This week former Minister of Finance Korn Chatikavanij described the outcome as a ‘joy’ for the nation as he warned that a fast-changing financial landscape will need a new approach to regulation but, at the same time, cautioned against measures that could stymie startups as they take on the larger firms. Bitkub, led by a dynamic and experienced team, was successful in raising $2.1 million in seed capital in 2018 and obtaining a licence from the Thai Securities and Exchange Commission to operate a cryptocurrency exchange following new 2018 legislation.
Blockchain technology visionary and entrepreneur Jirayut Srupsrisopa or ‘Topp’ achieved his mission this week when his three-year-old firm, Bitkub, emerged as Thailand’s first unicorn being valued at over $1.05 billion in a deal with Siam Commercial Bank which agreed to buy a 51% stake in the company which employs hundreds of talented young people in the centre of Bangkok. Following the deal, this week, he said that it would allow the firm, with a daily turnover of over ฿9 billion, to expand its success worldwide.
A former Thai Finance Minister and leader of the new Kla political party, Mr Korn Chatikavanij, has highlighted the announcement, this week, from Siam Commercial Bank that it was paying a record ฿17.83 billion or $535 million for a 51% stake in the leading Thai cryptocurrency exchange, Bitkub, as a key development in the country’s future growth as a digital economy.
Mr Korn, speaking at an economic forum in Bangkok organised by The Standard, made it clear that the success achieved by the Thai firm, in becoming the country’s first unicorn business, was a joy to be shared by everyone.
Bitkub started in 2018 with seed funding of $2.1 million by Oxford-educated Jirayut Srupsrisopa or ‘Topp’ and other pioneering co-founders
Established by 31-year-old Oxford-educated Jirayut Srupsrisopa or ‘Topp’ and a group of experienced co-founders with banking and business backgrounds, the firm succeeded in getting seed funding of $2.1 million in 2018.
This was a record-breaking amount at the time but justified by the calibre of the company’s leadership.
Bitkub’s co-founders included pioneers in the bitcoin business as well as a former director of DTAC in Thailand and an executive director of Goldman Sachs Investment Banking.
The firm was licenced by the Thai Securities and Exchange Commission in 2018 and quickly after it launched, secured over 90% of the cryptocurrency market.
Inspirational figure traversing the kingdom speaking to audiences about the blockchain technology future
Its success is due, in no small part, to the inspirational figure of Mr Jirayut or ‘Topp’ who, for the last two years, has traversed the kingdom speaking about bitcoin and the future of blockchain technology on an even wider basis than just currencies including its ability to change the world.
Digital assets wizard with an energy and tech vision that the country needs to make Thailand 4.0 work
In October 2019, speaking with the Thai Examiner, he said his firm aimed to become the ‘7/11’ of digital assets market but also discussed the wider application of blockchain technology in a range of government functions in countries across the globe.
Change of tack as the government legislated for digital currency exchanges in 2018 after being declared illegal in 2013 following an official review
The success of Bitkub is all the more remarkable since it came about after a reversal of course by Thai authorities which had previously outlawed cryptocurrencies in 2013 when officials initially indicated that there was no legal basis for them.
This led to the Bank of Thailand examining the issue and accepting that there was a grey area because of technological advancement.
This resulted in the Digital Assets Act of 2018 paving the way to the current flourishing marketplace after the later licensing of 13 cryptocurrency platforms including Bitkub.
Former Minister of Finance said that Wednesday’s deal was a significant milestone for the economy
Speaking this week about the deal in which Siam Commercial Bank agreed to buy 51% of Bitkub which is still subject to approval from regulatory agencies, former minister and party leader, Mr Korn, said it signified several things including the fact that Thailand could produce its own unicorns in the future development of a digital economy.
Mr Korn also pointed to other significant aspects of the deal such as the growing acceptance of digital assets and currencies in the banking and financial sector.
While he made the point that this will require consideration of changes to the nature and current shape of regulation linked with this market, he also warned of the danger of hyper regulation which could, in a chilling effect, stymie the development of startup firms when entering into competition with larger financial giants.
Bitkub experienced difficulties earlier this year
Earlier this year, Bitkub suffered some moments of existential crisis when it was ordered by the Securities and Exchange Commission to cease opening new accounts and to improve its system which was experiencing technical delays.
The firm managed, however, not only to comply with the high standards demanded by the regulatory agency but also, at the same time, retain its dominant market share despite the entrance of newly licenced competitors into the market, some of them backed by Thailand’s biggest companies.
The danger potentially faced by Bitkub was seen in September when the regulator closed down another cryptocurrency firm, Huobi, for failing to meet the standards required.
Bitkub’s problems in January and February stemmed from the company’s runaway success as its platform regularly turned over more than ฿2 billion a day after a surge in demand for bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies took off at the end of 2020.
