The Acceleration of Digital Finance with Abhi Bisarya of Crypto.com

Crypto.com is one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges by trading volume with over 50 million users that offers multiple digital finance and cryptocurrency-related services. Apart from a nifty app which users can use to buy, trade, send, and receive cryptocurrencies, users can also order the Crypto.com Visa card to be able to spend crypto in their daily lives.

What is Crypto.com’s vision for digital finance over the next 3 to 5 years and what are the infrastructural improvements needed for mass adoption and interoperability on a global scale?

Joining us this week to explore this topic is Abhi Bisarya, Chief Product Officer of Crypto.com, a Singapore-based cryptocurrency exchange founded in 2016. He worked at PayPal and Google prior to becoming CPO at Crypto.com.  He has a bachelor in engineering from Assumption University and a master in business administration from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Join Jeremy as he speaks with Abhi about the acceleration of digital finance on this episode of The Money Movement.

Jeremy Allaire: Hello, I'm Jeremy Allaire, and welcome to The Money Movement. I'm here in Singapore recording an episode here. I'm really pleased to be joined by Abhi Bisarya, chief product officer at Crypto.com. Abhi, great to have you on the show.

Abhi Bisarya: Great to be here, Jeremy. Thanks for having me.

Jeremy: Absolutely. Lots to talk about. We're going to talk about what's happening in crypto today, obviously drive into product at Cypto.com. The bigger mission, the bigger vision, and try and connect the dots in terms of where the ultimate utility value of this goes. I'd love to start just a little bit with you. You've obviously spent a lot of your career building in Web2 or in a lot of significant internet technology companies and have made the move over to over to crypto, I guess, starting early this year. I'd love to hear a little bit about your own journey from a product and technology perspective and then what drew you into this?

Abhi: That's a great question. I think you're right. I've always been very interested in trying to build things or solve problems. Even as a child, I was that kid who dismantled all the toys their parents got them and that's continued on. In addition to that, what happened over time is I started to enjoy really trying to understand how when you're building, you're building with new technology, you can try to make an impact. You can try to make an impact to the users and almost like to think that I'm fixated on that bit.

What I'm working on should have a very clear view of what's the impact to the end user. That's eventually what led me to places like PayPal and at Google, where we were building things at scale, where we were trying to have really big impact with the things we were trying to do. In some ways, the move over to crypto really was a question of when not if, for me. As I learned more about crypto industry, my first interactions with it were several years ago when I was interacting with a group of people trying to solve some interesting problems like identity using blockchain.

That was really interesting to me and that's how I started to get into it and eventually led me to the Crypto.com guys. Once I met the leadership team here, I found a group of people who shared a similar passion. They wanted to build, they wanted to solve problems. They wanted to build something that's lasting, and that's what led me here.

Jeremy: That's awesome. Maybe laddering off that a little bit, when you think about the mission of Crypto.com and the product set as it is today, what do you hope to see? What do you hope to accomplish in some ways over the next three to five years?

Abhi: I think our mission is quite straightforward, cryptocurrency in every wallet. As a product organization, we think deeply about how do we drive that? How do we help users experience crypto? What we find is that this industry is evolving quite rapidly. It's evolving in multiple dimensions. It's evolving in the type of people who are interested in crypto, It's evolving in the regulatory landscape as well, and the overall adoption, the newer use cases that are coming in. We take all of that into account. What we have done is we've actually built a set of products today that users can come in and they can buy and sell crypto, they can pay with crypto, they can send crypto, and we have financial services for them. In addition to that, what we've tried to do is build products for retail users, as well as for institutions.

What I would like to see and where we are trying to go in the next few years is ensuring that we play a leadership role in this ecosystem. As this ecosystem evolves, as more players get involved and figure out their role in the ecosystem, we are at the center of it. We're trying to help mass adoption. We're trying to drive more people to get comfortable with it. Initially a lot of products that were built in crypto space were very much designed for crypto natives, as we call them now. People who would not necessarily care so much about friction that was being put in front of them. They were keen, they were eager. They would figure it out.

