capital Group.

Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin’s B Capital is in discussions to close an investment round for Indian crypto exchange CoinDCX that could value the company at more than $1 billion, the Economic Times reported on Wednesday.

San Francisco-based digital asset investment fund Polychain Capital and crypto exchange Coinbase’s venture capital arm are other participants in the round that could raise between $100 to $120 million, the report said, citing three sources familiar with the matter.

For startups to attain a $1 billion valuation was once an uncommon feat, hence why they share a name with a rare mystical animal – “unicorn.”

B Capital, Polychain Capital, Coinbase Ventures, and CoinDCX didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

CoinDCX, launched in 2018, counts over 100,000 active monthly users and sees more than $40 million in daily trading volume, according to figures on its website. The company’s user base has surged 700% since March 2020, and its registered users reportedly stood at 1.5 million as of June.

Co-founders Sumit Gupta and Neeraj Khandelwal raised about $20 million through three rounds of funding in 2020, according to the ET.

CoinDCX’s billion-dollar status would make it the country’s first crypto unicorn, the report said.

The absence of clear regulations and a previous threat of a blanket ban on cryptocurrencies has kept some local investors away from crypto-focused firms, but the industry has managed to secure investments from international funds and entrepreneurs like Mark Cuban.

Indian crypto firm Polygon received an undisclosed investment from Cuban in May this year.

Cryptocurrency investments in India grew from about $200 million to nearly $40 billion in the 12 months to June, according to data firm Chainalysis. The country ranks as high as 11 out of 154 nations in terms of cryptocurrency adoption, data shows.

Read More: Denmark’s most popular eToro trader breaks down how his time as an elite chess player helped shape the strategy that made him 400% returns on bitcoin this year and led 20,000 people to copy his portfolio

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Billionaire investor Mike Novogratz attacks Elizabeth Warren’s anti-crypto stance, saying DeFi is far more transparent than banks

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Mike Novogratz is one of the most high-profile bitcoin and crypto investors.

Billionaire investor Mike Novogratz has criticized Senator Elizabeth Warren’s anti-crypto stance, saying decentralized finance, or DeFi, can be a progressive force that is more transparent for consumers than banks.

Warren on Tuesday sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen calling for tougher rules on cryptocurrencies and related industries. The senator is concerned that retail investors are getting hurt in a volatile and unregulated market.

But Novogratz tweeted to Warren on Tuesday night: “You really don’t seem so progressive to me.”

The famed crypto investor said: “Banks charged $12 billion in overdraft fees, a fortune in ATM fees, a fortune in checking account fees. But you keep going after crypto where saving and money transfer is a fraction of banks.”

He added: “If banks had the transparency of DeFi protocols, we would not have had the mortgage crisis. DeFi will win because it’s better. [Automatic] settlement. Bearer assets. Composability. Transparency.

“We just need to solve for KYC [know-your-customer protections] which is coming. We need to educate our politicians.”

Read more: The cofounder of the cryptocurrency Tezos explains why DeFi yield farming is doomed to fail – and breaks down the role she thinks digital assets will play in society moving forward

DeFi is a catch-all term for financial products built using blockchain technology that do not require a central authority, such as interest-bearing accounts and exchanges that do not need banks, or clearing houses.

Estimates of the size of the market vary, but CoinGecko reckons the market capitalization of the top 100 coins used in the DeFi world is more than $80 billion.

Warren included DeFi on her list of “growing threats” that crypto poses to consumers. She is among the lawmakers and regulators concerned that DeFi’s lack of centralized authorities mean amateur investors have next to no protections and could get badly burned.

The senator said to Yellen that the Financial Stability Oversight Council must “act quickly to use its statutory authority to address cryptocurrencies’ risks and regulate the market to ensure the safety and stability of consumers and our financial system.”

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Binance is on the hunt for a CEO with regulatory and compliance skills, but Changpeng Zhao says he’s not being replaced any time soon

Changpeng Zhao
Binance CEO, Changpeng Zhao.

Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao said he’s open to stepping down from his leadership role in favor of a compliance expert, as the crypto exchange seeks to cooperate better with global regulators.

Zhao stressed that he isn’t making the move right away and that the company’s search for a CEO with compliance and regulatory skills didn’t mean he was being replaced immediately. “But I view this as a very important progression of our next pivot,” he said at a virtual press conference on Tuesday.

Binance, one of the world’s biggest crypto exchanges, vowed to make changes after a series of financial authorities around the world banned its operations for failing to register with local regulators. In the US, it has been subjected to investigation by the Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service over concerns about illegal transactions.

The company now plans to double the size of its global compliance team by the end of 2021.

With this in view, Zhao said the hunt is on for a compliance expert as leader and that he would be able to help drive the company even after letting go of the role.

“If there is a suitable candidate that has a strong regulatory background that can lead an international business like Binance, I’ll be very happy for that person to take the CEO role, so that this shows our commitment to regulatory compliance,” he said.

“I will always contribute to Binance and the BNB ecosystem. I don’t have to be CEO to do that.”

Zhao, the founder of Binance, has been the company’s CEO since its establishment in 2017. With a net worth of almost $2 billion, he is the fifth-richest on Forbes’ list of crypto billionaires.

In a series of tweets later Tuesday, Zhao clarified what succession-planning means to him. He said CEOs should ideally stay in their roles for not more than five years, and suggested bringing a fresh approach helps businesses stay on top of developments.

“We live in a dynamic world. We need new thinking. Presidents only serve for 4 years,” he tweeted.

Read More: The founder of crypto-trading platform Apifiny breaks down why bitcoin is set to ‘easily’ rally back to $60,000 by the end of the year – and could eventually hit $100,000

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Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao said the world’s largest crypto exchange wants to work with regulators to be ‘licensed everywhere’

Changpeng Zhao, CEO of Binance, speaks at the Delta Summit, Malta's official Blockchain and Digital Innovation event promoting cryptocurrency, in St Julian's, Malta October 4, 2018.
Changpeng Zhao, CEO of Binance.

  • Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao said his firm will cooperate with global regulators and will create regional headquarters.
  • The exchange has long touted its decentralized operations and has not listed any headquarters.
  • “We need to be a licensed financial institution everywhere that we operate,” Zhao said. “We’ve taken a very strong pivot now.”
  • Sign up here for our daily newsletter, 10 Things Before the Opening Bell.

Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao on Tuesday expressed his intention to cooperate with global regulators after a string of clampdowns against the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange by authorities across the globe.

“We need to be a licensed financial institution everywhere that we operate,” Zhao said during a press conference attended by journalists on Tuesday.

If regulators expect Binance to have a headquarters, then Binance will establish regional headquarters around the world, the CEO said. This will give regulators a “very easy to understand structure,” Zhao added.

The executive clarified that his exchange has not decided on specific locations yet.

“We’ve taken a very strong pivot now,” Zhao said. “So for the last four years, we are a technology startup. From now on we’re going to be a financial institution … I think that mindset is a very strong shift.”

Binance, which was founded in 2017, has long touted its decentralized operations, hence its absence of a headquarters. While it was founded in China and officially domiciled in the Cayman Islands, the firm seems to be most present in its digital space, something regulators have taken issue with.

In the past months, Binance has been slapped with multiple warnings, and in some jurisdictions, has been banned from operating due to its failure to register with local regulators.

The company has faced scrutiny from the UK, Canada, Japan, Germany, Thailand, Italy, and the Cayman Islands.

In the US, Binance is under investigation as part of a wider effort to deal with illicit activity that’s thrived in the mostly unregulated market.

Zhao said his firm will be “fully compliant” to protect its users and the cryptocurrency industry.

