Coinbase’s Staking Service Faces Questions After Kraken’s SEC Settlement

Crypto exchange Kraken on Thursday agreed with the SEC to pay a $30 million fine and shutter its staking platform for U.S. customers to settle charges concerning the offering unregistered securities.

AccessTimeIconFeb 10, 2023 at 6:46 p.m. UTC
Updated May 9, 2023 at 4:08 a.m. UTC

Though Coinbase’s (COIN) current revenue from staking is relatively small, there is potential for speedy growth if the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) doesn’t crack down on the service altogether.

Speaking one day after his agency extracted from Kraken a $30 million fine and an agreement to shut down its U.S. staking-as-a-service operation, SEC Chair Gary Gensler warned other platforms to “take note,” hinting at possible further investigations into other U.S.-based crypto exchanges.

Coinbase – which offers its own staking business – could be one of them. Its shares fell 14% on Thursday following the Kraken news and CEO Brian Armstrong's tweet late Wednesday about rumors the SEC might ban retail crypto staking. Coinbase stock is lower by another 3% on Friday.

Coinbase Chief Legal Officer Paul Grewal argued on Twitter on Thursday that his exchange’s staking business is “fundamentally different” from Kraken’s, which he described as a “yield product.” And he reiterated this in a statement to CoinDesk on Friday, saying that "Coinbase's staking program is not affected by [the Kraken] news. Staking on Coinbase continues to be available and staked assets continue to earn protocol rewards. What’s clear from [the] announcement is that Kraken was essentially offering a yield product. Coinbase’s staking services are fundamentally different and are not securities. For example, our customers’ rewards depend on the rewards paid by the protocol, and commissions we disclose. Rules making clear these distinctions would provide real clarity to consumers, investors, and the industry.”

Nevertheless, there’s plenty of speculation the SEC could be coming for all staking platforms.

Only a very small percentage of Coinbase’s revenue currently comes from its staking product, which means that the impact would be relatively low, said Needham’s John Todaro in a report on Friday. According to Coinbase itself, "staking revenue was less than 3% of our revenue through Q3’22 after accounting for customer reward payouts."

However, Todaro noted that staking has high potential for future growth and could potentially be a substantial revenue stream by the end of the year.

Todara pointed out that of roughly 20 million ether (ETH) in custody on Coinbase, only 2.1 million are currently being staked. He thinks staking revenue for the exchange in 2023 could top $400 million if the SEC doesn’t get in the way. And analysts at Coinbase wrote in a report that the shutdown of Kraken’s services will likely affect the “pace of staking growth going forward.”

The team at JPMorgan is somewhat in agreement with Coinbase’s Grewal, saying the SEC charges against Kraken seem to be against specific parts of that exchange’s service rather than proof-of-stake as a consensus mechanism.

“While Coinbase does not seem to see an immediate threat to its Earn program as a result of yesterday’s settlement, our sense is that the market believes yesterday’s SEC action is not a one-off event,” the JPMorgan analyst added. “Accordingly, the bigger question for Coinbase and its peers moving forward will be around what other products and services the agency may seek to regulate next, with near-term headline uncertainty spooking investors.”

UPDATE (Feb. 10, 19:22 UTC): Added reason for Coinbase stock's decline on Thursday.

UPDATE (Feb. 10, 21:01 UTC): Added comments from Coinbase.


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Helene Braun

Helene is a New York-based reporter covering Wall Street, the rise of the spot bitcoin ETFs and crypto exchanges. She is also the co-host of CoinDesk's Markets Daily show. Helene is a graduate of New York University's business and economic reporting program and has appeared on CBS News, YahooFinance and Nasdaq TradeTalks. She holds BTC and ETH.