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Binance’s Crypto Winter Strategy: Build and Beef Up Partnerships

Leigh Cuen
Binance is delisting bitcoin SV days after CEO Changpeng Zhao called Craig Wright, the fork's creator, a "fraud."

Malta-based cryptocurrency exchange Binance has an ambitious mandate for its 400 employees in 2019: leverage industry partnerships to diversify the brand beyond its primary trading platform.

Trust Wallet, which Binance acquired last summer, recently joined the Foundation for Interwallet Operability (FIO), CoinDesk has learned. The coalition includes the exchange ShapeShift, and wallet startups BRD and MyCrypto, among many others. Guided by the foundation’s instigator, a Denver-based startup called Dapix, the coalition plans to build a protocol to standardize crypto wallet addresses across currencies and platforms.

Boosters say this protocol could eventually introduce new features to the broader fintech ecosystem, such as giving e-commerce platforms the ability to refund crypto purchases directly to a personal wallet and users the ability to send payment requests using someone’s email, comparable to apps like Venmo.

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“The wallets and exchanges will be able to participate significantly in [FIO] block production,” FIO founder David Gold told CoinDesk. Since the protocol has a native token for processing fees, scheduled for beta testing later this year, Gold says the value proposition for participating exchanges is clear: “They get income from being a block-producing node on the network.”

Binance chief growth officer Ted Lin said that revenue has slowed during the market downturn, but the exchange is still profitable and doesn’t currently plan to shore up a venture capital “war chest” the way Coinbase, its Silicon Valley competitor, did with a $300 million  fundraise last October.

Although it would probably take years for FIO to potentially offer Binance a significant revenue stream, Lin said the exchange’s bear market strategy is to focus on projects with long-term payoffs.

“It will ultimately come down to impact,” Lin said, describing how Binance prioritizes partnerships. “What else can we do to remove the roadblocks?”

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All of this wallet infrastructure is leading up to the launch of Binance’s decentralized exchange , or DEX, later this year. Trust Wallet will be the first mobile crypto wallet to support integration with the DEX and the updated token.

Stepping back, Binance’s initial coin offering (ICO) asset BNB, which gave the startup its initial $15 million funding in 2017, is currently ethereum-based until Binance’s unique blockchain also launches later this year. Lin said pushing broader BNB adoption is another way to complement the upcoming DEX.

“If the technology requires five years of the entire ecosystem working together to create a better alternative, then we better start now,” Lin said.

Wallet usability

In the meantime, standardizing addresses and messaging software should reduce the risk of human errors while sending and receiving crypto.

This was particularly appealing to Binance because one of its growth strategies is extending its reach among the crypto-curious with fewer technical skills. That’s why the exchange also launched the educational portal Binance Academy in December 2018, with hundreds of introductory videos and articles translated by volunteers into 15 languages.

Gold said Binance has one of the biggest global user bases, over 10 million exchange accounts and 150,000 Trust Wallet downloads, according to the company’s 2018 statistics. As such, Gold says Binance is uniquely positioned to help FIO facilitate global adoption.

“[User-experience issues] can’t be solved by any individual wallet or exchange,” Gold said. “It has to be solved between them.”

Trust Wallet founder Viktor Radchenko told CoinDesk that FIO complements Binance’s broader push to open source the wallet’s code so external developers can add support for almost any crypto, beyond the 15 tokens Trust Wallet now supports.

Standardizing software with tools like the FIO protocol could give fans of niche assets the option to enable Trust Wallet support with the same level of security and usability across platforms.

“Last year we were really focused on ethereum,” Radchenko said. “We realized there are lots of blockchains and there are going to be lots of different use cases with people with different understandings of crypto.”

Referring to a scaling update called SegWit that improves transaction efficiency, he added:

“It’s really important for everyone to stay on the same page … most of the bitcoin wallets don’t even support SegWit. That’s really bad.”

With pivotal wallet updates and a DEX on the way, BNB is the third Binance product that lends itself to helping the exchange form deeper industry ties.

Other partnerships

Beyond the Trust Wallet acquisition, Binance also invested $2.5 million in the airline payments startup TravelbyBit in 2018. This external company is now one out of many that Binance is partnering with to give BNB holders places to spend their tokens.

Late last year, Lin said Binance started reaching out to industry players to see if they would accept BNB payments or offer discounts to BNB users.

“We now receive multiple requests per day asking to incorporate BNB into their product or service,” Lin said.

In late December, the eco-friendly impact investing startup Moeda joined those ranks by enabling BNB contributions to its loan programs, where global investors issue short-term crypto loans to small businesses in developing nations. One such project, Cooperval Craft Beer run by a family farm in Brazil, repaid its first $8,000 loan in December.

According to Moeda co-founder Isa Yu, each of the roughly 15 international investors who contributed to that transparent loan, using BNB or Moeda’s ICO token MDA and a Brazilian real–pegged version called MDABRL for local accounting, received $800 return on their investments.

“You can choose to get out of the ecosystem by converting to MDA and trading on Binance,” Yu told CoinDesk. “Or you can choose to reinvest the MDABRL.”

There are already two more similar projects in Brazil now gathering $20,000 in crypto loans from more than 50 investors. Yu said Moeda plans to partner with Binance and expand the platform to nearly 200 projects receiving an average of $25,000 each by 2020.

“We want to work with them [Binance] closely to help the projects to grow and focus on different geographic regions,” Yu said.

Yet again, this shows how Binance looks to offer shopping and investment opportunities beyond standard cryptocurrency trades. Plus, educational initiatives at Binance Academy aim to attract newbies while the prices are low, potentially converting them into exchange users if prices spike again.

Speaking to Binance’s goals for BNB, including ongoing partnerships like Moeda and temporal events such as a discounted sale day at the Singaporean store SK Jewelry , Lin said:

“It’s showing the possibility of alternative payment methods that regular people who haven’t touched crypto are able to witness. … This has actually opened up a lot of proactive participation.”

Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao image via CoinDesk archives

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