As investors on Thursday got their first-ever public glimpse of U.S. cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase's financial results, a big surprise was just how far the company has come in diversifying its business mix away from the industry's roots in a primarily retail-driven market.
Retail customers represented just 36% of trading volumes during the fourth quarter, down from 80% in early 2018, Coinbase's regulatory disclosures showed. That means the bulk of volume has shifted in recent years toward institutional customers, mirroring the broader industry shift as more big investors nose into crypto markets. But the growth rates of volume from each demographic remained roughly equal in the past year.
In the fourth quarter of 2019, Coinbase reported $5 billion in retail trading volume matched with $9 million in institutional volume. Fast forward to the fourth quarter of 2020 and the exchange reported $32 billion in retail volume – a 540% increase – matched with $57 billion from institutional clients, a 533% increase.
The shift toward more institutional business is reflected in recent reports of Coinbase serving as the agent or middleman for several high-profile bitcoin purchases. The company has assisted corporate investors including the business intelligence company MicroStrategy and the electric-vehicle maker Tesla, led by CEO Elon Musk, who has tweeted favorably about cryptocurrencies.
The second quarter of 2019 marked the first time Coinbase reported institutional trading volume exceeding retail volume since early 2018. Every quarter since, the exchange has seen institutional trading exceed retail volumes.
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