These Firms Are Milking the Cryptocurrency Markets for Astronomical Profits — And You’ve Probably Never Heard of Them

What US cryptocurrency-related company makes the highest amount of legal revenue per employee? No, it’s not Coinbase, and — unless you’re particularly tuned into the financial markets — you’ve probably never heard of it.

That’s according to Tim Swanson, founder of tech advisory firm Post Oak Labs. Writing on Twitter, the former R3 executive related a recent exchange in which he was asked this same question.

“I know there are a lot of headline numbers out there but the undisputed answer is this: OTC service providers such as Cumberland (DRW), Jump, [and] Circle,” Swanson replied, referencing three of the most prominent institutional cryptocurrency trading desks.

This may be surprising, as Circle is the only one of those firms that could be considered a household name — but it’s known more for its mobile financial services products than its role as an over-the-counter (OTC) liquidity provider.

These institutional trading firms do not make their revenue figures available to the public, but they quietly handle billions of dollars in volume on a monthly basis. DRW Cumberland, which entered the cryptocurrency space in 2014, said last November that it had made $20 billion worth of trades over the previous year, while Circle Trade’s website advertises that it processes more than $2 billion worth of trades per month.

Consequently, they may not bring in as much gross revenue as Coinbase, which reportedly raked in more than $1 billion in 2017. However, Coinbase and other firms that target retail investors face have much greater overhead — and require much larger teams.

In December, a New York Times article said that Coinbase had 180 customer support specialists and that the company hoped to expand its customer support team to 400 by the end of the Q1 2018 — and these figures do not include the firm’s other employees.

Professional trading desks, on the other hand, generally have small teams but still manage large amounts of capital. Jump’s Bitcoin trading team is reportedly comprised of just 10 people. Cumberland, meanwhile, has a 15-person team spread throughout offices in Chicago, London, and Singapore to ensure that its desk operates around the clock.

Additionally, Coinbase and other retail-focused firms are constant targets for fraud, while institutional trading desks serve a smaller stable of KYC-compliant clients with much deeper pockets. Circle, for instance, lists its minimum order size as $250,000.

Because of these factors, Swanson estimated that these trading desks bring in between $30 million to $40 million worth of revenue per employee, making them the burgeoning industry’s true cash cows.