That will evolve over time. The industry in the past one year has gone from 100 million people engaging with crypto to 300 million people engaging with crypto. That's going to happen on the back of new people coming in in this industry. People who are just curious about crypto and we would need to build experiences for them that make them comfortable, that make them interact with this technology without the complexity, or sometimes even the jargon that comes with it. That's our mission. I think we want to accelerate that adoption of cryptocurrency in every wallet by trying to build these experiences for our users.

Jeremy: Yes. A lot to do there. What's the footprint today of Crypto.com.

Abhi: In addition to all these products, we have about 50 million users. We are operating at almost 110 countries, and we are looking at, like I was telling you, products for a retail user, as well as for an institutional user. We are also looking at rapid innovation in this space. It's hard to say that this is an evolved industry and we have a path to innovation, like you were see in some traditional industries. What we find is that we are in it with our users trying to figure it out. There are recent trends that have developed, for example, last year we started to work on an NFT platform. We built that and we rolled that out and that's had some very strong success as well. That's how we look at how do we start to address all the different types of trends in the industry and different types of needs our users might have.

Jeremy: What would you say at least today from a consumer product perspective, what is the aha moment that you're trying to have people experience with, if it's a crypto curious and they're coming to the app store and they've seen a Crypto.com ad, which of course everyone sees now. What is the aha experience? What is that first experience that you think is important and that you're trying to solve for now?

Abhi: It varies, but for a large group of our users, they're coming to us because they're interested in investing in crypto, and that's been the predominant use case in crypto at the moment, where people want to come and buy and sell cryptocurrencies. I think we wanted to talk about commerce as well and that's an interesting leap from there. But from aha moments, I think what we find our users get delighted by is how easy or how simple it is to get their first transaction in.

They've heard a lot of stuff before they come in, especially if it's a new user who's not interacted with it before. Sometimes they're coming in because their friends are using it and they suggested it to them. What we want to be making sure is that first experience of coming in, whether it's signing up for the account, whether it's loading up the fiat wallet, making a purchase. It's simple, it's seamless. It gives them confidence, a sense of control and it makes them feel safe. If you can provide that, we find that our users are delighted by it and they want to come back to that experience.

Jeremy: That makes sense. One of the things that I was actually having a conversation earlier today and the theme was, in some ways, most people, at least in lots of parts of the world, they haven't historically thought deeply about what is money and what is the nature of money? There are certainly some places in the world where people experience the volatility of money in a very visceral way or where there's stringent capital controls.

They have different constraints on them, but it feels in some ways like crypto as a technology is awakening people everywhere, even in very developed and advanced markets, to ask more questions about the essence of what money is. In some ways the internet has given end users direct participation in how they share information with the world through social platforms, or their connectivity, and crypto becomes this first time that people have a direct visceral experience with value and what it is.

I'm interested because you have so many users and you're in so many countries, how much do you feel like that education and evangelism of what this is and bringing people into this understanding of this new financial system? How big of a role is that?

Abhi: I think it's a large role. It's a large movement almost.

Jeremy: Money movement?

Abhi: It's a large money movement, but I don't think we are alone in it. Generally speaking, as our lives have become more digitally oriented, so has our interaction with money. As our interaction with money has become more digital, the traditional finances systems have actually struggled to keep pace with the user's needs. They're in many cases antiquated. They're slow, they're expensive and as a result, a lot of people are getting either underserved or almost getting left behind by these traditional systems. In some ways, what we are trying to offer is using technology to accelerate that, the digitization of money. The movement of money at low cost, at high speed, at more efficiency. That will allow creation of use cases. I don't think we will do this all on our own.

What we will do is we will help create that ecosystem for anyone to come and build applications for users that allow them to bring the best of this technology to a group of users. When we look at our user base and when we look at different countries we are operating in, you're right. There are different motivations for people in different countries to come and interact with crypto. There's a general sense of people who are interested in investing, interested in use cases that come with it, but we also have to be very mindful that as we operate in so many different countries, we do this in a responsible way.

