Stephen Stonberg on Leaving Investment Banking for Crypto
In this episode of Cryptonews Podcast, host Matt Zahab interviews Stephan Stonberg, CEO of cryptocurrency exchange Bittrex Global. They chat about his journey into crypto and banking, poker, tax laws, and the future of Bittrex.
2:32 Journey into crypto and blockchain
5:53 Hedge Funds dabbling in crypto
15:11 Resources to learn about crypto
17:49 Security at Bittrex Global
22:31 What is margin trading?
28:45 Tax laws
31:48 Comparisons between crypto and Amazon
37:03 Volatility of cryptocurrencies
40:55 The future of Bittrex Global
42:29 Rapid fire questions
The episode premiered on June 14, 2021.
Matt Zahab: 0:07
Folks, I'm very excited to have today's guest on the show. This gentleman has spent his entire 25 year career working in financial markets in London and New York for major investment companies like Goldman Sachs. In 2018, he left the traditional world of finance to get involved in blockchain, where he's presently the CEO of Bittrex global, one of the largest and most trusted cryptocurrency exchanges in the world. I'm very pleased to welcome a chiseled finance vet, to the crypto news podcast, Stephen Stonberg. Steven, welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me. And thanks for the kind words.
I love that. Where are you located right now?
I mean, it's blockchain. We're everywhere, decentralized. But I split my time. I mean, I'm not ever sort of in one place, but the company is based, we have offices for Bittrex global in Liechtenstein. And in Bermuda, we have physical offices, people go to work, believe it or not. And I spent a lot of time in those places. You know, I also spend some time in the US personally and Switzerland. And you know, looking forward to being in Miami next week for the Bitcoin conference.
Oh, I love that. How bananas do you think that's gonna be?
I think it's going to be insane. Because you've had, I mean, the markets are interesting. Now they're coming back a bit so people are more excited. I think they were excited, not excited now excited. But the fact that no one's been to one of these things in like two years or seeing people that's crazy. So I think I expect it to be quite... for me, I'm looking for the business relationships. I know, some other people are looking for some other types of relationships and things going on there. But no comment.
That's very true. I've heard they have some crazy stuff in the pipeline at the conference, supposedly, they're going to be lighting, garbage cans of fiat on fire, they're going to be dropping like the Venezuelan currency out of a helicopter. Like, it's just going to be banana land. So that should be...
I think, like any new business, it's always a bit nuts. Like, I'm old enough to remember when the internet was new and it was pretty crazy if you worked at those startup companies. I think it should be a lot of fun and I think from what I've seen, the crypto community is still pretty libertarian, and still fun. You know, we're not boring. In 10 more years, it'll look like an investment banking conference, but enjoy it while it lasts. It'd be my view. I don't see it being like this in five years.
Oh, I've heard those are pretty fun as well. But that's a great segue into investment banking, where you spent 25 years of your career. Now, you held pretty prominent positions within traditional investment banking, and then you moved to the blockchain and crypto space. Most people dream of holding a position like you used to hold out a company like Goldman Sachs. When you left, people must have thought that you were absolutely out to lunch. You were crazy. You're eating your crazy Cheerios in the morning for brekkie. What kind of conversations occurred? What was the whole, you know, ideology and rationale of maybe some of your colleagues and family when they were like you're really leaving a world class job and world class company to join the blockchain space? How did that go?
My wife said some of the things too, like you're nuts, but I think I can give you some context of my career. So when I joined investment banking, you know, an investment bank, it's a pretty broad term, like it means like sales and trading is one side of it. And there's kind of like the more corporate stuff, I went into sales and trading in London, out of business school in the 90s. And that was like, nobody did sales and trading with an MBA and no one moved to London. So that already sort of, I've always been kind of like a bit of a fish out of water. I've always gotten the other direction from the crowd. But fo me, I wanted to do sales and t ading, I wanted to learn about g obal markets. I was very into g obalization, probably, you k ow, again, early 90s. It w sn't that invoke yet. And I've a ways been attracted to things l ke that. So for me, it was g eat fun. And then I kind of l Of course. And that was a great intro. Thank you for that. You ft that world already in 2006, I left sales and trading and m ved to the buy side and went a d worked in hedge funds, which a ain, was considered a bit r sky, but you know, a c lculated risk. And, you know, I ve worked for some pretty f ntastic hedge funds, and w rked on the buy side. So I saw s rt of saw both sides of the i dustry. So for me when I saw b ockchain and crypto in the f rst boom, you know, I was not a early adopter, you know, I w s aware of Bitcoin and I saw i around but like most people, I was in New York at the time, a d you'd see the logo and you k ew there was this like little B tcoin exchange downtown, but I w s interested, but I never, I did 't buy one, I wasn't that nterested. And I'm not a techie per se. So I wouldn't hav known how to do hot wallets, cold wallets. You know, I know the lingo now, but I definitely didn't know that stuff. So th t was kind of my perspective, but I think it was very hard to not notice the first bubble And that's when I really got i terested and started meet ng folks who were doing it and just really investigatin it. And to me, this looks l ke a no brainer, it just reminde me of like derivative m rkets in the 90s when that wa so exciting and new, and it as going to be very up ending fo traditional things. I've always been attracted to things that are new, differe t, and will sort of up in the ld order. That's a lot of fun. A d you can make money and bui d something and have fun. So hat's why I got attracted to t. And I just dove right in and idn't look back. So in hindsig t, it might have been a bit craz and definitely, you know, for t e last couple of years, my y u know, friends in the traditi nal industry all sort of igno ed me or thought I was a bit nu s or didn't really care. I hink things have changed dr matically now. I'd say now, I'm etting a lot of new friends t at are sort of interested. Th y want to be friends, I'm su e. Yeah. I mean, they're obv ously wanting to learn abou the space have a YouTube series as part of Bittrex global, you are the CEO there. Also, I should have congratulated you. Congrats on the new appointment as CEO. Well deserved. Thank you.
That's awesome. And to our listeners, Stephen was the CFO and CO before this and has recently been appointed as CEO. But one of the things that I love that you're doing and Bittrex as a whole is you guys are really taking advantage of the powers of social media. I know you have your bullish or bearish series on YouTube, which I love. And I believe it was last week that you also said that you're very bullish on hedge funds, and P firms getting into crypto. As someone with experience in that space can you walk me through the decision making process? How does a massive hedge fund get the green light and then actually make it happen and get into the space?
