Primum non nocere
First, do no harm. Lessons from the FTX collapse and the path forward for moolahgeeks.
moolahgeeks is reader-supported. When you sign-up through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more
Update (10 Nov 2022): Following the failure of FTX, we are withdrawing all our recommendations in the crypto space. Readers should not rely on anything in the post below. We are leaving the posts up for accountability but striking out all text to avoid any misunderstanding.
No single exchange stands out above the rest in Singapore. Each exchange had some drawbacks that could be deal breakers for many people. We think one of Gemini or FTX is most likely to meet your needs, depending on your priorities. Convenient & Safe – Gemini Gemini allows you to deposit SG$ via FAST and has one of the lowest withdrawal fees. It has never been hacked despite being one of the older exchanges, it has been granted an exempt status by the MAS & its subsidiary has a New York Trust license. It has a well known management team. However, it has the lowest trading volume and lists the fewest cryptocurrencies of all the exchanges we tested, only 4 of the top 10. Gemini also has relatively high, but still reasonable trading fees if you use its ActiveTrader platform. If you value convenience and safety above all, and are comfortable trading only a few cryptocurrencies, Gemini is our pick for you. Wide Coverage & Lowest Fees – FTX FTX has the widest coverage of any exchange we tested for the top 50 cryptocurrencies and covers more than half of the top 200. It has never been hacked, has the highest trading volume, lowest trading fee and most liquid crypto lending & borrowing options of any exchange available to Singapore residents. It has received investments from Temasek, Sequoia and Lightspeed and has a very well regarded management team. However, it has a short operating history, fairly limited licenses (nothing by the MAS) and weak customer service. If you value wide coverage and low fees above all, FTX is our pick for you. Why you should trust us We spent more than 100 hours researching Crypto Exchanges available to users in Singapore. We compared the fees, bid-ask spreads and the number of cryptocurrencies and derivatives available on each exchange. We looked for information on the founders and investors in each exchange and also tried to assess the publicly available information on their security record and practices. We looked for security reviews, external ratings and audits published by each exchange. We tried to understand the regulatory situation of each exchange and the types of licenses they had, if any. We opened live accounts on most of the exchanges to assess the ease of use and compare features. We deposited our funds in our shortlisted exchanges and tried out live trades and withdrawals – both in fiat currencies and cryptocurrencies, where possible. We went through their documentation, FAQs and promotional materials. We reached out to their customer support teams to understand the availability and responsiveness. If you would like to start investing or trading in cryptocurrencies, you need an account with a crypto exchange. If you are familiar with investing in stocks, a crypto exchange is a stock broker, stock exchange, custodian and depository all rolled into one. Crypto exchanges allow you to buy, sell, transfer and store your cryptocurrencies. Some crypto exchanges also offer crypto derivatives and options to lend or stake your crypto assets in order to generate some yield. We don’t have strong views about the long term value cryptocurrencies. We are strongly against active trading of any security, including cryptocurrencies, by retail / individual investors, except for entertainment. At moolahgeeks, our aim is to help you make well thought out decisions about your personal finances, backed by data, research and experience. Our preferred investment approach is to create a low cost, passive, globally diversified portfolio. In our opinion, its too hard to know if crypto assets are an attractive investment today. Many extremely smart investors and technologists are very bullish (or even all in) on crypto. The amount of investments and talent that is moving into the space is difficult to ignore. The historical returns have been mind-boggling (though unlikely to repeat). On the other hand, many equally smart people are skeptical, if not outright bearish, on cryptocurrencies. The amount of money lost to scams, hacks and accidents in the space is scary. The lack of many (any?) genuinely innovative and scaled up use cases for the blockchain technology, outside of speculation, nearly a decade and a half after its invention bothers us. Still, we are excited by the flow of talent in the space and are somewhat optimistic on the technology. We are on the fence on the value of cryptocurrencies themselves. To find the best crypto exchange in Singapore, we evaluated them on 5 criteria: Safety & Viability, Ease of Use, Fees, Liquidity & number of coins, Other tools & features. Security & Viability This is the most important criteria to evaluate any crypto exchange in our view. This is because a large number of exchanges have been hacked over the years, leading to losses for investors. In some cases the founders of exchanges themselves have been scammers, running away with investor funds. However it is very hard to know if an exchange is secure and viable. They often don’t offer much (or any) information about their security practices. There are no accepted standard practices and most exchanges have very little regulatory oversight because they are unlicensed or have fairly limited licenses that don’t include an audit of their security practices by the regulators or qualified experts. In rating the security & viability of the exchanges, we looked at: Coinbase, Gemini and Kraken came out well ahead of others in this checklist with FTX also making the cut.
