Money and Markets

Coinbase warns users their crypto holdings could vanish if the company goes bankrupt

Business Insider US
Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong.
PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images
  • Coinbase said its users' crypto assets could become company property if it went bankrupt.
  • The company added disclosure for the first time in its earnings report Tuesday.
  • Its CEO said shortly after that users' funds were safe and there was no risk of bankruptcy.
  • For mores stories, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Coinbase, one of the world's largest cryptocurrency exchanges, warned that its users might lose access to their holdings if the company ever went bankrupt.

The disclosure was included for the first time as a risk factor in the company's first-quarter earnings report, which also noted that Coinbase holds $256 billion in fiat currencies and virtual coins. 

"Because custodially held crypto assets may be considered to be the property of a bankruptcy estate, in the event of a bankruptcy, the crypto assets we hold in custody on behalf of our customers could be subject to bankruptcy proceedings and such customers could be treated as our general unsecured creditors," the company said.

That means users would lose access to their balances since it would become Coinbase's property.

It's a different scenario from traditional investments, where deposits and shares are insured and protected through various mechanisms in different parts of the world.

Crypto enthusiasts have long heralded the decentralised movement as, in part, a way to give people complete control and ownership of their finances. That's only the case for those who physically store their cryptocurrency on personal wallets, as opposed to a platform like Coinbase. (Coinbase does offer a self-custody wallet called Coinbase Wallet.)

Following the earnings report, which sent the company's stock plummeting more than 23%, Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong said there's no risk of bankruptcy right now.

He took to Twitter Tuesday night to reassure users that their funds are safe and apologise for not being more forthright with communicating this risk when it was added, and noted the company included the disclosure because of new rules recently set by the US Securities and Exchange Commission. 

"This disclosure makes sense in that these legal protections have not been tested in court for crypto assets specifically, and it is possible, however unlikely, that a court would decide to consider customer assets as part of the company in bankruptcy proceedings even if it harmed consumers," Armstrong said.

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