Well, hedge funds, I mean, again, I saw a lot of parallels between, sort of within the financial services industry as a whole, like banks, investment banks and hedge funds, and you have boring old fashioned funds, but hedge funds tend to be the most profitable, you hear about that right? Before crypto billionaires and we'll come to that, the hedge fund billionaires these were the big you know, every high school kid wanted to be one of them. Yeah, they're driving around that Lamborghini, worth a billion dollars and like have all this money. But that seems like chump change now, compared to some of the crypto people who are worth 10 or 100, you know, crazy money, like we've never seen, but I think that they've always been the most nimble cutting edge. You know, hedge funds are regulated now and like they have to abide by the laws, but they tend to be much more nimble. You know, I've worked for some pretty big hedge funds, but you know, big hedge fund, you know, the biggest is Bridgewater, and they have like 140 billion. The big hedge funds, like 30 to 40 billion in assets. But even with that, they only have like three to 400 employees, they tend to be pretty small, right? So you can be quite nimble. And the CIO, which is Chief Investment Officer, they tend to be the owner or the CEO of the firm as well. And, you know, they just make all the decisions. So, you know, we used to joke, it's like a Saudi democracy, you know, one king one vote. So they can move fast. It's not a bank where you have to have committees and all of this stuff. I mean, yeah, again, you have investors, and there's an investment guidelines for the funds, you can't just do what you want. But you know, Bitcoin and crypto is a new asset class. So I think what's interesting, and we'll talk about leverage, but no hedge funds aren't just going to go one way, put 150 x leverage, they would never be allowed to do that. So that's a silly way to invest. Right? You can make a lot but you could lose it all, like on a risk adjusted basis, that's bad. So I think what's interesting about hedge funds, they tend to be the smartest money, the quickest money, they're very good at hedging, and they want to take calculated risks. So I think that type of investment discipline, which is what you need. Investment discipline is discipline. So you want people who have experience and you know, 20 30 years of experience of investing, investing in any market doesn't matter if it's crypto or oil or whatever. So I think, you know, I won't say a problem, but you know, crypto is a newish markets, you have a lot of young guys and tech people without a lot of investment experience. And so they think just because they made you know, my 100x bets worked out, well, that's not gonna work out over a 10 year time horizon, you'll probably end up losing it all. So yeah, I think the more that we have investment discipline, bit of maturity and normal standards, that's good for the industry, that's how it's going to grow and attract more people into it. So I think that's what's so great. It's the institutionalization of the asset class, the bringing together of the two worlds and typically the nimble people are gonna go first.
And that's when stuff will really start to pop off. As someone who has experience in this, you're probably one of the few people that I can actually ask this question to, and again, one of the few who's been on the pod, but if you were speaking to one of these hedge funds, one of the CIOs slash owners that do manage a $40 billion portfolio and you were saying hey, look, we have all the capabilities you can trade on Bittrex, you can buy bitcoin or the cryptocurrency that you want to get into via Bittrex. We are one of the most secure on the planet and we're one of the largest on the planet you can use us. Bittrex aside, what does that pitch look like to get into crypto, just crypto nothing to do with Bittrex.
What's interesting, I think, you know, we're different. Look we're not the biggest exchange we don't have the most volume. I think at a high level, the industry, and I'm talking about crypto exchanges, which are one of the bigger use cases now on the blockchain, you know, that'll change over time. But that's kind of the biggest use case now. So I think there's, I've lumped them into two categories, the exchanges like ourselves, who acknowledge that just because you settle your trade on the blockchain, it's still regulated. The laws are there, they apply to you, just because you shoot somebody with a gun, Oh, I didn't know it's illegal, well, you're still going to prison. So, you know, if you illegally offer securities or offer too much leverage, or you're doing things that you shouldn't be doing not knowing is not the end, they have like years to come after you. So there's the camp that sort of acknowledge that, and I, you know, shove us in there Coinbase, crackin, Gemini. Again, it's like normal business practices. And then there's some other exchanges who tend to be much larger, have massive volumes, but they don't acknowledge any of that. And, you know, I think, as we saw with bit Max, that may not work out long term, and that type of enforcement action, I think you'll see more of that, for those types of exchanges that think that they can just set up in some jurisdiction and do what they want, and it won't come back to haunt them. So I think, step one, we're in that camp. And you know, I think, you know, long term, you have to be in the kind of regulated camp if you want to be here in 10 years and sleep at night, for that matter. So, but if I'm going to go to institutions, and in fact, I'm getting this pitch ready, like now that we can go back to London and all these places that have been shut. If they're A, they're already in, or B if they're thinking about getting in? Well, where do you want to trade on one of these other types of exchanges? Now, they would never trade oil or derivatives on an unlicensed unregulated exchange, like that's just, their fund wouldn't allow them to do that operational risk, like they would never do that. But like, so why would they do that in crypto? So I think if you educate them that here's a market with interesting assets. But we've set ourselves up in Liechtenstein, which is a triple A rated country, it's using Swiss franc as the currency, it's part of the EEA. So for banking, it's part of the EU. And that, you know, that's as safe as it's going to get. And we are regulated under the blockchain act in Liechtenstein. And we are supervised by the financial markets authority of Liechtenstein, which is an EU bank regulator. So we're probably one of the only exchanges on earth that can say that in any jurisdiction, let alone a very legitimate one like Liechtenstein, where there's a huge asset management industry. That's already a country they do business with. No hedge funds trading with the Seychelles, or with Malta, or some of these other places where like crypto has gone. Well, that's great but like a lot of even banks can't take multicountry risk, because they wouldn't be able to do business with you just because you're in Malta. I like Malta there's nothing wrong with it but these are just facts. So, you know, I think we've tried to set it up so we're an institutional grade platform. You know, obviously, we want retail investors, but we want the institutions and we want them to feel comfortable. And that's kind of would be my pitch. And that is my pitch, which I'm getting ready. So I don't know what you think.
I love that. Heck, you'd have me sold. So if I am
That was a good practice pitch, thanks for that.