Highly motivated workforce and modern approach made the firm a magnet for tech industry talent
A combination of a highly motivated workforce, an ability to change and address issues as well as a continuous, direct and honest PR campaign by the company’s leader, Mr Jirayut or ‘Topp’, contributed to it emerging even stronger despite the challenge it faced.
In the weeks running up to the crisis and afterwards, Bitkub rapidly expanded its workforce to employ hundreds of people to cope with the rising demands on its business at its exciting city centre headquarters in the Khlong Toei area of Bangkok.
Here, the work environment includes nap rooms as part of an innovative workplace championed by the company’s charismatic leader.
Its success made it a magnet for talent throughout Thailand.
Wednesday’s deal puts a value on Bitkub of $1.05 billion making it officially a unicorn business
The deal between Bitkub and Siam Commercial Bank this week values the firm at $1.05 billion making it officially Thailand’s first unicorn success story.
The deal was announced personally by the CEOs of SCBx, the cryptocurrency arm of Thailand’s oldest bank, Mr Arthid Nanthawithaya and the CEO of Bitkub Capital Group Holdings, Mr Jirayut, who confirmed the transaction value for the 51% stake at ฿17.83 billion.
The deal represents an opportunity for the hugely successful concern to consolidate its position with 90% of the market by taking advantage of the large reserves and access to the customer base of Siam Commercial Bank.
Siam Commercial Bank share price rises
The market liked what it heard and, on Wednesday, as the share price of Siam Commercial Bank rose 1.15% on the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) to ฿131.50, Bitkub’s in-house digital currency also rose to a new high of $2.49.
Analysts were left gushing at the prospect of the deal which looked to them like a win-win proposition allowing both firms to strengthen their position in a market that continues to grow.
The move was welcomed by Mr Choladej Khemaratana who is the President of the Fintech Association.
He said it would allow immediate access for Siam Commercial Bank to what is an exploding market right now and pointed to the huge success of digital assets in Thailand where there are no less than 1.6 million trading accounts.
This phenomenon has been noted also by western digital platforms across the world who have begun to target the kingdom.
Good news for the future of the digital economy, a good time to sell says Fintech Association President
It augurs well for Thailand’s future as a digital economy. Many of the market participants are from younger demographics with a professional profile including many state-employed workers.
‘Personally, I think Bitkub has sold its shares at the right time as it is now the peak of the crypto market. It is common for startups to make some profits when their businesses are growing,’ Mr Choladej told the Bangkok Post in the immediate aftermath of the deal being announced.
Mr Jirayut or ‘Topp’ is himself a Vice President of the Fintech Association and also a board member.
TAT Chief wants to create a Thai version of the popular travel site Traveloka linked to cryptocurrencies
The tech entrepreneur and visionary was also linked, in recent weeks, to a project put forward by the Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Yuthasak Supasorn, to launch a new platform to revolutionise Thailand’s tourism industry through the use of cryptocurrencies and digital blockchain technology.
Deal may be replicated as big banks see an easier path towards the new market spawned by cryptocurrencies and digital assets that is growing fast in Thailand
Many analysts see Wednesday’s deal, which is still subject to approval and expected to be completed early next year, as a sign that existing banking giants can quite easily adapt themselves to the new trend and momentum moving towards digital assets and transactions.
It may lead to other deals some analysts have speculated.
Bitkub on target to generate ฿2 billion in annual net profit based on accounts to September 30th 2021
Another benefit of the deal for Siam Commercial Bank is that it is not buying a startup but a firm that is on track to generate a net profit of ฿2 billion this year which will help contribute up to 3% of the bank’s profits in 2022.
Analysts in Bangkok suggest that Bitkub achieved revenue of ฿3 billion in the period to the 30th September 2021 with a net profit of ฿1.5 billion.
Bitkub had already planned to list itself on the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) to expand the business both in Thailand and outside the kingdom.
In the short term, however, many brokers in Bangkok see the deal itself strengthening the bank’s overall financial position at a time when bank profits are trending downwards.
Founder Mr Jirayut or ‘Topp’ sees the deal as a step towards even greater growth and global expansion
Speaking after the deal was announced, Mr Jirayut spoke about his continued ambition for Bitkub and how the deal will help the firm pursue this.
The Bitkub boss, in a statement, made it clear that his firm saw the deal as just another step to future growth.
‘We needed to elevate Bitkub to the global level, so we turned to a strong partner like SCB to help us achieve our target faster and more sustainably. Bitkub has reached a milestone by becoming an important part of Thailand’s digital economic infrastructure,’ he said. ‘Bitkub is no longer just a startup and is now becoming a necessary part of the infrastructure critical for Thailand’s financial industry.’
According to CoinMarketCap Bitkub currently ranks 79th worldwide out of the top 300 cryptocurrency exchanges with a daily turnover of $282 million or ฿9.38 billion.