We do this in a way that is compliant. We have heavy focus on risk management and we are not-- We're guiding people into engaging with crypto rather than giving them maybe a tool that they can do themselves some damage with. I think that becomes very important for us to focus on as well. I see our role as helping that groundswell of ecosystem that we need to drive, and enabling more and more people to come in to that ecosystem, not just as participants, but as developers, as builders along with us.

Jeremy: I want to come back to that, the broader ecosystem question. Maybe as a segue into that, as someone who's worked in trad tech. [chuckles] Trad five, trad tech, whatever. Traditional tech and coming into this space, one of the concepts that I throw out is there's FinTech, we think about historically like FinTech 1.0 or PayPal or these kinds of things. Then there's this concept of deep tech which is like going deep at a very fundamental level and changing things.

To me, crypto is like deep tech for FinTech. A lot of FinTech has been like lipstick on a pig. It's been like a UX layer improvement or maybe a data and decision making capability on top of what is still basically SQL databases and text files, which is a lot of what the financial system is. It really is like this deeper infrastructure level solve. I'm just interested as a product person, how do you look at the architecture of crypto as like a new fundamental architecture for money?

Abhi: I couldn't agree with you more. I think in some ways it's almost been disappointing to see a lot of innovation happen on that top layer, as you described lipstick on a pig, and not really go fundamentally down to the infrastructure layer. I see the role of blockchain as playing into that infrastructure layer. I think there will be plenty of use cases that will replicate, that will try and replicate web 1.0 or 2.0 use cases into web 3.0. But I think what will be meaningful and most impactful is how do we look very deeply at that infrastructure layer?

How do we enable innovation on it, not just for our solutions, but for an ecosystem. That's been our thought process. A good example of this is we offer a Visa card, a prepaid Visa card to our users, and we see really strong adoption of that product. Really strong feedback from the market on that product as well. This allows a user who's interacting perhaps with crypto for the first time, to also have a really strong point of familiarity to use that Visa card and be able to use it anywhere Visa is accepted, for example.

At the same time, what we also want to be able to do, is to use that to introduce them into the world of crypto, Whether it's through how you top up that card, or whether it is through how we are looking at bringing more consumers and merchants into our payment and commerce ecosystem. To us, it really becomes that process of going into infrastructure layer, but also building those points of familiarity and milestones along the way for a user. We are not just throwing them into deep unfamiliar world of something completely different, a parallel ecosystem. What we're doing is we're trying to walk them into that, and give them the option to experience it at a pace that they're comfortable with.

Jeremy: Yes, sort backward compatibility, one way to think about it. Actually, the example of Visa is a really interesting one, and very specifically with you guys, which is you can top up with USDC, so you have like a digital currency instead of traditional commercial bank. I think you guys actually are the very first company where the USDC can actually be settled to Visa directly. Visa set up to actually take settlement across public blockchains using USDC itself and so even the behind the scenes, the user doesn't even know it.

They're just swiping or tapping or whatever, but behind the scenes, it's actually an upgrade to the settlement, the actual underlying settlement of the way money moves, even attached to quote-unquote 'the legacy card infrastructure' as well. It gets to this deep tech concept which is like, you're getting really down to a new underlying layer for the representation of dollars, a settlement of dollars on a global basis, and ways in which that interoperability, backward compatibility, as I like to say, exists.

Abhi: You're right. I think it's behind the scenes, users don't see it, but it also allows us to, with conviction, a push a value proposition to a user. What we've seen, especially in the space of commerce is as that digitization has happened of money, not only are consumers interested in more digital money solutions, so are merchants. We recently announced our partnership with Shopify, where any Shopify merchant can now integrate crypto pay and accept any of the cryptocurrencies we support and users can pay them directly from a cryptocurrency.

We will settle for the merchant in a way that the merchant's most comfortable with. Most merchants today are not looking to start holding cryptocurrencies as settlements, they're looking to hold stable coins.