100%. You nailed that. If I was one of these hedge fund CIOs, and you already have them convinced on using Bittrex. How does the pitch of crypto sound like? Is it the classic you know, inflation? I don't know if you saw the news, but supposedly Biden and his team are about to approve another $6 trillion money printing.
I couldn't comment on politics, I will comment on the impacts of reckless financial decisions. That's fair game.
That's what I mean, tell me how?
I think two years ago, I would have had to do that. I think the market has now done that pitch. I don't have to pitch that Ray Dalio is buying Bitcoin. I mean, Alan Howard, who I used to work for is running a huge hedge fund. They're buying Bitcoin. I mean, like Carl Icahn just came out yesterday and said he wants to go buy a billion and a half of like tokens. So you know, dollar value. So I think the industry knows, so that's been done for you already by the press and the current run up and asset prices. You know, again, it's hard for a hedge fund manager, they typically target and a good year 20% returns, and you can make that in Dogecoin in a day. So again, they wouldn't take that risk profile, because they're not allowed to like if you look at it on a risk adjusted basis, though, which no one does in crypto, the returns don't look that good in a risk adjusted basis. It doesn't matter. You know, it's hard to sort of get your investors happy. Oh, we were great. We made 20% this year, like Who the hell cares? You could have made like 10,000% in some token no one ever heard of right. And like with daily liquidity, 24 seven trading, you know, hedge funds have long lockup. So they sort of, I mean, their greed factor, they're interested because they can make money and they sort of have no choice just like the banks that are now thinking about offering crypto to their clients because they have no choice. The clients are going to take their assets out and go to Coinbase or Bittrex like if they don't offer these products, so they're begrudgingly doing it. So anyway, I think that the the main kind of high level use case and like you need to be in this market without FOMO like they're all in. Then it's just educat d. I think don't think they u derstand the platforms, the pl yers, so actually that's, I can dive right into that pitch li e, we know you're going to trad crypto. Now, here's how we think you should do it. Here's a regulated way of doing it.
Where could massive companies, these huge financial institutions, and again, we've been using hedge funds, so let's stick with the flow. But where can they learn? Like, where are the best resources to learn how to do this without speaking? Like someone like you? Like, where do you learn about that? You know, I go to YouTube again, I'm 26. I'm a little younger, probably. I don't think there's a whole lot of you know, hedge fund managers, that are 26 years old. But for the people that didn't grow up in the digital world where do you learn about trading crypto, and having a meta mask account and using uni swap and all the nitty gritty stuff
So, and I did this myself three years ago, or four years ago, and now there's so much more information. I mean, I think with crypto, there's so much information out there. I mean, you go to the, you know, I tell people don't read the fake news, like the New York Times is calling it crypto is rat poison. And I think the wall street journal called it fentanyl yesterday or two days. So I wouldn't trust the sources who have a political agenda, or you just don't know and didn't frankly, don't really understand what they're talking about. If I wanted to get medical advice, I wouldn't go to like them, you know, I would go to a doctor. So here for crypto go to people who know about crypto. So there's tons of websites like yours and others that have tons of educational material. I mean, there's, you know, bitrix we have some on our website. But other exchanges spend a lot of their time educating and look at all the exchanges. Like anything, if you're going to be an investor, In the old world, you would look at multiple products, multiple providers, educate yourself. I don't think people do enough about that in crypto, they're just quick to get on an exchange, buy tokens store them there without even realizing like what jurisdiction is that exchange located? Do I have any protections, the things you would expect from a bank account? So I think, you know, do your homework, but it's all out there. I mean, there's tons of resources available. And people in your age group know how to navigate pretty well.
Exactly, yeah, I remember Michael Saylor, he talked about pitching to his board about Bitcoin when he literally had to like make a PowerPoint presentation and walk them through every little small detail. Baby steps, name of the game
Like what is this, it's good thing they listened.
Not too shabby anymore. What does he have 90,000 Bitcoin now? That guy, he is a sick puppy. He's a very rare breed and we'd love to have Michael, if you're listening. We'd love to have you on the pod as well, you and Steven, that would be a quite the dynamic duo on the pod.
I think he's more interesting than I am, frankly. But that's okay. Yes, we'd welcome having a chat your anytime
He's got quite the video background too. With that, you know, medieval ship in the background? Have you seen that?
I haven't. Now I'm going to, you've piqued my interest. I'll go check it out.
It looks like it's worth a pretty penny. He's got quite the at home studio. Yeah, check that out when you get a chance. But I want to move forward over to Bittrex, just again, one of the greatest and you guys, as you've touched on, focus on security over absolutely everything else. When you're giving that pitch to the general consumer, talk about the main security points that one should be cognizant of when choosing an exchange.
So I think, you know, again, the biggest thing has that exchange never been hacked. Because I think if it has been and you know, again, some of the big unregulated players who shall remain nameless, have been hacked and multiple times. And you know I think you can get a good sense of these things, too, if you go into all these exchanges have like telegram groups and chat groups in the community, you know, for customer service, like reading Amazon reviews, but here, they really tell you what they think. Like, there's no editing, and it's on telegram. So there's no sort of like Twitter censorship and Facebook censorship, you really get a sense of what it's like to be a client on these things. So I would take a look at that as a starting point. But Bittrex, you'll look at the gene code of who's founded the exchange, in the case of Bittrex and Bittrex Global, we are still owned privately by the three founders who set up the company. They all spent their careers at Microsoft and Amazon and security, and building it for those companies. So these are experts, that's their gene code. That's what they come from. So that's the most important thing at Bittrex. So, again, it's not being the biggest, it's not having the biggest volumes, because it's about not getting hacked, offering security. And then we also want to comply with the regulations and the various places which we operate, because that's not negotiable. And that's one of the reasons I joined because I agree with that philosophy. You know, I don't agree in the sort of gray area. Let's see what happens like no, you end up in prison that's not sort of not interested in that I'm too well,
where did you get gene code from? I love that. I've never heard that
I don't know. Some of these gene code and people replicate their gene codes. I've heard that saying before, like in hiring in a bank. Or any team, if you look at the person running the team, people tend to replicate their gene codes if they hire like themselves. So I think if you have whatever is at the top of the organization sort of replicates itself throughout. So if they're very, like anti regulation and pro taking risks, then you're gonna hire a lot of people like that. And then don't be surprised when your organization looks like that. So I think, you know, I'd rather have the one that's focused on security and regulation and maybe isn't the fastest growing but then you can sleep at night and you know, I think this is a long marathon, not a sprint. You want to win the race, not just be ahead.
