As the price of bitcoin skyrocketed this year, new and experienced investors flocked to exchanges to cash in on the latest market upswing.
In Thailand, cryptocurrency trading platforms had a rocky start, with some collapsing unexpectedly while others drew the ire of regulators.
Yet the massive influx of new traders has been a boon for budding local trading platforms trying to become the market leader in Thailand.
Bitazza, a local digital asset broker, just surpassed 100,000 customers in April, a milestone in the company’s goal of becoming Southeast Asia’s premier digital asset trading platform.
The number of trading accounts on Bitazza’s platform rose by 25% from 80,000 in the first week of April, said chief executive Kavin Phongpandech.
The digital exchange was co-founded by five investors in 2018 and it launched services in December 2019 with 30,000 members.
After the scandalous closure of BX, the country’s first digital asset exchange established before the Digital Asset Decree took effect, local crypto traders were forced to seek new platforms.
Most moved to foreign exchanges they saw as more reliable than their Thai counterparts, whose sparse oversight caused some users to lose assets from closures.
Others chose local dealers like Bitazza in hopes that new regulations by the Thai Securities and Exchange Commission could better guarantee their rapidly appreciating assets.
Bitazza’s success did not happen because of the misfortunes of other startups, but rather unique business strategies to differentiate the firm from competitors, Mr Kavin said.
Since inception, the company has positioned itself as a homegrown crypto trading platform managed by local partners and a team with a clear vision of becoming Asean’s leading digital asset platform connected to regional crypto markets.
Bitazza tokens (BTZ), the platform’s utility tokens with a limited supply of 300 million units, were awarded to members who registered before the sign-up period, about three months before the official launch.
Utility tokens can be exchanged for products and services, such as discounts on trading fees and access to new features.
Traders can also earn BTZ through a loyalty programme, where members are gifted BTZ when they trade, recommend the platform to friends, participate in the company’s activities, and/or purchase merchandise from its partners.
“Our market positioning is different because we have the most trading partners and allow crypto traders to buy, sell and trade their coins for other cryptocurrencies and fiat money such as baht and USDT [Tether],” he said.
The prices of cryptocurrencies on the platform are similar to prices on the global market. Bitazza does not quote a price on its own, but refers to data on global trade networks, giving customers access to both global and standardised prices as well as high liquidity.
Bitazza recorded a monthly trading volume of 6 million baht in January 2020. In the first two months of 2020, monthly trading volume surpassed 302 million baht.
Fast forward to January 2021 and monthly trading volume rose to 676 million baht, before surging to 1.5 billion in February and 1.9 billion in March, making Bitazza the country’s largest digital asset broker licensee.
Mr Kavin said his life goal today is quite different from when he was a fresh graduate at 22, completing three master’s degrees from the University of California, Berkeley in computer science, economics and statistics.
“I dreamt of establishing my own bank,” he told the Bangkok Post with a shy smile.
His dream was inspired by his experiences in mobile and electronic banking when he was studying in the US.
Mobile banking was a novelty then and still in its infancy in Thailand.
Mr Kavin studied Thai laws regarding the establishment of banks and met with officials who worked as regulators in Thailand to discuss possibilities.
After several discussions with Thai regulators, it became apparent his dream was unattainable as the law required investors to hold 10 billion baht of registered capital before establishing a bank.
However, after he learned of blockchain, the decentralised ledger technology that powers cryptocurrency trading, he recognised its potential and thought it could help him set up a bank to distribute capital flows to people in the traditional finance system.
“I believe blockchain technology will serve as the foundation for an inclusive, transparent and democratic method to regulate the financial system through technology,” said Mr Kavin.
“It will grant everyone access to investments regardless of where they are or where they live.”
At that time, he was still committed to establishing a new type of bank. In 2014, he encountered cryptocurrencies while working as a senior analyst at WorldQuant, an international hedge fund and quantitative investment management firm.
Mr Kavin felt it was the right time to capitalise on this emerging market as it coincided with the enforcement of the Digital Asset Decree that legalised and regulated digital asset businesses in Thailand.
The legalisation of digital assets and growth potential of this nascent market, with only one large digital asset exchange at the time, sparked an idea to build a digital asset business.
He helped establish Bitazza, which now has total paid-up capital worth 45 million baht.
THE FUTURE IS FINTECH
“I don’t see myself as a banker anymore, but as an owner of a digital investment bank that connects digital asset issuers to capital markets and investors,” said Mr Kavin.
He said the company is applying for a licence from the Securities Commission of Malaysia to operate as a digital asset dealer in the country, with aspirations to expand further into the region.
“We are talking to several governments including Sri Lanka, Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia to complete our expansion across the region,” said Kevin Heng, chief strategy officer of Bitazza.
The company’s working culture aims to facilitate a collaboration between employees of different cultures and languages across the region, while fostering a sense of independence and ownership in cross-border operations, he said.
Bitazza recently partnered with Lightnet Group, another Thai blockchain startup that deals with cross-border remittance payments with cryptocurrency as an intermediary.
Lightnet Group is owned by Chatchaval Jiaravanonm, the grandson of the head of Charoen Pokphand Group.
Mr Heng said Bitazza Europe plans to partner with Kogopay an e-wallet service provider that is 70% owned by Lightnet enabling the company to accept European customers. He expects the European branch to launch by the third quarter.
Bitazza Global plans to launch more services such as futures, savings and credit cards in the fourth quarter.
This partnership also includes Mr Chatchaval’s other startup, Velo Labs, an international digital payment network and subsidiary of Lightnet Group.
With these partnerships, the company consists of three main businesses lines: a digital asset trading business, which is its core; a digital investment bank that aims to connect digital asset entrepreneurs; and an online payment platform applying blockchain to allow traders and corporate partners to use both cryptocurrencies and fiat money as a payment method.
Mr Kavin believes digital asset payments will become a mainstream trend as new lifestyles favour people with technological know-how.
The term “high risk, high return” is based on the assumption that people have equal access to knowledge, he said.
“People with more knowledge generally earn high returns,” Mr Kavin said.
He said one of his goals is to help educate people about digital assets.
“My goal has not yet been achieved. There are so many things that I need to do to realise my vision,” said Mr Kavin.