Jeremy: People are storing value in these and they can settle. It's great.

Abhi: I think being able to go around to infrastructure layer and then build solutions like that, help us drive that ecosystem, both from the merchant side, as well as the consumer side.

Jeremy: I'd love to talk about, in some ways like the broader ecosystem and what what's needed. We spend a lot of time thinking about what needs to happen at the fundamental blockchain layer. Today stable coins like USDC, very powerful, but for the average person, the user experience of cutting and pasting a long public key address and/or the fat finger risk. It's just like the user experience isn't quite there. When you think about how does this work at scale, where potentially a billion people are using this for transacting. What do you see as some of the really important technology standards and infrastructure improvements that need to happen. Assuming that what we're trying to do is do this in an open interoperable public good way.

Abhi: I think that's a good example because, you're right, that's not very user friendly. At the same time, what has happened is the infrastructure layer has enabled movement of money and very good history tracking, monitoring at that address level. Then it has opened up that ecosystem for others to come in and build those easy solutions on it. Like on Ethereum, you can get a dot ETH name, which replaces your address and that makes it a lot simpler to use and those are the kinds of applications we want to see users build on different blockchains as well.

We have our Cronos blockchain. We look at these challenges ourselves to say, how do we get developers to come and want to build on Cronos and solve for some of these use cases? Again, we don't want to be the people who are trying to solve all these solutions by ourselves. We want to be able to give them the tools and let others come in and help us.

Jeremy: Seems like one of the big issues is identity and how does identity work on these public blockchain networks? Some of that ties back to what's it going to take for regulators to be comfortable with how this works at scale? Even traditional payments companies or FinTech companies, or even full on banks or others to build and connect to this, one of the really critical things to solve for that. We've been working on Verity, which is a decentralized identity KYC out of station model and a verifiable claim model that can work with both on-chain and centralized models.

When you think about the future of Crypto.com and that need for interoperability, what are you seeing in that space in terms of what could become possible?

Abhi: I think there's a few ways to think about this one is that, when it comes to the user side of things, we have to be able to establish trust with the user. Whether it's from a security and identity and authentication perspective, we don't want to see a lot of events in the industry where people are losing their money to fraud, and we have to be very careful. We have to be very deliberate about building strong security and that's something we take very seriously. On the other side, in terms of identity, for example KYC and money laundering, we work closely with regulators.

We want to work with regulators to make sure that what we are trying to do is compliant. If there are policies that regulators and individual countries are starting to implement or trying to implement, we are helping them do that. We want to help them develop those. I think we all win and the crypto industry wins the more we work with them on this. Recently there's been a lot of talk about sanctions and implementation in support of sanctions.

We want to be able to create those opportunities that are not opportunities, but we want to be able to make sure we're compliant with those.

I think all the builders in the crypto world who will do that innovation in a responsible way for the user, building of trust with the user, as well as the regulators and the traditional finance entities that we all need to partner with and work with. I think that'll help drive mass adoption and our view is that we are on the cusp of that.

Jeremy: Yes, totally. People always have asked me for nine plus years, what's it going to take for the mainstream adoption? Now I say we have achieved some mainstream adoption. Like you said, 300 million people. This is in the public consciousness. It's all over the world so in some ways we have crossed into that, but the mainstream adoption in terms of it's used every day for households and firms and it's an embedded part of commerce and finance and so on. We're really close. I think that holding ourselves to higher standards, whether those are standards that regulators are specifically saying, "Hey, this is what you got to do."

But also doing that ourselves. We use this phrase "Crypto held to a higher standard". It's something that we say around USDC because we've really tried to build something that is really held to a different standard. Soon I hope we'll be the third largest cryptocurrency in the world, with that and being able to do that in that way. I want to tie that back to the market that we've just been going through in the past few months.

I'm interested in your take from a exchange perspective or from a retail perspective. What do you think the role is from a market conduct perspective? What do you think the role is for platforms like Crypto.com to protect the retail investor from some of the kinds of things that we've seen happen?

