- In a recent interview with BitPinas, Coins.ph CEO Wei Zhou discussed the firm’s infrastructure upgrades, and the company’s future direction rooted in crypto and web3. He acknowledged communication lapses regarding disruptions caused by the upgrades but remains committed to swiftly issue resolution.
- Zhou said he envisions Coins.ph as a leading crypto reward platform for fiat services and said they are planning for an international expansion. He recognized the challenges of operating in a single market and highlighted the ongoing regulatory processes for listing new tokens.
- Addressing competition, Zhou welcomed the entry of GCash and Maya into the crypto space. He suggested Coins.ph’s deeper focus on crypto as a unique edge that could draw users to their platform. Zhou also touched on the topic of unregulated exchanges.
We finally conducted our second interview with Wei Zhou, the CEO of Coins.ph. If you haven’t checked out, here’s the link to the video. For those seeking a concise synopsis of the key takeaways, I will provide the key points below, along with timestamps if you want to look at it in the video:
What he thinks of Justin Sun and Sam Bankman-Fried (00:02:12)
- On SBF: “I’m very disappointed in what he did. Very disappointed. I think he had a bright future. I first met him in December of 2018 in Hong Kong and then did a lot of work together.”
- On Justin Sun: “We’ve collaborated on things… I think Justin, he’s a survivor. I think he’s quite controversial in many aspects. And then he’s like a moth seeking the fire every time something loud comes up. He wants to be as close to it as possible.”
On his day 1 at Coins.ph (00:05:36) and transition (00:07:38)
- He thought Coins was a sleeping giant with the previous owners (hi Go-Jek!) who didn’t really understand the value of crypto.
- His first move was to give Coins the “shock therapy” to wake it up, and overall gave credit to the old Coins team for keeping it running.
- “It didn’t have a lot of product offerings. But it was functional. It was working.”
- He thanked the old team for their support during the transitional period. “…basically keeping the lights on and keeping the engine running. During all those times we didn’t have any downtime, we didn’t have any significant outages, we didn’t have any sort of issues during the transition.”
- Wei said he did not go to Coins by himself but with a full stack team, many were ex-Binance, like him.
On the similarity of his investment on On1 Force’ and his acquisition of Coins.ph (00:12:05)
- Backdrop: Wei is among those who acquired the original anime NFT profile picture collection ON1 Force.
- I noted to him that it appears his thesis on investing into ON1 Force was similar to his thesis in acquiring Coins.ph – investing in an overlooked and underperforming asset with very strong IP and brand that just needed owners who would know what to do with it (Okay, this is not my insight, it was first mentioned by Colin Goltra of YGG who was also part of the acquirers of ON1 Force).
- Wei agreed. “Yes, the investment thesis is quite similar. It’s like I think we can revitalize it with both capital with better management team and basically getting more native in terms of what you’re trying to do.”
- For Coins.ph that meant becoming a crypto native company and build it from there.
Important quote: “For the next twelve months. When we come back here again, I’m going to be like, hey, this is the first international company coming out of the Philippines and that’s hitting a home run in other markets around the world.”
So mark your calendars, we’ll have our next interview with Wei on May 17, 2024!
Anyway, let’s continue:
On the massive infra upgrade that is currently happening at Coins. (00:23:28)
- Note that this is the most important part of the interview, especially for Coins users, which is… all of us?
- Backdrop: Coins.ph is upgrading and many users were complaining of its suddenness and that it was not communicated to them properly.
Wei said he wants to get it done as soon as possible because of a number of things:
- The system infrastructure was very old, like “2016” old. (Later in the interview, Wei said they had a single vendor reliance for their OTP.)
- But the “train is moving” and they cannot interrupt services. This was 2021.
- They began by rebuilding the order book matching engine.
- “And then based on that tech stack, we started gradually migrating some of the behind the scenes services, wallet management.” This is when they can finally list new tokens faster again.
But the moment the minor upgrades start hitting the surface (meaning the users will see them), that’s where the problem appeared for the users: especially on the e-wallet services, as many users of Coins used the app to pay their bills, cash in, cash out, buy mobile load, among others.
- “I think that’s where the upgrade gets a little bit tricky, because each one of those payments is a different API into an external vendor that we have to tap into.”
- “So what we’re doing on the back end is we’re actually migrating our users in terms of your information, in terms of your asset balances, from the old tech stack to the new tech stack. So we’re kind of like, almost trial by fire a little bit.”
- He said they tried to fix everything as quickly as possible, like the OTP outage that was going on for 12 hours.
