August 15, 2019
Malta-based cryptocurrency exchange Binance will launch its U.S. division within the next two months, according to CEO Changpeng Zhao.
The 2-year-old exchange, already the largest in the world by volume, revealed in June that it would stop serving U.S. customers on September 12 as it plans to formally enter the American market with a regulated fiat-to-crypto exchange.
"There are a lot of things in flux, but I would say [we'll launch] in a month or two," Zhao, better known as CZ, told Cheddar in an interview Wednesday.
Binance.US will launch in partnership with a firm called BAM Trading Services, which was generally unknown until the announcement of the partnership and faceless until the appointment of former Ripple exec Catherine Coley as CEO, in July.
Zhao said the U.S. division won't initially launch in New York since it has not obtained a BitLicense (which is issued by the New York State Department of Financial Services) and neither has BAM, which is regulated by the U.S. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). Coley, the CEO of BAM and Binance.US declined to comment on plans to apply for one.
The NYDFS is known for being especially rigorous in its approach to cryptocurrency businesses compared to other state regulators, requiring an exacting review of capital requirements and policies regarding money laundering, fraud, capitalization, consumer protection, and cybersecurity. It's an unpopular approach among many in the crypto industry, some of whom have even opted to pull business out of New York rather than bear the high cost of compliance.
More broadly, the U.S. has been slow to issue regulatory guidance for cryptocurrency businesses. The industry has generally appreciated regulators' care and caution to avoid hampering innovation or overregulating something so misunderstood, but the lack of clarity has also become restrictive for many looking to operate, develop, and grow their products and services. But Zhao appears to be undaunted by that.
"The U.S. historically has made very clear regulations, so we hope that will clear up," he said. "At the same time, some early adopters in this space will be better rewarded. There are uncertainties in the regulatory space, but we're willing to try."
There are hundreds of cryptocurrency exchanges already, and dozens based in the U.S. Trade volume on Binance is currently $1.2 billion compared to $660 million on Coinbase Pro, $355 million on Kraken, $75 million on Gemini and $47 million on Poloniex, according to CoinMarketCap as of publication. About 20 percent of traffic to Binance.com comes from the U.S., according to research from The Block.
"The U.S. has always been a very important market; globally it's one of the biggest markets for any business, including in cryptocurrency," he said. "We want to be fully compliant. Before we didn't feel we had the experience to do that but now we have our partners so we want to take this opportunity to explore the market."
Binance currently lists 150 coins and tokens. Binance.US has said it is considering 30 assets to list initially. In a blog post last week, Coley acknowledged that "the ease of issuing blockchain tokens and the perceived lack of regulation could make these tokens targets for abuse," and that the company recognizes it has legal and moral obligations to protect its users.
"For any centralized service, we have to do [client verification] and hold customer data," Zhao said. "On top of that we have to hold customer assets. Unlike banks, when the assets get stolen it's difficult to get them back. There's a high responsibility on the centralized exchanges we need to carry out well."