The first time Liu Yusho heard of cryptocurrency was in 2013 when he was a final year mechanical engineering student at Nanyang Technological University. Holed up in the school’s computer lab, he noticed a fellow student running a program on as many terminals as he could access. The enterprising man was a Bitcoin miner.
The encounter intrigued him so much that he decided to explore cryptocurrency options while starting his own company after graduating.
“Back then, Bitcoin was this Internet magic money, and nobody cared about it. However, our theory was that it could be a ground-breaking technology and that this is one of those moments that occur once every 10 years,” says Liu.
In 2014, Liu and long-time buddy Gerry Eng, whom he met while serving in the Singapore Armed Forces, co-founded cryptocurrency exchange Coinhako to improve access to Bitcoin and other digital assets for the mass market in Asia.
“It would either go to the moon or crash to zero – and if it crashed, we would carry on with our lives, but at least we tried,” says Liu on how they decided to take the plunge.
Now, seven years later, they are a critical force in the digital currency space. With roughly 450,000 users, 95 per cent of whom are based in Singapore, Coinhako is currently the only crypto platform serving the local market.
The firm has over 100 employees, and its investors include Boost VC and Tim Draper. By the end of the year, its trading volume will exceed $100 billion.
“Singapore is a fintech hub and what we do is provide this seamless bridge. Using the Coinhako wallet, we convert Singapore dollars to cryptocurrency and offer easy access to Singapore dollars,” says Liu.
The platform has one of the most extensive offerings in Singapore, with access to some 40 different cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dogecoin, and up and coming blockchains like Solana and Cardano. It has also evolved into a super wallet that allows users to access different payment channels such as FAST transfers, Visa and Mastercard payments. Most recently, Coinhako became the first crypto merchant to partner with GrabPay.
Liu emphasises the importance of security at Coinhako. “We work closely with local law enforcement to keep our digital data safe, and we also have round- the-clock surveillance to keep bad actors from targeting our users.”
Despite politely declining to comment on the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s order to crypto exchange Binance.com to stop operations in the country, he sees the steps taken to regulate the sector as a positive sign.
“The fact that MAS is regulating the industry is a very bullish sign for us, and it is a big indicator that we are on the right track.” This is a massive shift in perception from Liu’s start-up days when he had his personal bank accounts shut, credit cards cut and home loans rejected as the nature of his business was deemed too high risk.
He adds, “Today, Singapore has adopted a neutral approach to crypto businesses, and institutional investors are showing increasing interest as a result.”
In the long run, he believes that digital currencies are here to stay. “Down the road, crypto will become a part of people’s lives unknowingly. If you make a transaction in the future, it will probably be in Singapore dollars. But who knows, it might go through a crypto rail,” he muses.
“Coinhako is working on the infrastructure to enable people to get into the crypto economy, and provide online financial services seamlessly.”