Crypto firms acted like banks, then collapsed like dominoes

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Over the past few years, a number of companies have attempted to act as the cryptocurrency equivalent of a bank, promising lucrative returns to customers who deposited their bitcoin or other digital assets.

In a span of less than 12 months, nearly all of the biggest of those companies have failed spectacularly. Last week, Genesis filed Chapter 11, joining Voyager Digital, Celsius and BlockFi on the list of companies that have either filed for bankruptcy protection or gone out of business.

This subset of the industry grew as cryptocurrency enthusiasts were looking to build their own parallel world in finance untethered to traditional banking and government-issued currencies. But lacking safeguards, and without a government backstop, these companies failed in domino-like fashion. What started with one crypto company collapsing in May spilled over onto one crypto lending firm and then the next.

Further, government regulators started clamping down on crypto lending companies’ ability to advertise their services, saying that their products should have been regulated by securities regulators.

The collapse is reminiscent of the 2008 financial crisis, but on a much smaller scale. There are no worries that the collapse of these crypto firms will impact the broader economy.

Crypto lending companies like Voyager, Genesis and BlockFi were trying to do what banks do in traditional finance: take in crypto deposits, give depositors a dividend on their stored crypto, and then make loans to earn a profit. It’s what the banking industry has done for hundreds of years, but with government-sanctioned currencies.

The biggest drawback to crypto lending is the lack of safeguards. There is no deposit insurance, government stopgap, or even a privately run entity to protect depositors if their crypto bank were to fail. This was fine when crypto prices were moving higher because the collateral banks were accepting in exchange for the loans…

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