- “I told the team if things come up and we know what it is, get it fixed within 24 hours, at most 48 hours.”
On communication with users/customers. (00:27:40)
- “I think what we’ve done a poor job on is communicating, a really poor job of letting user know, like, ‘hey, there might be issues over the next 48 hours. Don’t worry, your money’s there. Your assets are safe. We’re not stealing your money. Nobody’s stealing your money. It’s just like if you need to, the services might be down for an hour or 2 hours or 6 hours for this upgrade.’”
- I asked, “So you think that Coins could have done better in communicating on this?”
- Wei answered, “absolutely.”
Customer: I’ve been clicking this button for three years and now it’s gone!
- “I think the two biggest complaints are basically just ‘I’ve been using this button for three years. Now that button is gone. What did you do with my button?’ I wouldn’t say roll back, but (we have to) make it easier for users to discover them. You don’t have to click maybe three times to get to a page of where you can basically buy, load or pay electricity again.”
The direction of Coins.ph is Crypto and Web3 (00:30:49)
- They could not do everything they want to do with Coins Arcade because of the old infrastructure.
- Wei said he wants to increase the products they have in the web3 space.
- On being crypto native: “I think we want to be the preeminent crypto reward platform for fiat services. So any offline merchants that want to give out loyalty points to bring crypto as part of their marketing promotions or loyalty promotions, we want to help them to be able to enable that.”
Why can Coins.ph list tokens at a very fast rate? Don’t you need regulatory approval? (00:34:31)
- “You do NEED to get regulatory sign off on the listing. We do have a token listing process, an internal vetting, both from our legal team, from our research team, from our compliance team, and we do have to sort of check the boxes, and then that listing process does get reviewed by our regulator.”
But can Coins.ph list all tokens? (00:38:58)
- Wei said this is a challenge of operating in one market.
- “Our addressable market is not like 30 different countries or with 50 million addressable users. For example, (if you are) Binance, you list a coin, they can get to 150,000,000 people, right? But the work to do to support a chain is the same. The work is the same. The work you do to listing to support like ZK or Optimism or Solana, the work is the same.”
- “So for us we have to choose our battles a little bit.”
Coins.ph actually has a non-custodial wallet inside the Coins.ph app (00:42:12)
- Wei said running a non-custodial wallet is different from running a regulated exchange, and that’s a market he doesn’t see Coins competing into.
- But still, he wants some features of non-custodial wallet to be inside Coins, and that’s how Coins Arcade actually operates!
- But why is Coins not actually pushing this story? “Now we haven’t really publicized it just because I think, to be honest, normal users, they don’t really care. As long as I can move my money whenever I want to, I don’t really care if it’s a custodial or non-custodial, as long as I have access to it.”
On Regulation and Regulators (00:47:52)
- Wei stated that Coins is regulated by several entities in the Philippines, the most prominent of which are the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
- They are regulated just like banks and they have monthly audits. The BSP inspects their cold wallets to check if they actually have what they say they have.
- On regulators: “I don’t say this lightly, because I’ve traveled around the world and met with different regulators. In my previous job, I’ve met regulators all over the world. And I’m pleasantly surprised at how knowledgeable our (local) regulators are. You can’t BS them.”
- Wei thinks the next iteration of the VASP license will evolve from being AML focused to more trading focused.
On KYC: Why do I need to KYC when I already did it before
- “We actually have to regularly update your KYC. It’s not like you do your KYC once, and then that’s your information for five years. And then for us, we actually have to within a certain amount of time, you have to update your picture, you have to update your ID.”
- “I know it’s very painful. It’s very painful for your users. It’s not a good user experience. We’re going to try to figure out how to make that as light touch as possible.”
On the Travel Rule. Why is Coins implementing a stricter version of the FATF guideline (00:54:00)
- While I haven’t checked for updates, the travel rule typically mandates that if I send crypto worth $1k or more to another address, I must identify the owner of the receiving address (the beneficiary).
- At Coins.ph, it’s actually any amount, to which Wei said, this is on their part right now and the reason is to give comfort to the regulators that “we’re actively managing them.”
- In an ideal world, Wei said there will be an address book of a person’s crypto addresses and so there is no need to fill the details each time.
On Fees (00:57:49)
- Wei defended the fee structure at Coins and Coins Pro, and said the fees especially on Coins Pro are very competitive.
- The moment they integrate Coins and Coins Pro together, users will begin to see competitive fees on Coins too.
