Japan’s BitFlyer Has a New President – Again

BitFlyer replaced its company president and introduced its first non-Japanese director in its latest management reorganization.

AccessTimeIconApr 6, 2021 at 9:55 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 12:37 p.m. UTC
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Tokyo-headquartered global cryptocurrency firm bitFlyer has a new president – for the third time in two years. 

According to an announcement, the new president, Goldman Sachs alum Kuniyoshi Hayashi, replaced outgoing President Kimihiro Mine on March 30. 

bitFlyer is the leading digital assets exchange in Japan, with over 2.5 million users worldwide. IT is licensed in Japan, the U.S. and the European Union. 

The firm first replaced its co-founder and president, Yuzo Kano, with Yoshio Hirako in January 2019. Five months later, Hirako was replaced by Mine.

In addition to Hayashi's appointment, bitFlyer also introduced two new members to the board of directors: Masaaki Seki was named director while Joel Edgerton, chief operating officer at bitFlyer USA, became the first non-Japanese director of the global firm. 

This latest change in management signaled instability within the firm, prompting Asian business publication Nikkei to observe that bitFlyer was wandering off course. 

But Edgerton told CoinDesk the latest company reshuffle was part of bitFlyer’s larger strategy to go global, and that the timing for the changes was not random. 

“In Japan, the fiscal year ends at the end of March. Whenever we make changes, it tends to be at this time. ... So the timing’s actually normal for us and discussions have been going on for quite a while internally,” Edgerton said. 

According to Edgerton, bitFlyer founder Kano stepped away in 2019 so the firm could quickly respond to the regulatory changes taking place in Japan’s crypto space. 

The country’s financial authority FSA doubled down on regulations for crypto exchanges in 2018 after Japanese digital assets exchange Coincheck suffered the largest cryptocurrency hack in history, confirming that around $533 million was stolen from the exchange. Soon after the incident, the FSA temporarily suspended two crypto exchanges (including Coincheck) and expanded the team that handled exchange licensing.  

“The Japanese government started going to different cryptocurrency companies, basically telling them, ‘OK, you guys need to be more like traditional finance companies, and you need to have this type of structure and regulations and controls in place.’ So we had to make a change to do that,” Edgerton said referring to the management shuffle in 2019. 

But now that the firm is licensed and fully compliant with local regulations, bitFlyer is looking to focus on expanding its global influence, Edgerton says. He added that bitFlyer’s hyperfocus on the Japanese market has created a strong crypto payments system in the country that can be used as a model elsewhere.  

“You can go into a bookstore in Japan and get loyalty points linked to your bitFlyer account and crypto. You can also go into electronic stores and buy electronics using crypto in Japan. So these types of real-world use cases that are not really tied to trading, per se, are things we also want to roll out to the rest of the world,” Edgerton said.

The new president, Hayashi, a University of Tokyo graduate who worked at Goldman Sachs Japan, has “international experience,” according to Edgerton, which he says is a key point. He said his own addition to the board of directors (as the first non-Japanese executive) signals how serious bitFlyer is about establishing itself as a global entity. 

Although Kano – also a University of Tokyo and Goldman Sachs alum – is no longer president of the firm, he remains chief executive officer of bitFlyer USA and chairman of the European branch of the company. 

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