Like its former client FTX, Silvergate’s troubles seem to have quietly mounted until they reached a tipping point. Then it was all downhill fast. In the last five days, Silvergate’s stock has lost 58% of its value following the company announcing that its asset sales intended to maintain liquidity could leave it insufficiently capitalized and the news that Silvergate would discontinue its interbank network. In response, Coinbase, Galaxy Digital, Crypto.com, Circle, and Paxos have said they will stop using Silvergate
Bidding farewell to the Silvergate Exchange Network (SEN) augurs ill for Silvergate’s future. SEN served as a vital link between different users of the crypto market, such as trading firms and exchanges, and was Silvergate’s most promising area of growth.
However, there was a fundamental problem with Silvergate’s business model. Its depositors only kept their money in the bank to trade crypto products. As Bloomberg noted in a March 5 commentary, “The purpose of having funds at or passing through Silvergate was to trade that product — if you stopped trading, there was no need to keep any money there.”
It was an accident waiting to happen. Even without FTX’s implosion, there has been a stubborn crypto bear market and depositors may have steadily withdrawn their funds from the bank.
If Silvergate collapses, it will become even harder for the cryptocurrency sector to finding banking partners. Banks that didn’t want to touch crypto before this incident will be even more reluctant to do so. This has important implications for the future of crypto in the Asia-Pacific region. In Australia, for instance, where large incumbent banks completely dominate the market, crypto cannot gain a strong foothold without their support. To date, they have been hesitant to get involved with it. And regulators will not in good faith be able to push the banks to take on high risk customers and products for no good reason.
The Verge notes that that Silvergate’s main competitors, Metropolitan and Signature, were already pulling away from the sector even before this debacle. Metropolitan said in January that it was getting all the way out of crypto. And in December, Signature said it was going to get rid of $8 billion to $10 billion in digital asset-related funds.