|Licenses & Regulators||US SEC, Coinbase Custody is qualified custodian under NY State Banking Law||Exempt staus by MAS, Gemini Trust is regulated by New York State DFS||Subsidiaries have licenses in Australia||Subsidiary has Depository license by state of Wyoming, US. Other licenses in Australia, UK, Canada|
|Founding Team||Brian Armstrong & Fred Ersham||Cameron & Tyler Winklevoss||Sam Bankman-Fried & Gary Wang||Jesse Powell|
|Security Disclosures on Website||Good||Good||Below Average||Excellent|
|Operating since||Oct 2012||Oct 2015||May 2019||Sep 2013|
|Investors||NASDAQ Listed, USV, a16z||Jane Street, Helium, KRV||Temasek, Sequoia, Lightspeed||Hummingbird, SBI Investments, Tribe Capital|
|Source: Company websites, Wikipedia, Crunchbase|None of these have ever been hacked. All of them directly or for their subsidiaries have some type of licenses in reputed jurisdictions. Coinbase and Gemini especially have Custodian licenses in New York for their custody businesses (separate from exchange). Kraken recently received a Depository license for its subsidiary in Wyoming, US. FTX’s subsidiaries in Australia have licenses as well. Except FTX, they all have long operating histories. All have well-known management teams and strong investor base. Coinbase is listed in New York. FTX has raised funds from Temasek, Sequoia and Lightspeed. Gemini Founders have been very publicly involved in the crypto space for a long time. On the other hand, Crypto.com, KuCoin and Bitfinex have had hacking incidents over the years. Gate.io was hacked in 2015, which we discounted somewhat as that was a long time ago. All of them either don’t have any licenses or only have licenses in tax havens, which we discounted. Since both these factors have a very high weight in our decision, we ended up ruling out these exchanges.
|Licenses & Regulators||Licensed in Malta||–||–||–|
|Hacking Incidents||$15mm in Jan 2022, no customer funds lost||$280mm in Sep 2020, 84% recovered and no customer suffered losses||$1.75mm in Feb 2015. Then knows as Bter.com.||$72mm in Aug 2015|
|Founding Team||Bobby Bao, Gary Or, Kris Marszalek, and Rafael Melo||Micahel Gan, Eric Don||Lin Han||Giancarlo Devasini, Raphael Nicolle|
|Security Disclosures on Website||Good||Below Average||Average||Average|
|Operating since||Jun 2016||Sep 2017||2013||Dec 2012|
|Investors||–||Matrix Partners, IDG Capital||5 Blocks Capital in ICO||–|
|Source: Company websites, Wikipedia, Crunchbase|Among the other large exchanges, Binance, OKX and Huobi are not available to users in Singapore. As we said a little earlier, this is a very imperfect assessment of the security of exchanges. This is a problem because unlike bank deposits, there is simply no guarantee protecting any amount of your assets held at a crypto exchange. If the exchange is hacked or otherwise compromised, your money is likely gone. Most exchanges are also not very transparent about their own finances, proprietary trading activity & risk management policies, to mention a few other risks. And the legal situation around the entire crypto space is murky at best. As a result it is very difficult to feel confident about what happens to your funds in the event of an accident. As an investor you are taking credit risk on an unregulated, opaque entity with most likely a very high risk appetite. Finally cryptocurrency space is evolving fast in terms of regulations and that could have a big impact on our evaluations. For instance, if MAS (or another reputable regulator) were to issue licenses to some of the exchanges we ruled out or reject the ones we selected, it would heavily impact our recommendations. Ease of Use For someone new to the cryptocurrencies, every aspect of investing in them can be hard – from knowing how to trade to deposits, withdrawal, storage and knowledge. We evaluated each exchange on how easy it was to sign up and perform the basic actions (crypto & fiat deposit, crypto and fiat withdrawal, trading) or to get information about them. We preferred exchanges that made it easy to perform all the basic transactions without tripping up in any way. We did not find meaningful differences in usability of major platforms’ trading interfaces for the most part. All platforms have a fairly basic interface and are not particularly user friendly. However, we found that its quite easy to overpay on some of them. It is quite common for crypto exchanges to charge a high price for a simplified trading interface and a low one for a “professional” interface. In all cases the professional interface is quite easy to use as well and we did not feel there was any reason for anyone to avoid using those interfaces and pay the higher fee. We preferred exchanges that did not employ this trick. We considered both the web and mobile versions of the exchanges. Liquidity & Investment Options There are hundreds of crypto exchanges out there providing access to a wide variety of instruments. However the purpose of an exchange, first and foremost is to provide liquidity so that you can trade quickly and cheaply. We looked at the exchange level liquidity and spread data provided by the excellent CoinGecko and CoinMarketCap. We preferred exchanges that had the highest liquidity with high confidence in the reported numbers.