“Our goal is to help increase the freedom of money all around the world without sacrificing security and compliance,” Zhao said. “We want to be fully compliant, we want to be fully secure, and we want to protect our users and at the same time we want to move our industry forward.”

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Bitcoin surges 15% to top $38,000, boosted by comments from influential investors and chatter about Amazon getting into crypto

Bitcoin crypto currency physical banknote and coin imitations.
  • Bitcoin rose 15% to its strongest level since mid-June on Monday.
  • Positive remarks by Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey, and Cathie Wood at “The B Word” event helped drive the gains.
  • Chatter about Amazon possibly accepting bitcoin payments by the end of 2021 are seen as adding further support.
  • Sign up here for our daily newsletter, 10 Things Before the Opening Bell.

Bitcoin leapt 15% on Monday to rise above $38,000 for the first time in about six weeks, after remarks from influential commentators and a report that Amazon is considering accepting payments in the cryptocurrency helped restore bullish investor sentiment.

The coin was trading at around $38,750 as of 3:15 a.m. ET, representing a 33% gain so far this year. It had earlier hit a 24-hour high of about $39,544, its highest level since mid-June.

After being stuck in a descending slope for three months, bitcoin broke out at the top end of recent levels following positive comments from leading CEOs Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey, and Cathie Wood at “The B Word” event last week.

Tesla CEO Musk said the electric-vehicle maker would be open to accepting bitcoin as payment again, as long as the mining community strives to move towards efficient energy use. Twitter boss Dorsey said that bitcoin is a big part of the social-media platform’s future, and that he’s working to make an accessible wallet for it via payments company Square.

A report from London’s City A.M. about Amazon possibly accepting bitcoin payments by the end of 2021 also helped drive the digital currency’s move higher. The roll-out may not take long, since the online retail giant has been working on these plans since 2019, a source told the newspaper, it reported.

Amazon is also looking to hire someone to lead its digital currency and blockchain initiatives.

The re-emergence of institutional experts, along with Goldman Sachs’ recent services for institutional trades in bitcoin, helped drive the weekend rally for bitcoin, Jeffrey Halley, a senior market analyst at OANDA, said in a note on Monday.

“I still believe the entire sector and un-stable coins are complete nonsense that will lose small investors billions, but the people have spoken, and the digital Dutch tulips look ripe for a large rally in the short term,” Halley said.

Read More: 5 crypto experts explain why bitcoin is charging back into a bull market after a brief dip below $30,000 – plus 3 under-the-radar ways to gain balanced exposure to the crypto ecosystem

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13 must-see charts, plus an $875 mini bitcoin-mining rig

Hello and welcome to Insider Investing. I’m Joe Ciolli, and I’m here to guide you through the current market and investing landscape. Here’s what’s on the docket:

If you aren’t yet a subscriber to Insider Investing, you can sign up here.

Have thoughts on the newsletter? Just want to talk markets? Feel free to drop me a line at jciolli@insider.com or on Twitter @JoeCiolli.


13 must-see charts for the 2nd half of 2021

An employee views trading screens at the offices of Panmure Gordon and Co

The first half of 2021 in the stock market has been full of once-in-a-decade events. We asked 5 strategists from leading institutions to outline the most compelling charts informing their outlooks for the second half. Here are their top 13.

Read the full story here:

13 must-see charts for navigating markets in the second half of the year, according to strategists at 5 top investment banks and asset managers


Check out this $875 mini bitcoin-mining rig

This is a photo of Idan Abada, a crypto TikTok influencer and miner, holding a mini bitcoin mining rig. He's wearing a black t-shirt.

Idan Abada has gone viral on TikTok with an $875 mini bitcoin-mining rig. He explained to us how mini miners are generally used, what people usually hope to accomplish, and which limitations can impede success.

Read the full story here:

An $875 mini bitcoin-mining rig is viral on TikTok. The video’s creator told us 3 reasons why it’s an appealing alternative for crypto traders, and explained its limitations.


