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Upbit Emerges as South Korea’s Dominant Crypto Exchange with an 80% Market Share

Ruholamin Haqshanas
Last updated: | 2 min read
Upbit Emerges as South Korea's Dominant Crypto Exchange

Upbit, a Seoul-based exchange located in the upscale Gangnam district, has captured the majority of the Korean crypto market.

The platform currently dominates over 80% of the trading volumes in Korea, a level of market share unparalleled by any other major crypto exchange, according to a report from Bloomberg. 

Its popularity among local investors has pushed it to the ranks of the top five exchanges globally, competing head-to-head with industry giant Coinbase. 

In fact, Upbit’s customers accounted for nearly one-fifth of the total deposits held by its primary banking partner, a development that drew criticism from a South Korean lawmaker.

Upbit Might Further Grow Thanks to New Regulations

Meanwhile, new regulatory measures introduced to protect investors may unintentionally reinforce Upbit’s stronghold on the market. 

The regulations require crypto exchanges to bolster their reserves, obtain investor protection insurance, and enhance monitoring of suspicious transactions, all of which demand substantial capital and manpower

Meeting these requirements will be more feasible for well-established exchanges like Upbit, potentially widening the gap between them and their competitors.

In light of the regulatory landscape, Singapore-based recently postponed its planned launch in South Korea, citing the need for further communication with regulators. 

Despite setbacks such as the TerraUSD stablecoin’s collapse in 2022, South Korean traders remain among the most enthusiastic participants in the crypto market. 

Official data reveals that over 6 million Koreans, representing over 10% of the population, engaged in crypto trading on registered exchanges in the first half of last year. 

The Korean won has even surpassed the US dollar as the most traded currency against crypto assets globally.

The allure of crypto investments has also permeated the political sphere in Seoul, with candidates in recent parliamentary elections pledging to delay digital asset taxes or ease restrictions on investing in US Bitcoin exchange-traded funds (ETFs)

5% of Global Crypto Trading

Upbit, operated by fintech firm Dunamu Inc., was established in 2017 and has steadily grown in prominence. 

The exchange now accounts for nearly 5% of the global crypto trading volume, a significant increase from 1.4% in January 2021. 

Dunamu, founded by former executives from mobile payment firm Danal, gained early support from South Korean internet giant Kakao Corp. and Woori Technology Investment. 

During the pandemic-fueled bull run, Dunamu reached a peak valuation of $15.7 billion, making it one of Korea’s most valuable startups.

To solidify its position, Upbit forged a strategic partnership with Kakao, the operator of the dominant local mobile messaging app, enabling users to seamlessly synchronize their KakaoTalk and Upbit accounts, simplifying the onboarding process. 

Upbit’s success has prompted smaller exchanges to close down, unable to compete with its dominant position.

With the implementation of the Virtual Asset User Protection Act in July, South Korean regulators will impose stringent requirements on crypto exchanges, including potential life sentences for criminal acts. 

Exchanges will be required to segregate user deposits and assume liabilities in the event of hacks or system failures. 

As a result, smaller exchanges like Huobi Korea, Cashierest, and Coinbit have already shuttered.

Last October, Bithumb briefly challenged Upbit’s dominance by offering a zero-fee promotion, which helped it capture a significant market share. 

However, once the promotion ended, Bithumb’s market share plummeted by more than half. 

Other exchanges like Korbit and Gopax, backed by Binance, hold less than 1% of the market share.