I love that. That's a very interesting term. I just want to take a quick break and thank our friends over at coin poker. You guys have heard me speak about them many times, Stephen in your poker guy at all.
I'm not so I mean, I've played but I'm not one of these like crypto gaming, junkie people. That's not me.
For our listeners. You've heard me speak about these guys many times. They're the revolutionary blockchain technology based platform that was developed by ambitious poker lovers and sports gamblers. I'm a bit of a sports gambler myself, I don't dabble too much in poker, but whenever I'm on the go without the mobile app and play a couple hands of Texas Hold'em, or bet on sports it's playoff season you have playoff basketball playoff hockey, you have the Euro championship coming up, there are tons of sports Belmont Stakes this weekend as well you name it it is there. Absolute great time to be doing all that stuff. They have mean in game currency as USDT as well as their own currency $CHP which was almost like a stable coin. Last week during the crypto crash barely lost any ground you absolutely love to see that. Also offering quick instant and super fast and secure transactions using Bitcoin Ethereum USDT and of course$ CHP. Tons of giveaways and incredible stuff for the community highly recommend giving these guys a try. And that is coin poker.com. Stephen quick question. The last question about poker before we get back into the show playing Texas Hold'em any hand if you have any two cards in the hole, what are you picking?
So I didn't even play Texas Hold'em. So I'm like the worst person to ask this question. But I would say more interesting thing about gaming, I think it's a really interesting space for crypto. But gaming is highly regulated. So you have to if you can combine like a regulated gaming industry, and then a lot of people to bet with tokens. That's really interesting. So I mean, I know some people are doing that now. You know, it's incredible. It's another extension to financial services, you have gaming, there's like insurance industry, all these things are going to start moving into blockchain and crypto. So I think I didn't answer your question. But I am still excited about the applications.
You're bang on. My apologies for putting you on the spot. But going back to Bittrex, now, you guys only have the 3x leverage for a couple coins, which again, as a security exchange, and as that is your bread and butter, security over everything else. That makes a lot of sense. Now you have people, I have some friends who do 100x leverage, and they'll wake up every hour and a half every two hours in the middle of the night, just checking the price. Because if something happens, like on May 18, where Bitcoin goes the other way, you're getting a call, you're getting the knock on the door, you might get a baseball bat to the knees. I'm joking, but it is not a pretty sight If that happens. What is your take on margin trading leverage in the whole nine yards?
Well, I mean, so margin trading is nothing new. And there's very strict rules around it. So let's look at the old world. How does it work? And you know, you have limits and there's haircuts for different types of asset classes. And there's also rules around how much leverage you can take if you're a retail investor. So that's just how like just a level set. That's how this works. So how has that been applied now in the crypto market? So the way we're doing it, we're only offering it through tokenized leverage, so you basically have to, it's a full cash investment. You have to put the money upfront to buy a token. So effectively, you have posted your collateral because you've put up 100% of the notional at the token, and it's only three times levered. So it's very over collateralized. It's not that risky, per se in terms of the amount of risk and also derivatives, that has an embedded derivative. So that is by definition, a security in most markets. So that's only trading on our Bermuda exchange, which those are security tokens, not utility token. So we're just dipping our toe into that. And we don't offer derivatives at all yet on on Bittrex outright, which we may at some point in the future, but you know that those are complicated. And there, it's a whole other set of regulations. So 100x leverage, or I think some exchanges are offering up to 120 or 150 x leverage. So let's talk about that. So Matt do you know what the leverage rules are for retail on Bitcoin in Europe? Because there are rules, they're published. We talked about it before this, people just don't follow them. Take a guess? What do you think the max leverage if you're a seller of leverage on a derivative on Bitcoin.
You guys obliged to the rules and yours is 3x. I'm gonna go with 3x
Well, that's a token though that's a funded trade. So I'm talking about an unfunded where it's just a pure derivative, like where I don't fund it. That's different so on an unfunded trade, how much leverage? It's 2x into retail, so, and by the way derivatives are securities. So for those exchanges that are offering, like 150 x leverage derivatives into, let's say, European retail, well, they're selling securities without a securities license, and they're selling 75 times the leverage limit into retail. So, again, I wish them the best. The rules are there, you'd have to read them you can go and you know, the US has its own rules so I just think that's sort of my comment on that. Now, and nobody would ever offer 100x or 150x, leverage to retail without collateral, so yeah, of course, they're gonna lose sleep. So again, you can make the money really quickly. But if you google something called a Sharpe ratio, which is what people use in the old world, like, it's just, you know, return divided by the amount of risk you took. And then that gives you a risk adjusted return because you have to normalize it. So if you didn't want 100x, leverage, you're taking a buttload of risk. So yeah, you might look like your returns are great. But on a risk adjusted basis, I'd argue they're not that great. Like, of course, you're getting great returns, you're taking crazy amounts of risk. So and when you you know, if you're doing a derivative you're exposed, like, if that thing as you saw the market blow out, you can lose everything, and then you could owe money right. And then the other great thing, which I think people forget, you owe taxes on this stuff. In most jurisdictions, like people just don't pay them because they have these crypto accounts and like the IRS or whatever, or, you know, if they're European, like, they think that they don't know tax. So let's say the EU, if you day trade, that's ordinary income, you owe income tax on that, right? So let's say that you bought some Bitcoin or you bought some token levered, and you made some huge killing, it went up like 10,000%, and then you sell. You've crystallized again, you owe income tax on that. And then let's say you blow it all, and you lose it all, and you lose more. That tax loss doesn't offset against your gain. So I think most retail investors have no idea the exposure that they're taking, and that they're actually on an after tax basis. And again, at some point, the blockchain has a paper trail, they will find you they'll figure it out, maybe it's in seven years, you get some lovely audit. Spain just announced they're taxing globally, so again, you have this interesting window where it's not that the rules don't apply, they just can't enforce them yet. They will and they will go back 10 years. So again, the rules apply. Really think about, you know, I don't want to, you know, they shouldn't be scared. Like I try to scare people because they should not be doing this. There's the old saying in investing, there is no free lunch, if something seems too good to be true, it is. So like you can make enough money just going long Bitcoin or long some of these other tokens and just sit on them. And if you hold them for over a year, that's a capital gains tax, much lower tax rate in the US and in most countries. So, you know, these asset classes are so volatile, look at the volatility of Bitcoin, why do you need 100x leverage in an asset class that already has 30% volatility or massive volatility, that's crazy. So that's where, like a hedge fund CIO would never invest that way. But they're laughing they're like, they can come in and look at all these idiots like investing in a crazy way, I can just eat their lunch. They can put on some really interesting bets hedged and they'll be able to, you know, make money out of that insanity. Right? So that's who you're trading against now. And so I warn you even more, if you're a retail investor, the whales and the you know, the really smart money's now in the space, they would never do this stuff you guys are doing. They'd be happy, you know, a 40% returns a great return. Remember, 20% is a knockout return for a hedge fund. So, like, I don't think that you're going to make these 10x 50x 100 that's not normal. This is just indicative of a crazy new explosive market, take the money run, put it in the bank, you know, invest it wisely. Anyway, that's my old people's advice.
