Cryptocurrency hangover casts doubt over firms’ expansion plans in Ireland

This year’s crypto crash has turned the screws on companies in the sector, forcing many to dial back costs and slim down workforces after a period of heady growth.

reland attracted several major cryptocurrency firms in that time as they entered the EU market by securing regulatory licences and looked to put operational boots on the ground.

But a dramatic crash in crypto values earlier this year raises questions about future expansion plans, especially as values have yet to rebound to their previous highs.

Bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency, hit $58,000 before falling dramatically in June. It is currently worth around $19,500 while other cryptocurrencies suffered similar fates.

It is amid this backdrop that Gemini, the cryptocurrency exchange led by Cameron and Tyler Winkelvoss, announced its formal launch in the Irish market earlier this month.

Gemini, which generates revenue from investors trading and storing their crypto assets, laid off staff during the summer months as it sought to rein in costs after the slump.

The New York-based company said that despite strong headwinds against the crypto space, it remains committed to its Irish hiring plans.

“Gemini is building out the team in Ireland and continuing to hire in key roles, currently employing staff in roles across operations, finance, compliance, customer service, legal, technology, product, trading and commercial functions,” a Gemini spokeswoman said.

“The team works in an integrated manner with Gemini colleagues globally. Our future hiring requirements in the market will be in line with our growth in Ireland and Europe as we expand across the region.”

Gemini, which has also received licence approvals from the Central Bank of Ireland, did not disclose a headcount at its Dublin base.

Prior to this year’s rout, several companies in the sector had kicked off recruitment drives for Irish bases but for companies whose businesses are tied to such volatile assets like cryptocurrencies, the cost of hiring is now a challenge.

Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange by trading volume, has been gradually setting up an Irish operation over the last two years.

Most recently it headhunted Karl Long, a former State Street executive

The company, which is famously shy when talking about its corporate structure and where exactly its headquarters are, has registered several entities in Ireland since 2020 and begun ramping up recruitment.

Most recently it headhunted Karl Long, a former State Street executive, as its managing director for Ireland while adding business development managers and a head of compliance.

A spokesman for Binance declined to provide any update on the status of the company’s Irish plans.

While Binance appears to be rolling ahead despite the gloomy economic outlook, other crypto companies’ activities in Ireland are less clear.

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Binance founder Zhao Changpeng. Photograph: Benjamin Girette/Bloomberg

Binance founder Zhao Changpeng. Photograph: Benjamin Girette/Bloomberg

Crypto.com, another major cryptocurrency exchange, has hired a handful of staff in Ireland since late 2021 after confirming plans to establish a base in Dublin while pursuing an electronic money licence from the Central Bank.

The company splashed the cash recently to foist itself into the mainstream by airing a Super Bowl ad with Matt Damon and becoming an official sponsor of the World Cup in Qatar. But it too was hammered by the early crypto winter with multiple rounds of job cuts since mid-year.

Crypto.com declined to comment on whether Ireland has been affected.

Kraken, another major cryptocurrency exchange, went on a hiring spree in Ireland last year.

The company announced in June that it would be adding 500 people to its operations, including hiring in Ireland, “despite a steep decline in crypto prices and an uncertain macro environment”.

Ripple, a blockchain payments company, also began hiring for a Dublin office this year as part of efforts to extend its office footprint globally. Ripple declined to comment on the status of its Dublin presence.

Before these recent arrivals, Dublin played host to a number of companies that have weathered various crypto downturns over the years.

Coinbase, one of the world’s most recognisable cryptocurrency companies, set up its Dublin office in 2018 to service the European market.

The company obtained licensing in Ireland to continue European operations post-Brexit.

In June, Coinbase slashed roughly 1,100 jobs from its global workforce. In the Dublin office, around 7pc of its staff were let go.

The company has not disclosed its staff numbers in Ireland but it is believed to have been around 250 people earlier this year.

In the time since the Dublin office opened, Coinbase has undergone rapid growth that was emblematic of the wider surge of the crypto market.

This was epitomised by Coinbase’s initial public offering on the Nasdaq in early 2021, debuting with a market cap of $85bn. Its market cap is now just under $15bn.

While crypto companies have had a jarring 2022, traditional financial services have continued to flirt with the technology.

Last week, financial services firm Fidelity Investments announced 300 new jobs across several of its tech functions in Dublin and Galway, including software engineering, cloud computing and cybersecurity.

The firm has been building up a significant digital assets division internationally and recently listed roles in Dublin for the digital assets arm including operations analysts and bitcoin client service representatives.

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Jack Dorsey left his CEO post at Twitter to focus solely on Block

Jack Dorsey left his CEO post at Twitter to focus solely on Block

Meanwhile, Standard Chartered’s Zodia Custody, a digital asset custodian division that targets institutional investors, secured a licence for digital asset and crypto services from the Central Bank of Ireland in August.

It is the UK-headquartered outfit’s first expansion into the European market and it plans to service the rest of the EU from the new Dublin base.

Only Zodia Custody and Gemini have been approved by the Central Bank of Ireland for virtual asset licences to date.

Block, the payments firm headed up by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, has filed an application for such a licence in Ireland to support its Cash App product, a mobile payments app, in Europe.

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