Coinbase announced today that it has filed with the National Futures Association to become a registered futures commission merchant.

This indicates the exchange is seeking to move beyond mere spot trading—one asset for another—to the lucrative business of derivatives trading, in which people can bet on future prices.

Typical derivatives include futures and options contracts. Futures allow people to buy and sell contracts that establish the price of Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency on a specific date in the future. Think the price is going down? You can try to sell it for a higher price and pocket the difference. Options contracts work similarly, but allow traders the option to buy or sell at a predetermined price. Perpetual contracts—futures that don't expire—are another popular iteration.


In the U.S., any business seeking to sell individuals must register with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the federal regulator of not just commodities but all derivative products. But to do so, they must typically first be members of the NFA, which handles the registration process on the agency's behalf.

Derivatives trading is big business in traditional financial markets—and in cryptocurrency. Futures volume on Binance dwarfs the volume on its standard exchange by a factor of 3 to 1. The disparity is even larger on FTX, the global exchange that is making a large advertising push in the U.S. (where its smaller American affiliate is also seeking to offer derivatives trading).

Coinbase has watched as these and other competitors (including largely unregulated Deribit) have created a nearly $150 billion market for crypto derivatives, according to current data from CoinGecko. While it may be king of the American spot exchanges, it's decided it can't continue ceding exotic territory to its rivals.

Editor's note: The headline has been updated from the original version to indicate Coinbase hasn’t specifically filed an application to trade futures. Rather, applying for NFA membership is the first step to doing so.


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