LocalBitcoins' Volume Holds Steady Despite Stricter Compliance Procedures

Banning cash transactions and requiring identity verification has not noticeably hurt bitcoin’s oldest operating peer-to-peer exchange, market data shows.

AccessTimeIconJun 9, 2020 at 7:25 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 8:49 a.m. UTC
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Banning cash transactions and requiring identity verification has not noticeably hurt bitcoin’s oldest operating peer-to-peer exchange, market data shows.

Helsinki-based bitcoin exchange LocalBitcoins made significant changes to its policies in June 2019. That included mandatory identity verification and removing its cash-for-crypto trading option. 

Rather than permanently stifling its business over the past year, volume on the peer-to-peer bitcoin exchange has ebbed and flowed with leading centralized exchanges like OKEx and Coinbase, for example.

Compared to reported volumes of 12 months ago, OKEx and Coinbase have seen volume drop by approximately 30% and 45%, respectively, according to data from Nomics. Since January, however, the two exchanges’ volumes have grown by roughly 2,500% and 800%, respectively. By comparison, LocalBitcoins’ volume is down 27% over the past 12 months and up almost 40% for the year to date.

“Cash trades used to be less than 0.5% of all the trades,” a LocalBitcoins spokesperson told CoinDesk. “Removing them didn’t have an impact on our trade volumes.” 

Founded in June 2012, LocalBitcoins was created to offer a convenient, global tool for trading bitcoins and “serve people who have limited access to financial services”, according to CEO Nikolaus Kangas. As of 2018, the company generated roughly $27 million in annual revenue. 

In 2019, the stalwart peer-to-peer exchange implemented tiered identity verification in an effort to comply with an anti-money laundering directive from the European Commission. 

LocalBitcoins aggregate weekly volumes
LocalBitcoins aggregate weekly volumes

LocalBitcoins reported volumes from Latin American countries are largely responsible for elevating recent aggregate transactions. Over the past two months volumes in Argentina, Colombia and Venezuela, for example, respectively grew by as much as 51%, 46% and 125%. This growth signals “wide and healthy demand growth,” a spokesperson for the exchange told CoinDesk. 

Many ideologically motivated bitcoin investors value their personal and financial privacy, which makes them averse to identify verification requirements by cryptocurrency exchanges. Cash-for-bitcoin trades, moreover, are a preferred transaction type for investors who want to buy anonymously. 

While LocalBitcoins’ year-old changes may not have pushed away a noticeable number of users, other traders are showing increasing interest in peer-to-peer exchanges that don’t require identity verification. Over the past year, for example, peer-to-peer exchange Hodl Hodl has seen an “influx of relatively big, active traders,” said the exchange's spokesperson. 

The lack of a noticeable drop in LocalBitcoins volume after its platform changes suggests its users might not care about privacy as much as other bitcoin investors. For the longevity of the eight-year-old bitcoin exchange, this is encouraging. 

“You would’ve seen a drop much earlier in that graph if KYC mattered as much as they say it does,” Alejandro Machado, co-founder of Venezuela-based Open Money Initiative. “I think people generally trust the Finnish company.” 


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