Abhi: That's a great question. I think for us, we feel like we have a very strong role to play there. What has happened in the current market environment is there has been loss of value to a lot of users. People who came in looking for investment opportunities. All of us have our crypto portfolios are all down at the moment.

Jeremy: That's how far you zoom out.

Abhi: [chuckles] That's right. Good point. I think if you look at some of the events that have happened, it's also upon exchanges like ours to ensure that we do very strong due diligence on options we make available to our users. We do very strong risk management and we have very strong security. While sometimes especially in a bull market, it becomes very tempting to build the next feature that lets users invest more or go deeper. We have to be responsible with that behavior. For example, we had no exposure to [unintelligible 00:22:02] USD. That was something that was debated in the company often. I think that was a really strong outcome for us to say that we want to keep that focus. We have a very strong role to play in the market movements.

I think in the current market environment, our view is that, look, not all the players are going to make it through. I think we will see a bit of a cleanup in the industry. Probably healthy. Many industries go through this cycle. It's not the first crypto winter. I think companies, players, builders who have sustainable economics are looking at things responsibly from an innovation risk management perspective, will come out stronger at the end of this. As an example, our Visa card that we were just talking about earlier, was launched in 2018 during the last crypto winter.

It's one of the most visible products that we have out there today. I think the environment definitely poses challenges. The environment will definitely have some of these new cycles that you'll see of companies not surviving or failing through it, but what's important for us is to keep two things. Keep focus on building through it. We look at that Visa card example as a good example of why we need to continue to focus on building through this time. This is validation that we need to be responsible.

Jeremy: I think there's a lot of attention on that now, obviously, and that's very, very positive thing. One of the themes that we also been talking about is the evolution of how this is used. There's this concept of moving from the speculative value phase of this market to the utility value phase of this market. How do you think about what utility value means in Web3? What does the world look like a few years from now? What are the 10X improvements that have happened, and in what areas, to mark that shift into real strong utility?

Abhi: I do believe that we will see a transition or a stronger adoption of the utility phase. I'd be careful not to predict the future 10 years from now. That'll be a rollercoaster probably leading to that. I think we are starting to see the adoption, the utility commerce is a really good example of this. When we look at our payments products, we do see patterns of behavior on spending crypto just like people spend their traditional money. We see seasonality during the holiday seasons.

These kind of trends are starting to emerge where there is a growing group of people, growing group of users, who are looking at this as a way to conduct their commerce. I think that trend will grow and that's why for us, it's very important that when it comes to a product like Cryptopay, not only do we want to look at a strong Visa partnership that we have, we also want to look at how do we enable merchants to benefit from that?

Merchants, can they get more users? Can they get more sales from our portfolio of users by enabling crypto payments with them? These types of early data points that we are seeing on adoption are very important to us. I see that phase gaining more momentum over time. I think there'll be more use cases that will emerge on that front. We are constantly experimenting with other use cases. One of my main focuses looking at our product team is we want to be ready to be able to try new things very quickly.

It's very critical for us that given how quickly this industry is emerging, new use cases are coming up. The industry is evolving. It's hard to do user segmentation in our industry because the profile of the user changes over time. That we are tooled and ready to be able to respond or try different things. That's what I think will set us up to be able to be successful in that long run. From my perspective, what we are seeing is that cusp of mass adoption point is an important one, because we're starting to see that utility phase kick in. Obviously the current environment is a bit challenging, but I do see over time that picking up momentum

Jeremy: On that, we'd love to hear how do you think about dollar stablecoins, like USDC? What role does that play in that utility value phase, and what are the different types of payment applications that become possible? People don't necessarily want to spend their savings, like their Bitcoin or whatever. What role do you see on the stablecoin side of things?

Abhi: I think what has been very important for us is in that first part of the journey we were talking about earlier, how do we get a new user to engage with this in a way that's familiar to them? A lot of our users would open an account with us and then transfer or fund their account for the first time by using USDC, by wiring money into an account that will give them USDC. [unintelligible 00:26:58] I think that experience and our ability to be able to demonstrate the stability of that stablecoin is crucial to us winning confidence of the user. I see stablecoins playing a big role in that.

