First Mover Asia: China’s Potential SWIFT Competitor CIPS Won't Help Russia Much; Bitcoin, Ether Rise Again

The Chinese system has just 75 members and processes only a fraction of the transactions that SWIFT handles.

AccessTimeIconMar 2, 2022 at 12:12 a.m. UTC
Updated May 11, 2023 at 4:44 p.m. UTC

Good morning. Here’s what’s happening:

Markets: Cryptos continued their momentum from Monday.

Insights: China's interbank payment system lacks the reach to replace SWIFT.

Technician's take: BTC buyers could remain active at lower support levels, particularly at $40K.

And sign up for First Mover, our daily newsletter putting the latest moves in crypto markets in context.


Bitcoin (BTC): $44,224 +2.5%

Ether (ETH): $2,959 +1.7%

Top Gainers

Asset Ticker Returns Sector
Bitcoin BTC +2.7% Currency
Chainlink LINK +2.1% Computing
Ethereum ETH +1.9% Smart Contract Platform

Top Losers

Asset Ticker Returns Sector
Internet Computer ICP −4.1% Computing
Filecoin FIL −2.8% Computing
Bitcoin Cash BCH −1.8% Currency

Bitcoin, ether and other major cryptocurrencies continued their momentum from Monday even as Russia escalated its efforts to take control of Ukraine.

On Tuesday, a 40-mile-long Russian convoy of armored vehicles, tanks and towed artillery chugged relentlessly toward Kyiv. Ukraine's capital and Kharkiv, its second largest city, were rocked by rocket explosions as an estimated half-million people, including foreign nationals who study and work in Ukraine, fled the country.

Crypto's performance veered markedly from equities, particularly risk-on stocks. Among the major indexes, the S&P 500 and tech-heavy Nasdaq fell 1.6% and 1.5%, respectively. A number of analysts say that the invasion has highlighted cryptos' potential usefulness for investors.

According to an estimate by Forklog, a Russian-language crypto news outlet, various organizations raising crypto for Ukraine have received over $58 million in donations over the past six days. And Arcane Research in a Tuesday report wrote that Ukrainians were "buying crypto as never before," fearful that the country's banking system "may collapse."

Meanwhile, Russian investors have been looking at crypto as a workaround to economic sanctions by the European Union and U.S. In its report, Arcane Research wrote of a "massive increase in the ruble pairs on Binance, particularly in USDT," and in bitcoin volume. The group speculated that Russians were seeking "stablecoins to get dollar exposure ahead of possible sanctions directed toward Russian crypto traders," or because "market makers seeking to eliminate their ruble exposure."

At the time of publication, bitcoin was trading at about $44,200, up about 3% over the past 24 hours. Ether, the second-largest cryptocurrency by market cap, was changing hands at a little below $3,000, a more than 2% increase. Almost all other altcoins in the CoinDesk top 20 by market cap were trading higher, with SHIB and SAND both up about 5%.

"Investors are speculating that crypto will become increasingly important as apolitical, trustless money in a time of escalating geopolitical uncertainty," Arcane Research wrote.


S&P 500: 4,306 -1.5%

DJIA: 33,294 -1.7%

Nasdaq: 13,532 -1.6%

Gold: $1,945 +1.9%


Wannabe SWIFT competitor CIPS doesn't have the reach to help Russia much

As the reality of sanctions sinks in for Russia – an energy superpower and a top 15, global economy – so do the warnings that this is a moment for China’s financial infrastructure to shine.

China’s Cross-Border Interbank Payment System (CIPS) can step up to the occasion to replace the SWIFT interbank messaging service, argued some observers, for Russian banks that are now disconnected from the world.

“When payment systems are politicized, then you have to be sure you're on the right side of the leviathan at all times,” is how one ex-venture capitalist put it in his Twitter thread.

(It's unclear if the civilians in Ukraine who are being bombed think of their situation as being "politicized" or have a stronger term for it.)

Despite numerous calls that these sanctions are the beginning of the twilight of dollar hegemony, China’s financial infrastructure just isn’t up to the task of replacing it.

It’s important to remember just how small CIPS really is.

According to data published on its website, the service pushed through 388 billion RMB, or $61 billion a day, in February. Binance does that in turnover in less than 72 hours, and FTX, another crypto exchanges, does it in 18 days.

Of course, those comparisons are specious; Binance CEO Changpeng Zhou and FTX Trading CEO Sam Bankman-Fried aren’t our new financial overlords. They just run exchanges. We aren’t going to pay for things in Binance’s BNB or BUSD tokens.

But the idea that CIPS could seriously compete with SWIFT is also specious when some crypto exchanges are already larger entities.

The system still relies on SWIFT for messaging (the bank-to-bank ledgers that show fund transfers). While CIPS can do transfers within China and Hong Kong, moving funds abroad requires SWIFT’s rails. And that’s going to make the whole operation redundant as sanctioned Russian banks can’t touch SWIFT.

