Coinbase was founded in 2012 and has now grown into one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges. It is most popular amongst newcomers to cryptocurrencies and provides an easy to use interface for users to buy cryptocurrencies with fiat. Through their sister platform, GDAX, they also allow you to purchase a larger number of altcoins.
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Coinbase was one of the first cryptocurrency exchanges, founded 7 years ago in San Francisco at a time when only a handful of people had ever heard the term “blockchain technology.” At first, Coinbase was a Bitcoin (BTC) only exchange. That’s because, at the time, there weren’t any other coins that had proven their viability. Gradually, however, it opened its doors to additional currencies including:
- Ethereum (ETH)
- Ethereum Classic (ETC)
- Litecoin (LTC)
- Golem (GNT)
- Zcash (ZEC)
- Civic (CVC)
- Bitcoin Cash (BCH)
- Dai (DAI)
- And others…
Coinbase if fully compliant with SEC regulations. And for a time it was the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the world. It has since ceded that distinction, first to Bitmex and more recently to the aggressive upstart Binance. Both of which are unregulated exchanges. In recent years Coinbase has pushed for more aggressive regulation of the crypto exchange industry. One of several controversial moves that have raised the ire of many crypto purists. More on that later.
Interestingly, while Coinbase is fully compliant with US regulations regarding crypto, its fee structure remains puzzlingly obscure and difficult to figure out. A fair bit of research, however, reveals a few fundamental truths:
- First, there are no fees involved with uploading currency to the exchange via ACH transfer.
- Uploading funds any other way, however, incurs a fee of $10.
- There is a flat transaction fee of 1.49% which applies to all standard crypto purchases.
- But should you purchase crypto on the exchange using a credit card that fee increases to 3.99%.
All of that seems straightforward enough. But things start to get murky regarding the .5% spread Coinbase imposes on currency valuations. Some traders complain that in bull markets when Bitcoin valuations go through the roof, this spread can cost them dearly. When it comes to converting crypto to crypto that spread increases to 1% and causes even more hand-wringing and furrowed brows.
When you first establish your account, you’ll be pretty severely limited in the amount you can buy and sell. For instance, if you are a US resident and you open your account using a credit card, you’ll only be able to purchase a maximum of $1,000 worth of crypto per week.
If you want to raise that ceiling, you’ll need to apply by providing them a slew of personal information including your phone number and a photo ID. Such is the nature of the regulated exchange.
If you’re approved for an increase, you’ll be able to trade whatever the exchange deems a prudent amount, up to a maximum of $25,000 per day in cryptocurrency. Again, though, if you’re account is linked to a credit card your limit is likely to be far below that.
Because it’s been willing to subject its activities to the heavy hand of the regulator Coinbase is able to operate in countries where unregulated exchanges are forbidden. That includes the US, along with France, the UK, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Brazil, and more. The only European country of note that forbids Coinbase operations is Germany. And in Asia, of course, you can’t access Coinbase (or any other cryptocurrency exchange) in China.
If there’s one reason to choose Coinbase over unregulated exchanges, it’s the quality of their security protocols. 98% of their digital assets are kept in “cold storage,” which is impervious to the activities of online hackers. Physical copies of the cold storage files are then stored in brick and mortar safe deposit boxes at various undisclosed locations.
Digital client data is encrypted, and physical copies of it produced on paper. These paper copies wind up in the same safe deposit boxes as the digital assets. In addition, customers have the option of storing their digital assets in a virtual “vault” that sits behind even more layers of encryption and imposes a 48 hour waiting period on all transactions so they can be verified. In short, Coinbase earns high marks for putting security front and center.
Finally, we feel we have to mention that Coinbase at times seems like it’s trying a bit too hard to leverage its “A-okay in the USA” status. Much to the eternal chagrin of those aforementioned crypto purists, it has actually tried to patent and copyright several aspects of crypto trading that really don’t belong to it. That includes the term “Bitcoin Exchange” and the whole notion of the hot wallet. The idea that one company should be able to establish a kind of officially sanctioned primacy in the crypto-verse doesn’t bode well for the future and may represent a cautionary tale about the excesses that regulation can foster.