|Exchange||Coin Gecko Trust Score||Coin Market Cap Score||Spot Volume (US$ million)*||Futures Volume (US$ million)*||Total Volume (US$ million)||# of Coins Listed||# of Pairs Listed|
|* Avg. of daily volume for the last 90 days, on 25th Feb|We also looked at the CoinGecko data on the number of Spot and Derivatives listed on each exchange. Instead of focusing on the total number of coins, we focused on the total number of coins listed out of the top 200 most valuable coins only.
|Coins listed out of:||Top 10||Top 20||Top 50||Top 100||Top 200|
|Source: CoinGecko|While some exchanges offer access to 1000+ currencies and some focus primarily on trading between currency pairs, we restricted our analysis to Spot and Derivatives on coins against the USD. Fees Given the volatility of crypto assets, it can feel silly to focus on saving 0.1% or 0.5% on trading and transaction fees. However, trading platforms targeting professionals often have lower fees and better features, as we saw in our analysis of online-brokers. If those platforms are open to the rest of us, for no additional cost or restrictions, it can be a great deal. We were also surprised to see that the overall fee differences between crypto exchanges were actually less than what we saw in our analysis of online-brokers. At the same time the difference between the cheapest and the most expensive path to buying the same crypto asset can be quite large and even larger if you are investing small amounts. On one hand you could pay 3.5% to buy a crypto using credit card and on the other you could do a bank transfer in USD and only pay 0.05%. That difference can really add up over time. We looked at fees charged for deposits & withdrawals for both crypto and fiat currencies, the number of free transactions permitted and the minimum size limits apart from the trading charges.
|Spot Trading Fees*||Futures Trading Fee*|
|* For lowest tier client, with no native token holding and trading Class A coins|
|Fiat Deposit Fee||Fiat Withdrawal Fee||BTC Withdrawal Fee||Ether Withdrawal Fee|
|Coinbase||3.99% by Credit Card||US$25||Shown at the time of withdrawal||Shown at the time of withdrawal|
|Crypto.com||Free Wire Transfer||US$25||0.0006 BTC||0.005 ETH|
|KuCoin||3.00% by Credit Card||No Fiat Withdrawal||0.0005 BTC||0.006 ETH|
|FTX||Free Wire Transfer||Free||Free^||0.005 ETH|
|Gate.io||3.50% by Credit Card||No Fiat Withdrawal||0.001 BTC||0.0048 ETH|
|Kraken||Free Wire Transfer||US$4||0.00002 BTC||0.0035 ETH|
|Bitfinex||US$60 by Wire Transfer||US$60||0.0004 BTC||0.004662 ETH|
|Gemini||Free Wire Transfer or FAST||Free||0.0001 BTC||Prevailing Gas Fee|
|^ 1 free withdrawal per day for BTC, gas needs to be paid for ETH / ERC20 transactions|Other data tools & features Unlike stock brokers, who do attempt to offer some fundamental and technical analysis tools for stocks, crypto exchanges are focused mostly on trading. We did not find any huge differences and the tools and features offered by most of them. The one meaningful exception is when it comes to the ability to lend or stake crypto assets in order to earn interest on them. This feature is offered by a few but not all exchanges. We compared the fees, currencies and yields available and the ease of using this feature. FTX appeared to have the most liquid market for lending although most exchanges did not provide data to allow a good comparison. KuCoin and Gate.io also offered “trading bots”, essentially configurable algos and many social features. We did not find the social features particularly valuable and we ignored the bots as the volume traded by most of them was quite small and unlikely to be of use to most people. Customer Service Crypto exchanges seem to have lower standards of customer service in general compared to some of the other financial services we have tested. The default option seems to be to open a support ticket and wait for a response in the next 24 hours. Most exchanges did okay by that standard. Kraken stood out for its live chat support where we reached a person almost immediately (no bots to muscle past) and got our questions answered fast. Telegram channels are another popular support option provided by crypto exchanges. We were disappointed by the experience of these groups in our limited testing. For instance, after asking a question in the FTX channel (a group chat with thousands of members), we were immediately bombarded with personal messages from fake customer service agents, trying to scam us. The chat itself had repeated reminder messages from the real customer service agents to ignore these personal messages. This is a terrible customer service experience and we are frankly puzzled that these multi-billion dollar companies seem comfortable with exposing their customers to this type of risk routinely. Most people would be better off avoiding this channel. We don’t think there is a single crypto exchange available right now that can fulfill the needs of most users in Singapore. Most of them are missing one or more key features. This is why we decided to recommend two very different platforms that should meet the needs of most people between them. Gemini is the right exchange for you if you are curious about crypto but not yet ready to jump in