You just scared a lot of people me included there. So let's say just in case, the Canada Revenue Agency is listening here, let's say theoretically, I were to hold some Bitcoin, okay. And again, this is theoretically, if I were to hold some Bitcoin, my plan may or may not have been to hold on to this Bitcoin for as long as possible until it is so widely accepted that I can use this as you know, a means of payment and a means of transfer, buy a house, condo, whatever the case may be new whip, whatever, you know, so I never have to transfer that back to Canadian dollars, US dollars or any type of fiat currency. Is that just a pipe dream? Or is that going to happen?
Well, I think it's gonna happen. But let's look at the tax implications of that. So the only thing that's like not taxable, like if you store your money in Canadian dollars in Canada, or if I have US dollars in my account, like the dollar and then I spend it, there's no tax if I'm just holding dollars. Well there is an implied tax like that they're printing money and it's inflating away in value, but just in terms of, you know, the dollar even if it appreciates against other foreign currencies, that's not a taxable event for just holding it, but let's say I hold Apple stock in my account and it goes up in value now. Then I sell some of it to buy things, well, then I crystallize taxable gains or losses every time I liquidate the Apple stock to go and buy things. Now in the case of Bitcoin, from a tax perspective, that would be treated like Apple stock, it's an asset it's appreciating, it's not dollars. So the problem you have is that every time I say you bought Bitcoin at $1, and it's now worth 60,000, you're liquidating very small bits to go buy a can of Coke, or whatever. And every time you sell a piece of that Bitcoin, you have a capital gain of like 60,000, or whatever, you know that from your basis, your tax basis where you bought it. So it's not so straightforward. Again, people just aren't paying these taxes or thinking about it. But you don't have this problem in the real world. You can't just take Apple stock and buy Coca Cola with it, you have to liquidate it by dollars, and then go and do that transaction, right. From a tax standpoint, it's the same thing. So I think, again, people just really haven't. It's so cool and interesting that you can take something that can grow in value, which the US dollar isn't, but you have to manage your taxes or tax liability around that. So again, I'm not giving investment advice. I'm not giving tax advice. Americans are subject to worldwide tax. You know, if a Canadian person if you're not living in Canada, then there is no tax. So you have to get your own tax advice. But I think this raises all sorts of interesting issues and conundrums because you've created a new way of doing things that hasn't existed before. And they have to figure out how are they going to treat it? I don't know.
It seems like a private company could come by and create a, you know, billion dollar solution to this problem where all governments would incorporate their program or software, or whatever the case may be to fix this, because I've spoke to a multitude of people, and everyone has the same problem. But then again, this could take, you know, a full 24 hour podcast just in itself.
But why would they do that where they can charge so much money to help you figure out all these other products, they'd rather have the nightmare than they have to solve it for you. That's how accountants and other people make their money. Right? So I mean, I see a whole new industry is crypto accounting. So I think for every new technology it raises a new problem, you know, you had the same thing in, you know, an analogy, I like to look at history, you know, in the 90s, when you had like Amazon, and all these companies were new, they were shipping you goods directly, and there was no sales tax. Like if you went to the bookstore and bought the book, you would pay sales tax in your state. If you bought it from Amazon, there was not. Well, that's not fair and the bookstores complained, didn't matter, Amazon put their weight down.
Wait, that was a thing?
That was a thing. Yeah, that was the current equivalent and the internet was like new and that was so cool. You could buy stuff, and they would mail it to you like this was never done before, right? And you could buy 24 seven. And so again, crypto, it's just you're doing this in financial services, what retail happened in the 90s. And then eventually, they figured out how to apply sales tax and all these rules. So it takes there's always a catch up period. And then you know I think we're in that same period now where... and then there was a lot of taxes owed and lawsuits, and they settled them. But you know, we're in that kind of period where it's not that they haven't, they just haven't figured out how to enforce things. The rules are there, they're now aware of people are not paying things. And now they're gonna come after you and I think the agencies, once they start to figure out that, you know, there's money on the table, they're losing money, and when there's money, they want it. So they're gonna figure it out, and they're gonna come after people. I think, again, as long as you just assume the rules are the rules. This is just a new asset class, but it's still like dollars or stocks or anything else the rules apply, you'll be fine. But if you think otherwise, I you know, again, I would caution people and unlike cash, like there's a perfect trail and blockchain, they can see everything you've ever done. I mean, be careful what you wish for. It's actually interesting.
Well said, that will be an interesting couple years ahead when they do knock down on this, but you've talked about Apple stock, you talked about Amazon stock. You are one of the platforms that has tokenized stocks, I think it is so interesting. For those at home. tokenized stocks allow you to buy actual stocks 24 seven all the time, and because the shares are tokenized it is possible for you to buy a fractionalized portion of the stock for example, an Amazon stock hovering at 1000s dollars a share you can buy a portion of that you don't have to buy the whole thing and you can also buy it on Saturday morning or Sunday night when market is closed.
