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Doing Crypto the Kiwi Way

Joanna Mathers meets a brother and sister team who saw a quicker and easier way for the digital world to function and had the courage to run with it.

6 June 2023

Easy Crypto is an exemplar of Kiwi ingenuity. Created by brother and sister duo Janine and Alan Grainger, it emerged in response to barriers prohibiting New Zealanders from accessing digital assets.

It was crafted from the ground up, with Google as a guide.

Janine Grainger had her crypto epiphany circa 2014. She started reading about Bitcoin and crypto in general: in a globally connected village, a decentralised worldwide digital currency made a lot of sense.

“I became an overnight expert on blockchain,” she laughs.

By 2017, when she was working at Westpac, she became the inhouse expert (by default): sharing her emerging knowledge with teams.

In these early days purchasing crypto in NZ wasn’t easy; it was a kind of virtual cottage industry, mates trading with mates in a tiny pool.

But if you weren’t in the know, trading was a rigmarole. There were few NZ-based platforms, and the price was inflated: “There was about a 15 per cent price difference buying in New Zealand compared to overseas. It seemed really unfair.”

Coding experience

Her brother Alan felt the same. He had more tech experience than Janine, working in IT, but had no coding experience. He saw the potential for an exchange that allowed Kiwis to trade without the headaches and, in 2017, started to create one. Researching the appropriate coding language on Google, he followed his sister’s lead and became an overnight expert.

“He had no idea how to create an exchange,” says Janine. But in less than a week Easy Crypto was up and running.
And then it was over to Janine to operationalise.

After the soft launch in late 2017, the site was taken offline while Janine ensured it was meeting all the regulatory criteria for a financial service. There was, and still is a misconception, Janine says, around the regulation of crypto: “The idea that crypto trading is unregulated is just not true.

“Any crypto exchange in New Zealand is regulated, in a general sense, by a number of acts,” she says. “Crypto exchanges are considered financial services providers and are covered by rules around that. They need to adhere to the rules of the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Act (AMLCFT). And there’s the FMA Act, and the fair-trading standards, that need to be adhered to.”

Janine ensured the boxes were ticked and that Easy Crypto adhered to all the appropriate regulations before relaunching in early 2018.

Search, check out, pay

Easy Crypto instantly differentiated itself from the competition. The traditional model of a crypto exchange is clunky: funds are sent to the exchange to facilitate a trade, assets are purchased, and if a sale takes place withdrawals need to be made from the online “wallet”. The process can take days.

Easy Crypto has a different model, acting more like online shopping: search for a product, check out, and pay. And this happens in seconds.

While the model is simple, setting it up as a business was not. They were unable to get insurance; they struggled to find a bank (they are are now the only banked crypto exchange in New Zealand) and they weren’t allowed to advertise on places like Google or Facebook because they had “no-crypto” policies.

But even at this early stage, there were plenty of Kiwis hungry for crypto. And they liked what Easy Crypto offered: through word-of-mouth alone, the company recorded $200 million-plus in sales by 2020. Then Covid happened.

What could have been a catastrophe ended up a boom for Easy Crypto and crypto assets in general. People were forced to work from home, and connecting online became common. Zoom took the place of work meetings and the world went virtual. This familiarity with digital meant people were more comfortable with crypto as a concept.

As Janine explains, 2020-2021 were massive years for Easy Crypto. The success reflected the explosion internationally: between March 2020 and October 2021, Bitcoin rose in value from just over US$6,000 to US$61,800, but it wasn’t going to last.

‘Crypto winter’

Crypto is volatile: the “crypto winter” of 2022 saw prices plummet. Triggered by the United States inflation surge, and the sell-off of risk assets by spooked investors, crypto currencies LUNA and TerraNova collapsed, Bitcoin dropped by nearly 70 per cent, and then FTX happened.

For Janine, FTX’s collapse was “really disappointing”, but she doesn’t view the scam as related to crypto. Instead, she views it as a Bernie Madoff-style Ponzi scheme, motivated by greed and hubris.

“But it gives the industry a bad name,” says Janine. Easy Crypto had no exposure to FTX, but they did notice a spike in trading when the collapse happened.

Janine says crypto is emerging from the hibernation brought on by the crypto winter and the collapse of more mainstream financial services, showing investors that there’s risk everywhere. “The collapse of the Silicon Valley Bank, for example, was actually really good for crypto.”

Staff of 50

The company now has an international presence and a staff of 50 (most in NZ). Easy Crypto has been used to facilitate over $2 billion in trades, and 250,000 Kiwis are registered on the site.

Janine believes finance will become 100 per cent digital in due course, and that the use of crypto as currency in real-world transactions is only a matter of time.

“People are currently trading for speculation, instead of real-world use,” she says. “But we just need some bridges to be built in order for this to change.”

Long term, the true potential of crypto will be revealed as assets and financial services become digitised.

Interestingly, statistics reveal that 40 per cent of millennials have crypto assets. They are, perhaps, paving the way for a new future: one in which the real potential of this esoteric asset class is realised.

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