with both feet. It is super easy to sign up for as one of the few exchanges that supports MyInfo by SingPass for registration. It is also the only large exchange that supports FAST for SG$ deposits in to the account. No other exchange we looked at supported MyInfo or FAST. Our preferred method of funding crypto exchanges is via USD wire transfer. Buying crypto with SG$ gets you a worse price than buying with USD. This is because all coins are usually priced in USD and the exchange charges a spread to first convert your USD to SGD. Gemini also offers among the lowest cryptocurrency withdrawal fees of the exchanges we looked at. This is important if you prefer to store the crypto assets in your own wallets rather than leaving them in the exchange wallet. They charge a fee of 0.0001 BTC for Bitcoin withdrawals and simply pass on the prevailing gas fee for ETH and ERC20 token withdrawals. Gemini has applied for a DPT license from the MAS and has received an exempt status in the meanwhile. It is the only large exchange to do so as far as we know. Gemini is also a fiduciary and a qualified custodian under the New York Banking Law. So while no exchange today has adequate regulatory blessings, Gemini does appear to have more oversight than the rest. It has also never been hacked in nearly 10 years of operation and is run by the Winklevoss Twins, who famously bet big and early on Bitcoin. They provide reasonable amount of information on their security page and specifically mention that the Twins are unable to transfer assets out of their cold or hot wallets and that Gemini hires independent third parties to perform penetration (or hacking) tests annually. They rate well on the CoinGecko Trust Score (based on comprehensive but somewhat outdated data) and also the CoinMarketCap score. We found their customer service to be decent, usually getting a useful response within 24hrs. The Gemini Earn program allows you to lend your cryptocurrencies via their partners, to earn interest. The program is simple to use, the rates are transparent and Gemini suggests the loans are usually immediately callable. Drawbacks It seems quite common for crypto exchanges to offer a simplified trading interface with higher fees by default. It’s a trick we hate and it is employed by Gemini too. Using the simplified interface will hit you with a 1.5%-9.9% trading fee, depending on order size. Switching to the ActiveTrader interface is free (just a setting in the app or on web) and immediately drops the trading fee to 0.25%-0.35%. The ActiveTrader interface may take a couple of minutes to get used to but it is not particularly hard and everyone should be able to manage it. We recommend switching to it as soon as you sign up. Deal breaker? Gemini lists the smallest number of currencies of all the major exchanges. They have only 4 out of the top 10 and 32 of the top 100 currencies by our calculation. Exchanges with better coverage offer 9 of top 10 and ~75 of top 100. Even some relatively popular currencies like Solana are not available on Gemini at the moment. Gemini also has the least trading volume of all the exchanged we reviewed. Put together these may be a deal breaker for the more engaged investors. If the fewer options available on Gemini are a deal breaker for you, FTX is the exchange for you. FTX allows you to invest in 9 of top 10 and 74 of the top 100 currencies (including via futures). It is the exchange with the highest trading volume and most liquid lending options available to users in Singapore. FTX offers the same low fees to all investors and does not play the game of charging excessive fees if you choose the simplified interface. FTX allows one free Bitcoin withdrawal a day for free and only charges network fee for withdrawals on the Ethereum network. While not as generous as Gemini, we think these are reasonable terms and better than most other networks. FTX does not support SG$ deposits via FAST but they do offer free USD deposit and withdrawal using wire transfer. A number of banks (we tested DBS and Standard Chartered) now offer free USD wire transfer to FTX accounts in USA, which means this is a bit more cumbersome than FAST but not more expensive. In fact due to the lower spread on buying crypto with USD rather than SGD, this may be a cheaper option on an all-in basis. FTX has never been hacked and despite its short operating history, it has gained a lot of market share among professional crypto traders, quickly becoming one of the most liquid markets. Its team is highly regarded and it has received investments from reputed funds like Temasek, Sequoia and Lightspeed. Drawbacks We did not have a great experience with the FTX customer service. While the customer support responded within 24 hours to our basic questions, we received no response to our questions about their security practices or licensing situation despite multiple follow ups. Their Telegram channel is a faster way to get in touch with customer service. However that did not help with the harder questions either. We were also bombarded with direct messages by scammers pretending to be FTX representatives the moment we asked a question in the chat. FTX has never been hacked but we struggled to find basic information