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Celsius review

Celsius review - What are the advantages/disadvantags of this crypto lending platform? What is the difference to SmartCredit.io?

The focus of this article is the Celsius review.  In our previous blog article, we analyzed the crypto lending market. This article here will review the Celsius crypto lending platform based on our crypto lending analysis framework from this previous article.

This article:

  • Gives a short overview of the crypto lending market
  • Celsius review (Business Model, Risk Analysis, Features Analysis) will follow
  • After that, we focus on the Celsius regulatory analysis
  • In the end, we look at the difference between Celsius and SmartCredit.io

What is the crypto lending market?

We look in the following on the market dynamics.

Crypto lending market segmentation

There are 3 main channels for crypto lending:

  1. Crypto Exchanges margin lending/borrowing. Crypto exchanges are the biggest player in the lending market with the margin lending/margin borrowing for the traders
  2. Custodial Lending Platforms (Nexo, Celsius, Genesis Capital) – they control your private keys (i.e. they control your assets). Some of them lend fiat (Nexo) and the others lend crypto (Celsius)
  3. Non-Custodial Lending Platforms (Maker, Compound, Ethlend, SmartCredit.io) – they do no control your private keys (i.e. they do not control your assets). The assets are kept in the smart contracts, which are un-accessible for the platforms. These smart contracts define when the collateral is moving back to the borrower or not. That’s the huge difference to the segment (1) and segment (2), which both control client assets.

Key use cases for the crypto lending

  1. Using loans for trading – ca 80% of the market will feed into the crypto exchanges. Traders use their collateral to get the loans, because either the crypto exchanges do not support these collaterals or traders get better terms via crypto lending
  2. Liquidity creation – instead of selling crypto, which in most countries would be a taxable event, the users would rather monetize their crypto-assets via using them as collateral for the loans. This is approximately 15% of the market
  3. Crypto economy – borrowing crypto for using it in the crypto- sphere – 5% of the market

Market size

We estimate the market size of custodial and non-custodial lending platforms ca 20 Billion USD.

This results approximately in 20 Billion USD market size in 2019.

Celsius Review – Business Model

Coin loan business

Celsius has ca 106’000+ users. These users are storing their crypto assets into the custodial Celsius wallets – Celsius has access to these assets.

Celsius is then taking these assets from the wallets, pooling them together, and lending them to the institutional investors. These institutional investors are borrowing the crypto assets either for trading or for hedging their portfolios. There are ca 200+ institutional investors, which are borrowing from Celsius.

Some of the institutional borrowers (traders) are interested in the volatility of the assets. They borrower assets, they sell them and they buy them back at the lower rate. They return the assets to the lender plus they pay as well the interest.

Celsius earns 6%-15% interest (APR) from the institutional investors and gives from this 80% to its users. Celsius keeps the other 20% of the interest as a service fee. This translates to a 1.2% – 3% service fee from the funds borrowed, which is a little bit higher than on other crypto lending platforms.

This business model does not mean, that the lenders (the platform users) are receiving a 6% – 15% interest payment per year because most of the time the funds are not lent out. This interest is paid only for the time when the funds are lent out.

This business model looks like a prime-brokerage business in traditional finance, which serves mainly the institutional traders/hedge funds. However, it is a prime brokerage business, where the retail investors are investing their funds.

The prime-brokerage business is paying high-interest rates in traditional finance, it’s because the risk of this business is high. The transparency is rather missing as most of the transactions are client-specific OTC (Over The Counter) transactions.

Dollar loan business

Celsius has built additionally the dollar loan business – he lends fiat against the crypto collateral. Users deposit their collateral at the beginning of the loan and they have to pay interest at the end of the loan.

Celsius is using the re-hypothecation – user collateral assets are not locked into the smart contracts or the hardware vaults, but they are “recycled” – Celsius lends the collateral out and earns additional interest on this.

