Crypto needs to start small before it goes big, Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong said yesterday at the Consensus conference in New York. In particular, he said the industry ought to focus on delivering value to people without access to financial services, and concentrate on cross-border payments.

Armstrong riffed on the two types of cross-border payments that will push crypto toward mass adoption. He said the first use case is developers sending small amounts of crypto to thousands of people around the world—such as during an ICO token sale. The second use case is at the other end of the spectrum—for people doing million-dollar-plus transactions, within a short period of time, while international bank transfers can take several days.

“What you typically see in these markets is certain niche areas are adopted, and then it eventually becomes more and more mainstream,” he said. “In crypto, the most mainstream thing you can think of is swiping your credit card at Starbucks. That will probably be the last area that’s disrupted by crypto.”

So who will lead mass adoption?


Crypto is largely a retail market and Armstrong said that retail customers account for 70 percent of its business. Still, at last years Consensus, Coinbase launched a custody platform called Coinbase Custody. And already, he said, institutions are piling in.

“We just crossed a billion dollars AUM [assets under management] for institutions. There’s about 70 institutions that have signed up,” he said.

Armstrong added these clients are always engaging with the crypto market, looking for new ways to get the most bang for their buck. “They want to do OTC trading, they want to do staking, they want to do voting and do governance on-chain.”

“Institutions should be able to custody anything they want—including a ham sandwich,” he joked.


Coinbase also has a trading platform for more experience traders, Coinbase Pro. Here, Armstrong said, institutions account for 60 percent of its trading volume. Regarding the influx of institutions, he said that giants such as Goldman Sachs and Blackrock are not in crypto yet, but they soon will be.

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