about their security policies on their site. Unlike most other exchanges that highlight all this information in a single page (access policies, insurance, cold storage, regulatory oversight etc.) we had to crawl through their help pages to find some answers while many questions remained unanswered. FTX lists a large number of coins but a lot of these are available only via futures. The number of spot currencies available out of the top 50 or 100 on FTX lags behind most other exchanges we looked at. Deal breaker? FTX has relatively few licenses from major regulators and does not seem to be pursuing any license from the MAS. The first 3 licenses mentioned on their page are from tax havens although later they do mention some licenses for their subsidiaries in Australia. Its CEO, Sam Bankman-Fried also runs a fund called Alameda Research, which is a large market maker on FTX, leading to concerns around conflict of interest. For now we are taking the view that with investors like Temasek and Sequoia on board, some of these issues will be resolved soon, but clearly these can be potential deal breakers for some. In our research we also felt that most other exchanges that covered a similarly large number of coins, were even more exposed to these types of issues. Kraken scored well across all criteria in our evaluation but did not stand out on any dimension. It lists 16 of top 20 coins but coverage drops off sharply after that. It has relatively low fees but charges meaningfully more than the cheapest (FTX). It has a few licenses, including a depository license for its subsidiary in Wyoming, US but nothing from MAS or other top tier financial regulators. They also offer low fees on withdrawals and their customer service was the best of all the exchanges we tested. We were immediately connected to a human representative on chat, who was able to answer our questions. Kraken has never been hacked and is very transparent about their security policies. They are the only exchange to conduct a semi-annual Proof of Reserve audit by auditors, which lets you verify that your account was audited as well. If the limited coins available on Gemini and the licensing situation & conflicts at FTX are both deal-breakers for you, we would recommend Kraken as a happy middle ground. Coinbase is one of the oldest and a very well known crypto exchange. Its listed on NASDAQ and its subsidiary has a custodian license in New York. It has the highest spot trading volume of any exchange available in Singapore. It has never been hacked. However their fees are opaque and high, they do not permit funding by wire transfer for Singapore based customers and offer access to relatively few coins (no futures). Crypto.com also has a long operating history, high liquidity in the spot market and a large number of coins listed. However, their only license is from a tax haven, their fees for trading and withdrawal (fiat & crypto) are high and they were recently hacked. Singapore residents can only buy crypto via fiat using their credit card, which requires a 2.99% fee. KuCoin is very popular with retail trader in Singapore because they have good liquidity in spot and futures, offer low fees and provide access to a very large number of coins and pairs. KuCoin seems to be trying to gamify crypto trading by offering various rewards. They also have some community features. However, they are not regulated anywhere, were recently hacked, do not permit fiat withdrawal and have relatively high fees for crypto withdrawal. You can fund fiat purchases of crypto only using credit cards with high fees (3%) or by depositing your existing coins from another exchange. Gate.io provides access to the largest number of coins (1,278) and pairs among all the exchanges we tested and have low fees for spot and futures. However they are unregulated, were hacked (long ago though, in 2015), have high fees for crypto withdrawal and do not permit fiat withdrawal. You can only fund fiat purchases of crypto using credit card with high fees (3.5%). Independent Reserve is the only live crypto exchange licensed by the MAS for DPT services. However according to CoinGecko, the trading volume on the exchange is currently only US$5-12 million a day. This compares with US$1-3 billion a day at the other exchanges we compared. Independent Reserve also lists only 27 coins at the time of writing, which only about a third of the next lowest exchange, Gemini. While we did not review it because of these reasons, Independent Reserve could be an attractive option because of the seal of MAS approval, reasonable fees and convenience of FAST transfers.
The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) requires all Digital Payment Token (DPT) Service Providers (crypto exchanges) to provide this risk warning to you.
Before you pay your DPT service provider any money or DPT, you should be aware of the following:
Questions? Suggestions? See a mistake? Write to us!
First, do no harm. Lessons from the FTX collapse and the path forward for moolahgeeks.
Following the collapse of FTX, we have withdrawn all our recommendations in the cryptocurrency space.
Following the collapse of FTX, we have withdrawn all our recommendations in the cryptocurrency space.