Where Crypto Exchanges Are Beating the Bear Market

Turkish exchanges OKEx and BtcTurk are onboarding thousands of crypto traders as the lira falters.

May 1, 2019 at 7:30 a.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 1:52 p.m. UTC
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With the Turkish lira dropping to a six-month low against the dollar last week, bitcoin is continuing to pick up even more traction in Istanbul.

Andy Cheung, head of operations at the global crypto exchange OKEx, told CoinDesk that over 30,000 Turkish users signed up for the platform since it expanded services to Turkey on March 26. Turkey’s growth as a leading bitcoin market is supported by other data as well.

“Turkey is without a doubt the only country that boasts of a high percentage of independent crypto-ownership in Europe and the Middle East,” Cheung said. “It has one of the most robust and promising crypto communities anywhere in the entire world.”

The lira accounts for 6 percent of crypto-fiat liquidity in 2019, CoinMarketCap data shows, retaining its 2018 rank as the fifth most popular fiat-to-crypto pair worldwide. According to BtcTurk CEO Ozgur Guneri, inflation is slowly, yet consistently, driving Turkish demand for bitcoin.

Guneri told CoinDesk his crypto exchange has also on-boarded more than 30,000 new users so far in 2019.

Those sign-ups speak to the relatively high crypto adoption rates in Turkey. A survey conducted in April 2018 by the media arm of ING Bank found that Turkey already had the highest percentage of bitcoin holders in Europe, with 18 percent of Turkish respondents saying they own cryptocurrency. (Globally, Turkey had the highest rate of respondents who expected to hodl long-term, at 45 percent, compared to 21 percent of crypto owners in the United States.)

“We have never seen a declining number of users, just the pace of growth might go down a little bit. Even on the most bloody day, we’re signing up new users,” Guneri said, adding that BtcTurk’s retail arm has already seen several days in April with $14 million worth of volume.

While these numbers may seem small compared to US unicorns like Coinbase, Turkish traders have garnered growing influence in the global marketplace.

Fluctuating inflation has been a primary driver of crypto adoption among Turkish traders, Guneri said. For example, when the lira dropped roughly 20 percent against the dollar in a single day in August 2018, BtcTurk’s trading volume jumped more than 100 percent.

“The U.S. dollar and the euro, in my opinion, are not hard money anymore but bitcoin is,” Guneri said. “Bitcoin is the new generation’s store of value, and sometimes a way of speculating, of course.”

Global players

Meanwhile, Guneri’s Istanbul-based exchange launched institutional services for foreign investors for the first time earlier this month, BtcTurk Pro, in order to capitalize on crypto-to-fiat arbitrage opportunities.

Guneri told CoinDesk:

“The volatility of the Turkish lira is quite high and couple that with the price of bitcoin … and we have a market that is illiquid enough that sometimes there are inefficiencies that you can benefit from. Yet we are liquid enough for institutional investors to operate.”

Due to Turkish exchanges’ strict listing and on-boarding policies mandated by relationships with local banks, many traders acquire their first bitcoin domestically then send the digital loot to global exchanges with a wider range of trading pairs and fiat liquidity options.

“Some users can increase their investments in bitcoin during the volatile periods of the Turkish lira,” Turkish vlogger Alp Işık told CoinDesk. “Turkish users generally use local exchanges as a gateway to foreign exchanges.”

All things considered, Işık and Guneri both see crypto adoption continuing on a steady upward slope, correlated with volatility for both the lira and bitcoin.

Referring to competition among exchange platforms around the world, BtcTurk’s Guneri said:

“There is definitely a global space for [crypto-to-crypto], but I think there will be a consolidation in terms of real volume. … There will be significant value in local markets and local knowledge.”

Istanbul image via Shutterstock

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