In brief

  • Coinbase CEO explained on a podcast why the exchange hasn’t listed Monero.
  • CEO Brian Armstrong said regulators have expressed discomfort with privacy coins.
  • He said they have a more conservative approach to listing than Binance or Kraken.

Monero (XMR) is currently the 16th-largest cryptocurrency, according to CoinMarketCap, with a total market capitalization of nearly $1.27 billion, and exchanges such as Binance and Kraken list it. Why not Coinbase, then?

According to CEO Brian Armstrong, it’s not simply a matter of preference. Appearing on the What Bitcoin Did podcast this week (via U.Today), Armstrong made that very clear to host Peter McCormack: “I would personally like to list it,” he affirmed.

However, Armstrong suggested that US regulators are uncomfortable with privacy-centric coins. While the government hasn’t made any sort of proclamations as to coming enforcement or issues with Monero or other coins, Armstrong said that a mix of conversations with regulators and internal risk assessments has kept them away—for now, at least.

“A lot of it is behind-the-scenes conversations where [regulators] are kind of saying: ‘We very much don’t think you should do this,’” Armstrong recalled. “And then we have the conversation: ‘Well, are you telling us that you don’t like it, or are you telling us that you are going to sue us if we do it?’”

According to Armstrong, legal disputes with regulators are part and parcel with being a financial services business, and it’s something they’re willing to engage in at times. However, it can be costly, and they’re not looking to pick every pricey fight that comes their way.

“It’s kind of just part of doing business, but it’s expensive. And it harms the relationship, right? So you need to kind of pick your battles,” he said. Sometimes, the internal calculus suggests that it’s better off not engaging. “We don’t know if this is a hill we want to die on, and we have to make a lot of tough calls like that,” Armstrong added.

Armstrong believes that regulators will become more comfortable with privacy coins over time, much as they did with Bitcoin—which he now said is “like GE stock or something: it’s the most tried and true thing.” But while other exchanges might be willing to list Monero and similar coins, he said Coinbase is being a little more careful and keeping its eye on the future.

“Compared to some of the other exchanges out there that are probably being a bit more aggressive, we have a little bit more of a conservative approach,” he said. “I want us to be a company that stands the test of time and doesn’t get taken out by some kind of enforcement action, or a cascade of events. I’m playing for the long term here.”

Armstrong covered many topics over the course of the nearly two-hour conversation with McCormick, including admitting that Coinbase’s acquisition of blockchain analytics platform Neutrino was “a mistake” and one they didn’t do enough cultural diligence on.