Celsius Business Model Summary

We can describe the Celsius Business Model as following:

Celsius Business Model
Celsius Business Model
  • Lenders (Depositors) submit their crypto/fiat funds into the Investment Pool
  • OTC borrowers are borrowing from the Investment Pool
  • The collateral of OTC borrowers is stored into the Collateral Pool. OTC borrowers can borrow from Collateral Pool too
  • Celsius takes 20% of the interest payments as a service fee

Celsius Valuation

The Celsius token values as following:

Celsius token valuation
Celsius token valuation

Celsius was selling lately 10% of equity for 12 mUSD via the BnkToTheFuture platform. This translates into a 120 mUSD valuation of Celsius equity. Which makes 1132 USD per Celsius user.

Celius earns the revenues as service fees – it takes 20% from the interest payments. Celsius has paid in the last 18 months in total 14 mUSD interest to the borrowers. This means the revenues in the last 18 months were 14 / 80 * 20 = 3.5 mUSD revenues. This makes per last 1 year 2.33 mUSD revenues. Does this justify a 120 mUSD equity valuation? Let’s calculate this with the DCF model.

Here are the input parameters:

Celsius Discounted Cashflow Valuation
Celsius Discounted Cashflow Valuation

This valuation is justified when the company operating income will grow annually 74% in the next 5 years. This might be a little bit over-optimistic. However, if we factor in expected Bitcoin and crypto markets price appreciation, then this might look like a reasonable valuation.

However, we did this calculation with the 15% discount rate. The investors in this equity would expect probably a higher return than the 15%, probably rather than 30%. This would translate into even higher required yearly growth (102% annually).

We assumed in the calculation that Celsius is cashflow positive and that operating income is 20% of the revenues. This might be so for the established companies, however, that’s probably not so for the fast-growing companies, which are in the continuous need for the cash.

This implies the current Celsius valuation is looking more like a good deal for the Celsius than for the investors.

Celsius Review – Statistics

In the last 18 months Celsius has done:

  • 5.47 Billion USD crypto loans in 2019
  • 120 Million USD fiat loans
  • 610 Million USD Assets under Management (AuM)
  • 25 coins are supported

This data is based on the Celsius presentation in the BnkToTheFuture.

Here is the overview of current interest rates (at 12th of July 2020) in Celsius and other lending platforms:

Current crypto interest rates
Current crypto interest rates

Btw, the current “Lend rates” for USDT are higher than the “Borrow rates“. This is so because Celsius lends out the borrower’s collateral as well. Lender earn from the borrower interest and lender earns from the interest for borrower’s collateral lending.

Celsius review – Platform Analysis

Crypto lending platform analysis framework
Crypto lending platform analysis framework

Custodial Crypto Lending – Celsius is a custodial platform, it controls client assets. It not only controls client assets, but it actively manages client assets – it lends the depositors crypto assets and it re-hypothecates the borrowers collateral assets

Risk Analysis – The key risks are related to the custodial assets (see later) and the regulatory implications (see later)

Fiat loans – Celsius is providing fiat loans against crypto collateral

Crypto loans – Celsius is providing crypto loans against crypto collateral (with focus on the institutional clients, who’s business is mainly earning profits via shorting underlying assets)

Crypto Credit Score – There is no evidence of credit scoring, the credit risk management is based on the crypto-collateral only and partly on the OTC contracts (but there is no transparency over this)

Money Market Fund – Celsius offer’s kind of money market fund functionality, where the crypto depositors will earn interest on their holdings. Clients holdings are lent to the institutional investors, which are short selling the assets. Celsius earns interest for lending and distributes the interest into the client wallets

Fixed Income Fund – Not available per client basis. However, Celsius is doing all the investment management behind the scenes (lending to the institutional borrowers, so that these borrowers can short the coins/the market). We can see this in the following way – Celsius manages one fixed income fund herself and distributes the profits pro-rata to the custodial wallets (investors). By using this analogy we see that Celsius looks rather like a crypto fixed-income investment fund (unregulated at the moment)

Variable interest rate daily loans – interest rates are fixed every week (based on the shorting demand from the institutional investors – more shorting demand results in the higher interest rate and vice versa). Interest payments to the custodial accounts are done beginning every week

Low collateral ratio – It’s not clear which collateral ratios are used for the institutional borrowers. These are OTC (Over The Counter) trades, no transparency is available on them.