I also see that when it comes to commerce, we are constantly, like I was telling you earlier, talking to merchants about if a user wants to pay them in Bitcoin, do they really want to collect that Bitcoin and hold onto it, or do they want to be able to settle that in a stablecoin? Those are the opportunities we want to be able to make available to our merchants. I think stablecoins play this really strong critical role in enabling confidence of the users. Of course, our organizations work closely together on that. I do see that, going back to your previous question about in the future, that will continue to be a very strong role.

Jeremy: As a product and technology person myself, we're seeing more scalable layer ones and layer two architectures that are meaningful and the ability to actually do like high volume, high throughput, low cost, digital dollar transactions that are interoperable and global and so on. It's remarkable. We're really, really getting close to a lot of the things that brought people into this whole industry in the first place over the past 5 to 10 years. We're really starting to see some of that become possible technically.

Abhi: Yes. I think that'll help us scale. I'm sure you think of this with your product hat on as well, that we need to be able to build systems at the end of the day that are user-centric, that can scale, and that can adapt to constant evolution. I think not only are the platforms and exchange products that we are building are critical to that. Stablecoins are critical to that narrative as well.

Jeremy: Yes. We're getting close to seeing in major financial markets, whether it's here in Singapore or the US or UK or EU, where fiat-backed full reserve regulated stablecoins, they're going to be here to stay and they're going to be part of the financial market infrastructure of the world. Having those regulations in place is actually a really critical next step to getting your average household or your average firm to be comfortable that they know what these things are.

They know it's a fully reserved cash equivalent that they can use on the internet and that can unleash a huge amount. We're definitely seeing progress there. I guess, again coming back to your product hat and technology hat, are there critical technical innovations that you're seeing happening in the broader blockchain space right now that you think are huge, or at least very important unlocks for this next phase?

Abhi: There's several. I think what is starting to happen, which I find really exciting, is the conversation and narrative about the technology of crypto has shifted. It's no longer entirely about what is the value or what is its long-term sustainability? The conversation actually is now happening about what is my position in this industry. The largest banks are doing this. They're making that evolution. To me, when I look at that, that trend will really guide adoption and technology advancements in this space. We work very closely with traditional banks, with companies like Visa. It's important for us to see that narrative shift towards this. We are also as a result then seeing a lot more institutional players come into the crypto industry.

I think that's a positive outcome as well. I think all of this is going to then create a much healthier dialogue with regulators. As they start to look at how do we ensure that crypto sometimes gets a bad reputation in the past for lack of accountability, lack of identity verification, but all of that is in many cases things of the past at this moment. With all of this shift, I think what will happen is we will start to have much more enablement of new use cases. That, to me, is very exciting because we have the technology, we have the platforms. I think we have a pretty strong runway we can build in adoption of this technology and platform at this moment.

Then there will be an inflection point where we will turn around and say, well, we got to take this technology to the next level as well. But at this moment, I feel like creating that right environment, which is starting to happen, is very exciting for me to see.

Jeremy: For sure. I talk about we're going from dial-up to broadband in this space and we're seeing the UX layer and the consumer experience layer and the building blocks of real trust and transparency, and all these things are happening together. It gives me a lot of confidence that we're going to go from whatever it is. A couple hundred million to a billion or more in the next few years, and hopefully you guys will be going from 50 million to 500 million or whatever that is. It's a really tremendously exciting time. I'm thrilled that you were able to join us for a conversation today and really looking forward to see what you guys are building and doing over the next couple of years.

Abhi: Thanks, Jeremy. Thanks for having me. I really enjoyed this conversation with you.

Jeremy: Awesome. Thank you.

Abhi: Thank you.
Jeremy Allaire
Co-Founder, CEO & Chairman at Circle
Abhi Bisarya
Chief Product Officer at Crypto.com

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