And you can pay with a Bitcoin not with cash. I mean it's really, so you think about it and we've talked about you know, Bitcoin and like your USDT and decision meeting the dollar. I mean, the whole financial services industry is really old and inefficient and stupidly designed and very compartmentalized. I mean, there's this one settlement system for US stocks, there's a different one for European stocks, a different one for Swiss stocks, a different one for UK stocks and none of these systems talk to each other. Now if I want to buy UK equities I have to trade in the London market with Sterling, these are global things. So that's kind of again, blockchain is a much more efficient way. And then stock exchanges close, they're open nine to five, Monday to Friday and not on bank holidays. But crypto exchanges are open 24 seven. And like you say, you can buy fractional pieces. So what we're offering and just to be clear, they're tokens, and they represent the value, it's linked to the value of an Amazon share, or it should be, you know, it should be trading at the same price. But you're not actually buying Amazon stock, you're buying a token that's backed by some stock that's held somewhere else. It's a derivative, but it's an embedded derivative, but they are definitely securities. So we offer these and we think they're hugely innovative, because you can buy again, like I can buy a fractional piece of Tesla 24 seven, and I can be in China, or, you know, in markets where you have to be, if you're on our exchange, you have to be fully KYC, AML, all of that stuff. But if you qualify, you can buy these, and it's really empowering. Because in a lot of these countries, they just don't have access to us or foreign securities.
FTX started that right?
FTX started it. So we've listed the tokens that FTX created on our exchange. So they're the issuer of all these tokens and play the leverage token. But I think, you know, over time, now that we're offering securities tokens, we have the ability to list them, we're talking to companies that want to issue tokens, that would be considered a security token, that can either be equity in the company, or it could be take a bunch of real estate and tokenize. It, these are considered securities, they're not utility tokens. They're investments.
So cool. Wow.
I mean, it's really, I feel like a broken record. But you know, like what Amazon did to retail blockchain is gonna do to financial services, this is the Amazon moment for them. So JP Morgan Goldman, you guys should be pretty scared.
Oh, and they definitely are you can tell that for sure.
You can tell when they're calling it fentanyl and rat poison and every other expert is like, they're angry, and they don't know what to do. Because this is one they can't stop. They can't regulate it away or stop it because it's global. And it's out of their control.
That is very true. They need to spread the FUD. This has been incredible. I am very gracious of your time here. There's so many different things I want to talk about. So I will only pick a few before we wrap up, but I want to touch on the crash of last week. And we are recording on the 27th of may on Thursday. Last week, I guess a week, or maybe that was two weeks ago. But regardless, the 18th of May, when the sort of mini crypto crash happened a lot of people are saying that that was mainly due to a bunch of organizations or bigger whales getting liquidated, you had people who like we spoke about were super long leverage. And the market just wiped everyone out. What's your theory there? And what do you think happened as someone who's sort of on the inside?
Again, I don't know the facts. But I mean, I think if I were just looking at this, like an economics student, which I was, you know, look at history. So I mean that if you look back into the 20s, and you know, the big stock market bubble there, and then it blew up, it got another crash started. That was all caused by leverage, right. And then, because there were no rules around the stock market, and after that, then they had the SEC, all of these agencies we've come to know and love and hate, like that all started that whole concept of regulation, because they didn't want that to repeat itself. And human nature doesn't change. So there you go. So that's why again, we can still have bubbles in the real world like 2008. But, you know, that's typically because they stopped following the rules. So they allow too much leverage to come back into the system. So here you have crypto, unregulated, a lot of it. And you know, we talked about the fact there's crazy amounts of leverage available and to retail forgetting institutions. I mean, anybody can do it. And you saw the incredible price went up. I mean, look at histories of asset classes, things just don't go up like this. You know, the Dutch tulip bubble is like the one, and again, I think we're in the early stages of a new technology so you will see these types of growth. And it's not a rat poison, but you're gonna see a lot of volatility, ups and downs, ups and downs. So what happened last week, I think, you know, again, in an unregulated market with a lot of leverage people got, you know, if it moves, it goes fast and then it's a compounding effect, which is why regulators don't like that much leverage. The only thing I will say that's a huge positive and I looked at last week is a great thing for the crypto market and that sounds nuts right. But that shows you that's pure capitalism, pure efficient markets, and it worked. So in that type of a situation, like in the equity markets, that would be like, you know, headlines, the world's coming to an end and then the Fed and everyone would have to come in print more money and prop it up. Why? To keep the big institutions like JP Morgan from not blowing up because it's all like an interlinked little cabal. Here, free market, and it works and it's bouncing back. So it just shows you that capitalism is still alive and well in the crypto market and it's pure, unfettered capitalism, which is fantastic.
Very well said there. That is again, I had a lot of friends texting me what happened? What happened? Are we going to zero? Are we going to zero? I didn't, I didn't get my answers here.
It could, that's the whole point, I think, be prepared to lose everything. And that goes with any asset class, don't expect the Fed or somebody. And that's a problem in the real markets, like, these central banks are propping up companies, you know, some should go under and the 90s. In Japan, they did this. They created these things called zombie companies, like they were basically like zombies. They s ould have gone out of business but because they printed o much money or give them so much loans to keep the employmen and that's bad, because t en you keep bad companies al ve and stifles innovation. S I think the best thing about rypto, it's just so you know this world of like wokenes , and socialism, you've got all of this, like free marke capitalism is alive a d well. And it's booming. It' fantastic to see it. And I thin you know, at the end of the day free markets always win. I mean, you read Adam Smith, this is nothing new. It's been around since like the 1700s. Yeah, so I think you can try all these oth r systems. I think this is great
You gotta love it. Last week was great for crypto 24 seven, capitalism. It's awes me. as a whole, really showing how strong the community is. And you almost had a feeling like there was no chance it would go below 30. Everyone's sort of knew that but moving forward, tell me about Bittrex's future and some of the awesome things you guys have cookin in the pipeline.