A low collateral ratio is important for the borrowers – if the borrower has low collateral ration, then the borrower can borrow more on his given asset basis. See more in “Why borrowers need low collateral ratio?“. A low collateral ratio makes the crypto loans more attractive for the borrowers. As the market is driven by the borrowers, then this is the key feature for the borrowers. See more in the “Why is the collateral ratio so high in DeFi?

Large choice of collateral – Celsius offer support for 25 different coins

API – Custodial platforms are not able to provide Credit As A Service API’s – because all assets have to be transferred into their platforms first. Just imagine a wallet provider, which would integrate Celsius API – the users of this API would have to transfer their assets first to Celsius custodial accounts. However, this would defeat the business case of the wallet provider … This is a general handicap of custodial crypto lending business models.

Loan Transferability – Custodial platforms do not offer loan transferability

Regulations – see below

Celsius review – Risk analysis

Celsius is using BitGo multi-signature wallets. BitGo has insurance of 100 mUSD on the assets, which are managed via BitGo.  Let’s look on this in detail:

  • Celsius says it has 100 mUSD assets insured. However, this insurance is not per BitGo client, but for all BitGo clients. If for example, the BitGo client A is getting hacked for 30 mUSD, and let’s assume after that client B is getting hacked for 120 mUSD the next day, then client B will receive only 70 mUSD (100 – 30)
  • The assets above 100 mUSD are not insured as Celsius has not ordered any additional insurance from BitGo (BitGo clients can do so)
  • BitGo insurance applies only if:
    • Assets are kept in the BitGo cold wallet, insurance does not apply on the hot wallet
    • All private keys are controlled by the BitGo team (Celsius shall not have any keys to the cold wallet)
    • Transfer transactions from cold wallet to other addresses take ca 24 hours – these transactions are executed by following special operating procedures by BitGo team

The lending business is inherently connected with the transfer of the assets (of underlying and collateral).  Celsius is custodial, but he cannot keep all assets in the cold wallet:

  • If Celsius is providing fiat loans against crypto, then these crypto-assets can be in the BitGo cold wallet
  • Assets sitting idle (not lend out) in the Celsius wallet can be in the BitGo cold wallet
  • But crypto assets used for earning interest cannot be in the cold wallet – because these assets will be lent out to someone else and will be transferred to someone else

As a summary – the insurance is cumulative over all BitGo clients and applies only for the assets kept in the BitGo cold wallets, but not on the actively managed assets.

Celsius has 610 mUSD Assets under management. This implies, that perhaps 10% of them are insured at best.

Re-hypothecation of crypto assets

Re-hypothecation means that the service provider is using the client’s assets for earning additional revenues. BlockFi crypto lending platform states for example that it uses re-hypothecation. For example, BlockFi can use the borrower’s collateral and lend it further (and earn additional interest via this).

Re-hypothecation works fine in a positive scenario. The issues will appear when something in the re-hypothecation chain fails. If a lending platform is lending first borrowers collateral to the next borrower, which will default – what will happen then?

Celsius is doing re-hypothecation. It looks like sometimes the Celsius lending interest rates are higher than the borrowing rates.  That’s possible because of the re-hypothecation of borrowers collateral, which allows the lender to earn a higher interest.

Celsius Review – Regulatory Analysis

Celsius Legal Entity

The company “Celsius Network Limited“, registered in London, UK is the operating company behind the Celsius. It has a Money Service Provider license in the U.S. for all states.

Credit intermediary or Credit provider licenses

Lending fiat money against crypto collateral is a licensed activity in the European Union. The company will need either the credit intermediary license or the credit provider license. These licenses have to be registered  (so-called “passporting“) in every EU country with the Celsius current users or prospective users. It looks like these licenses are not available at the moment.

