Thailand’s Bitkub plans crypto expansion in SE Asia

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Bitkub, Thailand’s biggest cryptocurrency trading company, plans to expand its operations into other south-east Asian countries this year, said founder and chief executive Topp Jirayut Srupsrisopa.

Topp said that while Bitkub was not embarking on a “bloodshed war” with dominant trading platforms in the region such as Indodax, one of Indonesia’s biggest Bitcoin and crypto exchanges, it was targeting countries without strong incumbents.

“We are planning to go into a country without a clear winner yet because we don’t want to go into a war with big established players,” Topp said in an interview with the Financial Times.

“We believe this kind of business has a network effect and economies of scale attached to it, so we want to be the first to launch a product,” he said.

His comments come amid growing trading volumes for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies on the Bitkub platform in Thailand, the region’s second-largest economy, where regulators are considering new taxes targeting the sector.

He said Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, the Philippines and Malaysia were among the countries with “no clear winner” in cryptocurrency trading.

“We are at the market research phase right now,” he said.

Topp explained that Bitkub had not begun formal due diligence on its expansion, which it would fund out of existing profits. The group said its 2021 net profit reached Bt5bn ($152m).

Topp is a former investment banker and business consultant who started his first cryptocurrency company in 2014 out of a spare room in a Bangkok clothing shop run by his parents.

Siam Commercial Bank, Thailand’s oldest lender whose shareholders include Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn, took a 51 per cent stake in Bitkub for $537m in November, giving the company a “unicorn” valuation of more than $1bn.

Competition has intensified in Thailand and other south-east Asian countries for cryptocurrency customers.

This week, trading platform Binance and Gulf Energy Development, controlled by Thai billionaire Sarath Ratanavadi, said they were conducting a joint study to set up a digital asset exchange.

Topp declined to comment on the proposed tie-up “until . . . it’s substantial and becomes a fact”. He added that Bitkub was ready to withstand competition, which was “good” for the sector.

“It creates progress, it creates good results for customers,” he said.

Crypto trading fuelled by young Thais has grown quickly during the pandemic, which has depressed the country’s tourism-reliant economy. Thailand’s government has floated the idea of imposing a 15 per cent withholding tax on profitable cryptocurrency trades, but faces significant pushback from the nascent industry.

“There seems to be a great rush to enforce this tax law, even though there are so many uncertainties about the impact, how to calculate it, how to come up with tax reports for individuals, and the burden on exchanges,” said Pete Peeradej Tanruangporn, chief executive of Upbit, a crypto exchange, and chair of the Thai Digital Asset Operators Trade Association.

Topp declined to comment on the proposed tax, saying to do so would be “speculation” as the policy had not been formally announced.

Twitter: @JohnReedwrites

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