So again, I think we're really excited we didn't rest during COVID, we got our license, our full license in Liechtenstein, we managed to set up another exchange ID remuda and got a BMA license. And we're in the process of also getting one in Caymans. So I think that's pretty much for our exchange licenses this for Bittrex Global or non US clients. Obviously, this Bittrex US, which is separate for US clients. And we've just started listing security tokens, but I think we've only scratched the surface there. So I think, you know, real issuers, and we can tokenize, anything, buildings art, you know, in addition, NFT markets interesting as well. So, you know, we expect to sort of grow our token business, I'd say or tokenomics. And then, you know, we're looking at other businesses that are regulated where crypto could apply where we think our clients would like it. Because again, the unregulated players, they're never going to be allowed, regulators won't like them, they won't give them licenses. So we'd rather compete where they can't, because we can't compete against them. Right. And we don't want to, you know, we will not do money laundering, we do KYC on our clients, but things like gaming, or insurance and other things which have a lot of affinity for crypto, we think those can be interesting, sort of like product extensions, and we're looking at them right now.
Couple rapid fire questions here. When is Bitcoin gonna hit 100k?
Who knows? I think it will. But again, I don't, if I knew that I wouldn't be on this podcast, I'd be out investing. But you know, I think that, again, if you look at the demographics, very few people on planet earth are actually really buying crypto. Now we seem to be at a huge inflection point, right around Bitcoin for now seems to be the consensus thing that you invest in, I can see just based on supply demand economics, that you could see that type of a price being crossed. I think that's more realistic than people talking million dollars and all this. But again, if I told you Tesla, when it was a 26, it was gonna go up to 800. Would you believe it? You know, but that took 10 years. So I think, you know, it's possible, I don't give investment advice. Who knows? But sure that's possible.
What is sort of the last Domino that needs to fall? Or what is the catalyst that needs to occur to really get the masses into crypto, whether that's a financial catalyst, emotional, you name it, but what's that one thing that needs to happen to get the masses in?
Oh, I think complete lack of trust in governments. And I think, you know, the dislocations caused by COVID. And it's highly, you know, totally unfortunate. But it's accelerated, I think the adoption of crypto dramatically, and I think is an impact of COVID. You've seen all this huge economic losses, and massive central bank printing. And that's really freaked people out because, like you say, again, politics aside, you know, whatever your politics are, look at history, look at the 1970s what happened on planet earth? Like it's factual, you can't argue with it. You had this horrible thing called stagflation and inflation and it was really bad, and the taxes going up and I think you can see that, at the time gold had a bubble, that was the only thing you could buy as a hedge and gold went from like $25 up to over 1000 which is a massive bubble. And I think that's what's happening now and people will look for safe havens unlike gold, which is a regulated, pretty restricted market, which is, you know, the government's can manipulate that. Here you have Bitcoin or Ethereum or all these different asset classes which they have fixed supply there is zero chance, the government's don't even understand this. Like they can't even let alone to be able to like control it or do anything with it. So you know, if you're a real libertarian or free marketeer, you have another way of investing. And it's a whole new paradigm because before it was do I stay in stocks or bonds or gold? Well, what if I get rid of all of those and go and get rid of my dollars and just put everything into different types of crypto assets? That's never existed before and that's not model. Like this is like really game changing. And it's gonna be interesting for the central banks because they presume when they're printing money, there's unlimited demand for their money. They have a monopoly on it. Oh, well, seems like there's no longer you know, maybe the central banks are the new Barnes and Noble. And they don't realize it yet. Like what Barnes and Noble pretended they were going to be fine. We'll offer Starbucks in the store, people will come. No one wants to buy a book in your house at 10 o'clock at night? Like, I think Same thing with assets do I want to trust a central banker and a government who's smiling and you know, doing God knows what with it? No, nobody does anywhere.
Very well said. You just touched on central banks there. What's your take on cbdcs? central bank digital currencies? Are you yay or nay on a US digital dollar?
I think it's the dumbest. Who cares? So okay, so you have tether? What is that? That is a privately issued dollar, right? It's just $1. It's $1 proxy. I mean, you're taking credit risk, you don't know who that issuer is, where is tether like, where is it issued from? Does anyone see the white paper? I've heard It's Taiwan? I don't know. So step one, like I understand what you're buying, but you know, it's pretty much widely adopted that that's $1 proxy on the blockchain. But you're taking some risks, you know, where are they? Which bank are they putting those dollars in? Do they really have enough? But it's, you know, the markets accepted that that's $1. Okay. So what's the difference? If the Fed issues one, okay, that's probably more trustworthy, that you would probably not want others anymore, or some people might, because they may not want to have a US Nexus for some foreign player. So I think there's probably a reason to tether exists beyond just the Fed not having one. But then you just have a digital version of $1. It's still $1. Just because it's on the blockchain, and they print a lot of them. So what is, why? I mean, so yeah, so you have an easier way to move your dollars around. But do you still want dollars just because it's on a blockchain? No, they're printing them. So you would still buy bitcoins, so I think like, who cares about the central bank digital currencies? I mean, you effectively have one, when you use Apple Pay, like uses $1 anyway. You have digital dollars. So I kind of think, like, yeah, there's a lot of talk about them. But I feel like they're solving for a problem that no one cares about, that doesn't need to be solved, there's no demand for it.
Interesting. Yeah. And mind you, they can really track every move we make. But with a digital dollar, they can really track everything we make.
Exactly, so I think that's more of a thing that will stop, you know for them, I can see why they don't want people using tether and some of these privacy coins, and they can track that. So it's in their interest. So that's just an efficiency and an operational play on dollars. And I get it, that's great, and probably will make life much more efficient than it is, that definitely will cut things out. But I think that's separate. That's just an efficiency play. That's like no different than like the impact of FinTech or ATMs or things that had on our ability to use cash. That's very different from an entirely new asset class that was never available before. Right? On a new settlement system. That's 24. Seven. That's very different.
If and one of the last questions here, this has been incredible, thank you. But if the, let's use the US government, for example, probably the most powerful in the world. If the US government woke up one morning, it's like, Alright, we are so far behind in the crypto arms race. It's not really an arms race. But again, we're so far behind.
And people said that about the internet, by the way, in the 90s too.
Now we're so far behind in the crypto arms race, we need to get our shit together, we need to get our ducks in a row. Let's build the crypto A team, the Dream Team. How would they go about pulling people like you, Mashinsky, Cz, you know, SPF? How does that work? Like what kind of value prop could they even use? Like? Could they do that?
