Atichanan Pulges first became interested in cryptocurrencies a decade ago when he was an engineering student in Los Angeles. Bitcoin mining was a way for the Bangkok native to learn about the markets and pay the rent.
Now back in Thailand after a stint at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Atichanan is a co-founder of the country’s largest licensed cryptocurrency. exchange. He’s also on the front lines of an increasingly intense debate about who should be allowed to buy digital assets in Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.
Securities and Exchange Commission of Thailand, Alarmed by a six-fold surge in domestic crypto trading since November, he said on April 1 that soon they require traders to have experience, or to take courses or pass an exam. The regulator did not specify a date and chose not to prohibit local exchanges from accepting clients who do not meet minimum income levels, which had been reflected. Proponents of digital assets, Atichanan included, argue that too many restrictions will simply drive Thais to unregulated platforms abroad.
“The regulator realizes that no brake can reverse the trend towards digital,” said Atichanan, 33, a co-founder of Bitkub in 2018. He said the exchange accounts for about 90% of the domestic crypto trade and caters to 300,000 clients, numbers that Bloomberg has not been able to verify independently.
While volumes on Thai crypto exchanges are still small compared to their counterparts in countries like the US and South Korea, they have risen in recent months as digital assets, including Bitcoin, have soared to all-time highs.
Total negotiation Rotation across all locally licensed crypto exchanges jumped to 124 billion baht ($ 3.96 billion) in February from 18 billion baht in November, according to data from the Thai SEC, which only dates back to November. Bitkub Journal Rotation of 4.2 billion baht in February reflects an increase of almost 40% from the previous month, according to company statistics. 24 hours Rotation The March 30 figure ranked it 124th out of more than 300 exchanges worldwide. followed by CoinMarketCap.
As in other markets that have seen a surge in retail during the pandemic, crypto activity in Thailand has exploded largely thanks to demand from younger investors. The boom has also been marked by setbacks at local exchange operators, including Bitkub.
Both developments have attracted scrutiny from the Thai SEC. In January, the regulator asked Bitkub to come up with a plan to address investor complaints about “problematic work systems” that have caused business disruptions. A month later, the regulator said it was considering eligibility. restrictions for crypto exchange clients including a minimum income of more than 1 million baht. The SEC at its April 1 meeting decided not to impose the income requirement, opting for an education or awareness program.
“Crypto participants, including platform operators and investors, are mostly young and passionate about new technologies and decentralization,” said Ruenvadee Suwanmongkol, secretary general of the SEC, in an interview. “They must realize that any financial innovation also has the potential to cause collateral damage to the general public and the financial system.”
The SEC dropped its revenue requirement after collecting feedback from market participants. The borderless, decentralized nature of crypto trading makes it difficult to implement such controls, said Poomsiri Dumrongvute, who teaches a financial technology course at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.
Bitkub has made a similar argument in its comments to regulators, also pointing out that tighter restrictions could hamper the development of local blockchain technology.
Despite the regulatory risk, Bitkub is preparing for a major expansion. The company plans to double the staff to 500 by the end of the year, introduce its own debit card, and open a physical crypto trading outlet in Bangkok to attract new entrants and serve as a gathering place for existing ones, according to Atichanan. In the long term, Bitkub has the ambition of achieving “unicorn” status or a private valuation of more than a billion dollars.
Atichanan said the exchange raised the equivalent of $ 11 million from investors in three rounds since its establishment, though he declined to comment on the company’s current valuation.
– With the assistance of Michael Patterson