Business

Online brokerage Monex to acquire cryptocurrency exchange Coincheck

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

Online brokerage Monex Group Inc. announced Friday that it would acquire Coincheck Inc.— the troubled cryptocurrency exchange that was hit earlier this year by a massive cybertheft — in a bid to enter the growing virtual currency industry.

Tokyo-based Monex, the third-largest online brokerage in the nation, said it will purchase 100 percent of Coincheck’s shares for ¥3.6 billion ($33.6 million) this month and make the startup its wholly owned subsidiary.

Coincheck’s growth and existing 1.7 million-user base are sure to help Monex ease into the cryptocurrency business. But the online brokerage will also be inheriting risks, including a damaged brand and lawsuits filed by investors affected by the NEM coin theft.

“Coincheck is a pioneer of the crypto-exchange business, not only in Japan but in the world. … It has a global brand value, user base, technologies,” said Monex Group CEO Oki Matsumoto at a news conference in Tokyo. “It’s possible to manage risks but it’s no easy job” for Monex to create a user base and brand like Coincheck’s by itself.

Matsumoto said the new Coincheck aims to gain government approval as a registered cryptocurrency exchange in two months.

Under the revised law that took effect last year, cryptocurrency exchanges are required to register with the government after a screening process, but the financial watchdog has yet to give the firm the green light.

Matsumoto also said Monex aims to take Coincheck public in the future.

Coincheck’s board will be completely reshuffled through the acquisition, with Toshihiko Katsuya — a senior executive at Monex in charge of the firm’s cryptocurrency business — taking over in the post of president from Koichiro Wada, the current chief and founder of Coincheck. Wada will become an executive officer under the new management.

In light of the Coincheck hack in January, which caused losses valued at ¥58 billion ($532 million) at the time, the Financial Services Agency issued a business improvement order and urged the company last month to drastically review its management team.

The heist has marred the image of cryptocurrencies whose values had surged in the past year, most notably bitcoin.

While Coincheck had kept its financial performance secret, a document disclosed by Monex on Friday giving details of the acquisition shows how one of the nation’s largest virtual currency exchanges grew rapidly amid the recent boom in the sector. It saw sales in fiscal 2014 of a fairly modest ¥123 million, but that figure shot up more than 600-fold to ¥77.2 billion in fiscal 2016. The firm saw a net profit of ¥471 million in the latter period, up from a ¥10 million loss over the same period.

Matsumoto said Monex has been looking to enter the cryptocurrency business, and that the acquisition of Coincheck is an exciting opportunity.

The market cap of the cryptocurrency has at one time hit ¥50 trillion, which is something that “you cannot ignore…and the market will grow more,” said Matsumoto.

Yet the industry, led mostly by startups, is still immature and security to protect customers and compliance need to be strengthened, which Matsumoto said Monex can offer with its 19 years of online financial business know-how.

“We can fuse our experience as a financial institution … and Coincheck’s new technology and new business thought,” he said.

Coincheck was criticized for apparently neglecting security measures to protect customers’ assets, which led to the cybertheft.

Wada said Coincheck had talked to other firms about a possible M&A but decided to join up with Monex. That was because Monex will provide support to enhance management structures and internal controls while still allowing the startup to act swiftly.

Coincheck began payouts as part of a ¥46 billion compensation package for about 260,000 customers last month. Coincheck said Friday that it had now completed issuing compensation.

The firm said an internal investigation found that someone stole the digital coins by sending emails to Coincheck employees by email containing malware, which then allowed the culprit to remotely access the firm’s servers.