On NFTs on Coins.ph (01:01:22)
- “There are no immediate plans for NFT on Coins, because I think NFT doesn’t really work with centralized exchanges.”
- Right now, his insights on this are either Coins providing access to marketplaces like OpenSea or first mint opportunity.
- “I think if we can be first to bring those opportunities to our users, that’s something interesting that we’ll look into. But I don’t think we’ll have a marketplace.”
What systems are in place to make sure there is no market abuse and manipulation in Coins Pro. (01:04:31)
- Wei defended Coins Pro. “The order book is actually pretty public. You can actually see the buy and sell orders.”
- “We’re in the process of building more liquidity into it. But just by being in a bear market and being a single country exchange, it’s tough to get Binance type of order book running.”
- He mentioned that liquidity is tough especially in 2022 because the year had been very tough for the market. “It’s basically like a come to Jesus mode for everyone that’s been in this industry for a long time.”
- But being a regulated exchange, especially in the Philippines, you really can’t do some magical hoohoo:
- “Being a regulated business, the cost of doing shenanigans is impossible. It’s like jail. I think I mentioned this at the Web3 conference last year. It’s like, if that should happen, you’re going to go to jail.”
On GCash and Maya entering crypto (01:06:59)
- Wei’s primary perspective is that the entry of GCash and Maya will enlarge the market, as Coins has a smaller user base than either of these e-wallets.
- He thinks their entrance is great for Coins because in crypto, once you’re inside, you want to dig the rabbit hole further, and he doesn’t see the two e-wallets in that space, because crypto is not the core business of Maya and GCash.
- “For them it’s part of a financial service. For them it’s about providing a full suite of financial products like stocks, lending, mutual funds, everything. For them it’s more about life service.”
- “I think ultimately, if users can invest and discover Bitcoin and Ethereum through their platforms, great. I think that’s a good thing for all of us. And then eventually I think they’re going to want to come and check out Coins because there are other tokens that they heard about that are listed on Coins.ph but not on their platforms.”
- “I want to have the deepest order book. I want to have the most liquidity for all PHP to crypto pairs, even for digital assets to PHP. I want to have the deepest liquidity, the tightest spread. I think that’s something that we’re going to be building on. And if we do have that, then hopefully they’ll source their crypto from Coins.”
On international exchanges (01:09:01)
- For Wei, the world will be divided into two – whether you trade in a regulated business or you want full custody via a decentralized platform.
- “Basically, if you run a business where you custody your customers assets, you need to have a license, full stop.”
- He mentioned what happened at FTX. “I think (my) many years of experience in the financial industry have said that you need to have a regulator that you can go to if bad things happen, and that regulator can then bring the force upon bad actors. I think that’s the biggest takeaway, I think from the FTX debacle.”
Will there be staking on Coins.ph (01:13:43)
- “Providing staking activity here in the Philippines is a regulated activity. We actually need to get permission from our regulators at the SEC to basically provide staking services because they see staking as a yield-generating product. We are actively seeking permission from our regulators to provide staking.”
- Wei said they can probably provide some type of swap services.
How about Coins Token (01:21:56)
- Wei: “No comment”
- Of course, Wei being Wei, he actually answered the question but it’s more of read between the lines: “It’s very natural for exchanges to have an exchange token. It’s one way for us to expand our service to build our exchange (by attracting) more users. And then it’s very natural to basically award people that use our services with our exchange token.”
- Wei mentioned his extensive experience in launching exchange tokens, particularly at his previous company. “Obviously I have experience in this area, but I think anything beyond that will get a little bit more controversial.”
- I noted in the webcast that our voices in this part of the show were a little quieter…
Immediate plans for the next three months (01:25:40)
- “We have a really fun game coming out. It should be a first release. I think they’re going to first release it to our audience here on Coins, and then we hope to do a lot of fun stuff with it.”
- Wei said to look forward to the integration of Coins and Coins Pro, as well as the affiliate program. They signed an affiliate partner on that day (I think this was Investagrams, they announced the day after our interview).
- Finally, Wei announced veteran web3 exec Jen Bilango as the new PH Country Manager for Coins.ph in the Philippines. (We have an entire article about it here.)
This article is published on BitPinas: Interview Recap: Coins.ph CEO on Regulation, E-Wallets, Competitors, and What’s Next for the Country’s First Licensed Crypto Exchange
Disclaimer: BitPinas articles and its external content are not financial advice. The team serves to deliver independent, unbiased news to provide information for Philippine-crypto and beyond.