So then how big is CIPS compared to SWIFT? Really, really small.

According to its own stats, SWIFT pushes through 50 million messages a day compared with CIPS' 15,000. And its daily volume? SWIFT messages enable $5 trillion to move worldwide each day.

SWIFT counts 11,000 members as institutions. CIPS has 75 direct participants and 1,205 indirect participants. There just isn’t a comparison in size and scale.

If there’s a ‘bull case’ for CIPS rocketing to the moon and taking on SWIFT, there’s also a case – maybe even a stronger one – of Ripple’s RippleNet messaging service doing the same. Yes, the same Ripple that’s being sued by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse recently reported on Twitter that the network is about to eclipse the $10 billion mark in volume and continues to grow.

The important thing is that the underlying currencies used on the RippleNet are liquid. China’s yuan is not. For CIPS to challenge the world, there needs to be a freely convertible currency behind it.

Technician's take

Bitcoin's four-hour chart shows nearby resistance with RSI on the bottom. (Damanick Dantes/CoinDesk, TradingView)
Bitcoin's four-hour chart shows nearby resistance with RSI on the bottom. (Damanick Dantes/CoinDesk, TradingView)

Bitcoin has rallied 13% over the past week as bearish sentiment waned. The cryptocurrency, however, faces immediate resistance at $44,000 to $46,000, which could stall the price recovery over the short term.

The relative strength index (RSI) on the four-hour chart is overbought, similar to what occurred in early February, which preceded a pullback in price. This time, however, there has been a significant loss of downside momentum, which means buyers could remain active at lower support.

For now, bitcoin is stuck in a range of between $37,000 and $46,000, pointing to a potential reversal of a three-month-long downtrend. That means buying volume will need to increase on pullbacks in order to cause a shift in trends.

Important events

8:30 a.m. HKT/SGT (12:30 a.m. UTC): Australia gross domestic product (Q4/MoM/YoY)

3:45 p.m. HKT/SGT (7:45 a.m. UTC): France budget

5 p.m. HKT/SGT (9 a.m. UTC): U.S. Opec meeting

10:30 p.m. HKT/SGT (2:30 p.m. UTC): Speech by James Bullard, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

CoinDesk TV

In case you missed it, here is the most recent episode of "First Mover" on CoinDesk TV:

"First Mover" went to Ukraine for on-the-ground interviews as the war with Russia intensified. Guests included Michael Chobanian, founder of Ukrainian crypto exchange Kuna, Ukrainian lawyer Artem Afian, who has close ties to Ukraine government officials, and Tanvi Ratna of Policy 4.0. Also, CoinDesk Managing Editor for Global Policy and Regulation Nik De discussed U.S. sanctions and Starlink terminals arriving in Ukraine.


'Absolutely Surreal': Inside a Fund Raising Millions in Crypto for Besieged Ukraine: The Unchain fund has raised $1.8 million and plans to launch a DAO this week, even as team members live with sirens, explosions and artillery barrage following the Russian invasion.

Bitcoin HODLers Unfazed by Macro and Geopolitical Risks: These three charts show investors are holding onto their cryptocurrency for future profits rather than selling.

Ukraine's Defense Ministry Decides Where Crypto Funds Are Spent: The government's crypto fund has received donations worth $16.8 million.

Ukraine Asks Binance, Coinbase, 6 Other Crypto Exchanges to Block Russian Users: Earlier today, U.S. authorities added regulations aimed at thwarting the use of digital currencies and assets to evade sanctions.

Electric Capital Raises $1B for 2 New Crypto VC Funds: Long-term investing and public goods will be a focus for the two new funds from what had been a smaller player in the world of crypto VC.

Longer reads

NFTs Are the Latest Crypto Tax Events Nobody Understands: Casual collectors may be in for a rude awakening this year. This piece is part of CoinDesk's Tax Week.

Said and heard

"Harder than it might sound for Russia to use #crypto in skirting sanctions🏦 - Liquidity = big issue 💸(h/t @ashgoblue ) - Global exchanges on high alert for sanctioned accts, subject to KYC/ AML rules 👀- Transactions are traceable." (CNBC correspondent Kate Rooney) ... "On the train to from Lviv to Krakow, a violinist plays for the packed train car during a journey that took ~28 hours, said Sofia Kedruk, who arrived in Krakow Monday and shot this video while on the train. #ukraine." (Katelyn Ferral, USA reporter covering the Russian invasion) ... "Fake news is often less about getting people wholeheartedly to believe a false narrative, than simply sowing distrust of credible facts and institutions. It’s a messy business, and one that needs serious investigation." (CoinDesk columnist Daniel Kuhn)


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Damanick Dantes

Damanick was a crypto market analyst at CoinDesk where he wrote the daily Market Wrap and provided technical analysis. He is a Chartered Market Technician designation holder and member of the CMT Association. Damanick is also a portfolio strategist and does not invest in digital assets.

James Rubin

James Rubin was CoinDesk's U.S. news editor based on the West Coast.