I mean, I don't see that from a value standpoint. And some of the and again, I'm not a founder of a crypto exchange. I'm a grateful employee. But I think, if you're one of these founders, and some of the ones you've mentioned, I mean, on paper, and again, let's see if they can monetize that. I mean, these people are worth so much money. Again, they makes the hedge fund people look poor. Like there's no financial incentive for them to do it. Right? Because the government can't pay them unless you know. But why do people do things like that? If it's like for the good, if they're good minded people, it's like why people go and serve as an ambassador or something or they want to give back. So that would be the only way they would do it is if they're very wanting to give back or what's in it for them? Or if they think that it's a way for them to make sure that they're not regulated out of existence and things like that. I don't see a strong incentive. And I don't see, I mean, really do I see the US waking up and figuring that out? They can't even figure out basic stuff like if we should have police or not, I mean, like I don't see them waking up and solving their crypto problem right.
So how does that look that and like, what can big governments do because most of the big crypto dogs are almost anti government in some sense as well as far The reason why they've created crypto
Well, again, I think if you separate out, again, it's like the internet. So that's just a tool. So blockchain is a tool, it's a big settlement system. So how is it being used? So you can't stop the internet, people thought they could and they can't, just like people or countries are saying, oh, we're going to ban crypto, how? You're going to ban the blockchain? So anyone has an internet log on, they can go in and get onto the blockchain. Like it's not, you physically cannot do it. There's so many ways around it, that smart people will find VPN and things. So like, that's not feasibly possible. So what do you have now? A bunch of that people in the industry are very libertarian, and it's great, it's a very empowering tool like the internet was, you know, it's the little guy could then compete. You know Amazon was the little guy, he was a guy in a garage and look at what he's done. And so that's pretty cool. Now he's the hated big guy who wants everything. And, you know, monopolist, which is amazing how things change, right? But I think that you look at this space and some of these operators, you know, are operating these big global financial services businesses overnight in multiple jurisdictions, and they are, you know, knowingly or unknowingly in violation of multiple rules. And there are enforcement actions now and investigators investigating. So you know, I think that they can freeze and shut down a lot of these companies tomorrow, if they wish to. I mean, the violations are there. It's just when are they going to, it's in their power. If that were a bank, they would have been shut already. They seize the assets and, you know, some of these fortunes can disappear very quickly overnight, you know, if you have. So anyway, I think that, I don't if that answers your question, I kind of thought in a bit of a circle. But just because they're doing something, don't think that just because no one's come after them yet that they haven't been racking up a lot of things they shouldn't have been done. And believe me, they're watching and they know everything. They're just waiting for the right moment, right. I think if you had done it, let's say two years ago, taking down some of these bigger players, maybe it would have destabilize the whole system. I think now it's at a point where that's not the case. So is it bigger it gets actually the more at risk some of these players are and the more that you have, I think, you know, look at Coinbase big public company now. You have shareholders that own this company. Now this company is following the laws, I think, which they have to, they're a publicly traded company, and they're regulated. They're competing against unregulated players. So the fact that these unregulated players are eating the lunch of US shareholders and prejudicing them, like there can be lawsuits now and all sorts of things, and that's only going to expand, you know, if JP Morgan gets full on in crypto, do you think they're gonna put up with competing with somebody who's not doing all the stuff they have to do and running all this compliance? No. And so then that's when it starts to happen. So I think the wagons will start to circle. And you know, it will become like any other thing, it'll become big and boring, like, again, the internet's not that fun anymore. It's just like three big companies, right? Like it used to be like crypto 20 years ago,
Well said, I really like that. Last question. What city do you think will be the crypto capital of the world?
I don't think there'll be one. I think if, again, let's look at history where if this is like, I think the most interesting parallels the late 70s, you know, instability and high taxes. I think the places that started to boom, were small, nimble places with low tax, and places like Caymen, Bermuda, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, you know, Singapore, Hong Kong in the day, I don't know so much now. But you know, these were all very free market. These were like the last places on earth where you had free trade. And you can look in history, Europe and the US, like embraced regulation and tax and it became very anti business. And the business just leaves and goes offshore, and it will always seek these places out they boom. Dubai is a new one that's like the new Singapore, I think these places are booming and will continue to boom. And I think the more that you see the noose tightening in these onshore places that the more the businesses will boom there. And I think what's really interesting about blockchain, so blockchain exists in a period when we have an advanced internet, so you have the internet with a global settlement system then you don't have... the companies can exist at these places, you can still have clients wherever, it's gonna be very interesting to see. So I think that these types of places are going to boom, and do really well. And I think, you know, obviously, the onshore places will do less well, tax and regulation, you know, tends to. Look at what's happening at a micro level and in the US. A lot of companies are leaving New York and going to Florida just to escape the tax. That's just the beginning. But imagine if you can, like opt out of the whole US tax system and go to a place with no tax.
That makes a huge diff. Stephen, this has been incredible. Thank you so much for your time. I've learned a crazy amount here and I'm sure I guess I was well. Before we let you go can you please let everyone know where they can find you and Bittrex global on socials and online.
I'm not giving my address out but you know I'll be at the Bitcoin Miami next week if anyone wants to, I'm happy to meet up. But in terms of you know, Bittrex, I mean you go to Bittrex.com and depending on which country you're in it will direct you to either Bittrex Global which is global.Bittrex.com or to the Bittrex US site. So it's bittrex.com
And I will post the links on Twitter and other socials as well. Stephen, this was an absolute treat, thank you so much for jumping on. Hopefully there I can meet you next week in beautiful sunny Miami I'm already in Jupiter so I'm a quick you know hour and a half jaunt away so it's been nic . Thank the man upstairs th t I got out of Toronto but I am oing back to Toronto after the onference but yeah locked down ity in Toronto. Not a place to e right now but again, can't wi them all. But this was incre ible. Thank you so much fo coming on. Big fan you and t e company and I would love to ave you on for round two in the future.
Thanks a lot. Take care.
Folks. This was Stephen Stonberg from Bittrex global. This was an absolute treat of an episode, really enjoyed this one, I learned a ton. Hope you enjoyed this. If you did, please subscribe. It would mean the world. We're on all major podcast players and we drop episodes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning. I really hope you enjoyed this one, I certainly did. Love you appreciate you hope you're having an incredible day, afternoon, morning, evening, you name it. All the best. Take care. We'll see you shortly. Bye for now.