An interview with Grayscale’s CEO

Michael Sonnenshein

Grayscale Investments has launched a DeFi index fund in collaboration with CoinDesk Indexes. The market-cap-weighted index fund is Grayscale’s 15th product and tracked 10 tokens as of July 1. Grayscale CEO Michael Sonnenshein told Insider why they’re launching the DeFi fund now.

Read the full story here:

The world’s largest crypto asset manager is launching a decentralized finance index fund. Grayscale CEO Michael Sonnenshein told us why the firm is betting on DeFi amid surging demand from institutional investors.


Stock pick central

Seeking experts who are willing to name names? Look no further:

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A bitcoin ETF may not be approved by the SEC until 2023 despite surging interest, according to a fund provider that’s already been through the process

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Former Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairman Gary Gensler testifying before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill on July 30, 2013.

  • The wait for an SEC approved bitcoin ETF might be longer than most think, according to one fund provider that’s been through the approval process.
  • William Cai of Wilshire Phoenix doesn’t expect the SEC to approve a bitcoin ETF until 2022 or 2023.
  • “A bitcoin ETF is not on his top priority list as far as we can see,” Cai said, referring to SEC chief Gary Gensler.
  • Sign up here for our daily newsletter, 10 Things Before the Opening Bell.

Anticipation for a SEC-approved bitcoin ETF is high, but investors shouldn’t hold their breath as it may still be years away from becoming reality in the US.

That’s according to Wilshire Phoenix co-founder William Cai, who has first-hand experience in dealing with the SEC and its bitcoin ETF approval process.

Cai told Insider that he doesn’t expect the SEC to approve a bitcoin ETF until 2022 or 2023, even as more and more fund providers rush to submit their own applications with the regulator.

There are now more than 10 bitcoin ETF applications sitting with the SEC, with Cathie Wood’s Ark Invest the latest fund provider to submit its own application.

“We think they’re all going to get stuck,” Cai said.

The SEC’s rejection of the Wilshire Phoenix bitcoin ETF application in February 2020 gave the fund provider insight into what’s holding up the agency in approving a highly-sought after crypto ETF in the US.

“The major thing is manipulation, and they’re focused on the cash market, [which] is not regulated and does not trade on regulated exchanges,” Cai explained. A cash market is a marketplace in which the commodities or securities purchased are paid for and received at the point of sale.

The SEC is also concerned that cryptocurrencies are a relatively new asset class, and are still in the process of maturing, according to Cai. Bitcoin was created in 2009.

Even though Wilshire Phoenix worked on its bitcoin ETF application when Jay Clayton was Chairman of the SEC, Cai is seeing the same comments pop up in bitcoin ETF extension letters under current SEC Chairman Gary Gensler.

“I’ve seen nothing that suggests there’s been a switch in their thinking,” Cai said.

“Once it became more clear that Gensler was going to be [SEC chairman], to us it was even more of the case that [a bitcoin ETF approval] wasn’t going to happen,” Cai said.

Part of Cai’s view comes from his experience as a trader at JPMorgan when Gensler was head of the CFTC. “He came in, and he totally regulated, to the surprise of a lot of people. He was a really strict, but fair regulator,” Cai said.

Gensler’s current agenda at the SEC also means bitcoin is not a top priority for him for now, according to Cai.

“Gensler has a big item agenda on his plate already, between ESG, Robinhood and meme stocks. A bitcoin ETF is not on his top priority list as far as we can see,” Cai explained.

Still, while Cai is not hopeful that a bitcoin ETF will be approved by the SEC anytime soon, it will eventually happen.

“We believe a bitcoin ETF is good for the market, and it is going to happen,” Cai said, comparing the struggles faced by early bitcoin ETFs to the first gold ETF, which sat in limbo for a while before it was approved by the SEC in 2004.

In the meantime, Wilshire Phoenix is working towards receiving approval for a bitcoin trust that will likely trade on the OTC markets and compete with the popular Grayscale Bitcoin Trust.

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