Additionally, Celsius accepts fiat deposits and pays interest for these deposits. If all depositors would be qualified investors, then there would be no restrictions. However, retail investors are a *protected class” in the EU and operating licenses are required.

Crypto custody licenses

EU defines with the AMLD5 the requirements to crypto custodians. EU member states have approved legislation, which fulfills the AMLD5 requirements. Some member states, for example, Germany go the extra mile – the require registration with the BaFin (German financial institutions regulator) if the company has German residents as their clients. These licenses are rather not visible at the moment

Fiat deposit licenses

Retail clients can deposit fiat currencies into their accounts. Strictly speaking, Celsius will need a license for this.

Investment Fund licenses

If Celsius offers investment logic and asset pooling behind the scenes, then it’s an investment contract, which is a regulated activity and which needs an investment fund license.

Why is it investment fund – it’s because the assets are pooled together and there is an investment contract between Celsius clients and Celsius company. Celsius actively manages retail investor funds by lending them out via the OTC and by lending out the crypto collateral as well. Investment funds need to be registered if they accept retail investor funds. Additionally, the operating company will need an Investment Fund Operator License.

The licensing requirements are described in the following drawing:

Celsius licenses
Celsius licenses

Additional comments:

  • Some of these licenses need to be registered in every country
  • Investment Fund Operator license can be registered in one country
  • In the case of the Investment Fund, which accepts retail assets, one will need a bank repository, which keeps the client assets (there are additional regulations on this too). This means it’s not enough to use BitGo services
  • Credit provider license should be registered or “passport” in every country
  • Crypto custody license might need registration in several European countries
  • Fiat deposits license might not be required if the full regulated investment fund is behind the scenes. Otherwise, it’s required

Providing cross-border services

Providing credit is regulated business, but doing marketing and onboarding the clients for the credit providers is regulated in most jurisdictions as well.

That’s the topic of cross-border banking services. Every jurisdiction has rules for:

  • Can credit providers from other jurisdictions do marketing for their services? Usually, they cannot …
  • Can credit providers from other jurisdictions onboard consumers for their services? Usually, they cannot …
  • Can credit providers from other jurisdictions offer services to the consumers? Usually, they cannot …

It looks like these regulatory elements are not yet fully factored into the Celsius existing business model.

Difference between Celsius and SmartCredit.io

Here are the key differences:

  • Celsius is a custodial solution, where SmartCredit.io is a non-custodial solution
  • Celsius offers fiat against crypto, SmartCredit.io does is only for crypto-to-crypto borrowing and lending
  • Celsius offers crypto deposit accounts with interest, SmartCredit.io offers client-specific Private Fixed Income Funds
  • Celsius offers a wide choice of classic blockchains as deposits/collateral, SmartCredit.io focuses on the Ethereum based tokens
  • Celsius offers rather high collateral ratio for the institutional borrowers, SmartCredit.io offers a rather low collateral ratio
  • Celsius loans are not transferable (but Celsius deposits can be canceled ad hoc), SmartCredit.io loans are transferable
  • SmartCredit.io has as well the Fixed Income Fund functionality, which will invest based on the investment rules

Celsius Review Summary

We looked in this article on the Celsius crypto lending platform review. This platform offers good features for the custodial lenders / custodial depositors. However:

  • It’s not fully clear at which terms are Celsius earning the revenues, it’s a little bit like a black box. More transparency would help to increase the trust of the users
  • It looks like the regulatory definition of Celsius is not fully completed from the licensing point of view

Our view is that these are side effects of the custodial business model where borrowers are institutional clients. Our view is that the non-custodial model will simplify the regulatory structure significantly.

SmartCredit.io is fully non-custodial and has no access to the client’s funds. This results in much simplified regulatory requirements and much higher transparency to the platform users.

Additional information

For more information check out the related articles from the SmartCredit.io blog:

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