BlockFi is rolling out its first crypto interest product since it paid a $100 million settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission in February and agreed to stop offering those products to the U.S. public.
Called BlockFi Yield, this crypto interest-bearing option is available to accredited investors in the U.S. through the Reg D [506(c)] exemption from the Securities Act of 1933.
The new product comes during a year where crypto lending firms have faced major financial concern and scrutiny, especially after two of BlockFi’s major competitors — Voyager Digital and Celsius Network — froze customer accounts this summer and eventually declared bankruptcy and the company itself struck an emergency deal with crypto exchange FTX US.
“While the events of the summer were a true test of our risk protocols, we are confident in our proactive risk management framework,” Flori Marquez, BlockFi co-founder and COO told Yahoo Finance, adding that the company was excited to bring back crypto interest-bearing accounts to some U.S. investors.
Before its settlement, BlockFi’s interest-bearing crypto accounts were akin to what consumer-focused banks offered, but for much higher interest and risk in a much less regulated asset class. The accounts allowed U.S. investors in certain states to loan their crypto in exchange for a higher variable monthly interest payment. On the other side, the company generated that interest by offering crypto assets as unsecured loans to institutional and corporate crypto borrowers.
By March 2021, BlockFi held as much as $14 billion in customer assets according to data from Crunchbase, largely thanks to lending and borrowing.
It’s not clear how different the new Yield product will be compared to company’s original interest account offering. Terms for BlockFi Yield and BlockFi Interest Account are close to identical.
Outside better risk protocols, regulatory approval, and investor disclosure, the terms for BlockFi Yield and its interest account are virtually identical.
The product comes after a rocky year for the crypto space and the firm.
After paying what was at the time a crypto firm’s largest settlement with U.S. regulators, the firm has been hammered by plummeting cryptocurrency prices and the bankruptcy of Three Arrows Capital, one of the industry’s largest institutional borrowers. Once it became clear Three Arrows would not be able to meet its margin requirements in time, BlockFi was forced to take a $80 million loss.
While acknowledging both the need for scrutiny in crypto lending businesses and for those businesses like BlockFi to accurately represent risks to customers, Marquez said outlasting other firms has worked in the firm’s favor.
“If you think about what’s happened to many of the companies that are similar to BlockFi, supply is definitely smaller now given that we’re one of the only companies that’s operating in the U.S. and so it’s changed from being a borrowers’ market to a lenders’ market,” she told Yahoo Finance.
More recently, BlockFi has resurfaced as a creditor for the financially troubled bitcoin mining company Core Scientific, which warned at the end of October that it may not be able to pay its debt. In Core’s worst-case scenario, BlockFi would be on the hook for an outstanding loan of $60 million.
But Marquez reiterated that the company is prepared, thanks to holding increased capital reserves for possible loan defaults among other things.
“We run a diversified lending business. So loads of Bitcoin miners are a small portion of our overall lending portfolio. All of the outstanding loans are collateralized. We have not written a new BTC mining loan since the spring of 2022,” she added.
While Marquez couldn’t speak to the approval process the company will need to complete before offering non-accredited U.S. investors access to crypto interest accounts again, she reiterated the process is a top priority. It necessitates submitting a Form S-1 to the SEC, what’s essentially an initial public offering document.
“We are definitely continuously working with our regulatory counterparts to provide BlockFi yield to all consumers in the U.S., because we do believe that U.S. consumers have a right to earn interest,” she added.
Until then, the company is aiming to expand outside of the U.S., having recently announced a payment integration partnership with fintech company Stripe that will make it easier for non-U.S. customers to fund accounts.
David Hollerith is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance covering the cryptocurrency and stock markets. Follow him on Twitter at @DsHollers
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