Coinbase ‘committed’ to India, but disables sign-ups amid regulatory roadblock

Coinbase said Monday that it has disabled new user sign-ups on its exchange product in India but remains committed to the country, where its operations have been in limbo for over a year. The clarification comes days after Coinbase sent emails to many customers in India in which it said it would cease exchange operations after September 25.

The U.S.-based crypto exchange operator said some customers who didn’t meet the company’s updated standards received the emails and the message doesn’t impact others in the country. The email cautioned those users to move their funds by September 25.

“We stopped allowing new user sign-ups on our exchange product in India back in June of this year. We maintain a robust tech hub in the country and offer live products, including our Coinbase Wallet. We are committed to India over the long term and continue to explore ways to strengthen our presence in this important market,” a Coinbase spokesperson told TechCrunch in an email.

The eponymous exchange app from Coinbase, which is also an investor in top Indian crypto exchanges CoinDCX and CoinSwitch Kuber, has fewer than 50,000 monthly active users in India, according to Sensor Tower data shared by an industry executive. But it maintains a high-mindshare among crypto enthusiasts in the country. CoinDCX and CoinSwitch remain operational in India.

Coinbase hasn’t been able to make any inroads with the local authorities for over a year, when it launched the exchange in India. The progress with the local officials has frustrated executives, including Durgesh Kaushik, who joined the firm last year as senior director for Market Expansion only to leave mere months later.

Coinbase’s chief executive Brian Armstrong flew to India last year to launch the exchange service in the country by adding support for the locally popular UPI payment instrument. However, the payments body that oversees UPI immediately refused to acknowledge Coinbase’s India launch, and days later Coinbase suspended support for the payments system.

Coinbase at the time said it was committed to working with the NPCI (National Payments Corporation of India) and other relevant authorities and said it was experimenting with other payments methods, something that never materialized.

In May last year, Armstrong said Coinbase had to halt the trading service in India because of “informal pressure” from the Reserve Bank of India, India’s central bank.

Armstrong pointed out that cryptocurrency trading is not illegal in India — in fact, the South Asian nation just recently started to tax it — but there are “elements in the government there, including at Reserve Bank of India, who don’t seem to be as positive on it. And so they — in the press, it’s been called a ‘shadow ban,’ basically, they’re applying soft pressure behind the scenes to try to disable some of these payments, which might be going through UPI,” he said.

For the past five years, Indian authorities have maintained a careful stance on cryptocurrencies, emphasizing the need for international collaboration to manage these digital assets.

The G20 countries unveiled a Leaders’ Declaration over the weekend that said the nations endorse the Financial Stability Board’s (FSB’s) high-level recommendations for the regulation, supervision and oversight of crypto-assets activities and markets and of global stablecoin arrangements.

“We ask the FSB and SSBs to promote the effective and timely implementation of these recommendations in a consistent manner globally to avoid regulatory arbitrage. We welcome the shared FSB and SSBs workplan for crypto assets. We welcome the IMF-FSB Synthesis Paper, including a Roadmap, that will support a coordinated and comprehensive policy and regulatory framework taking into account the full range of risks and risks specific to the emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs) and ongoing global implementation of FATF standards to address money laundering and terrorism financing risks.”

The story, an earlier version of which said Coinbase planned to discontinue services in India, citing customer emails, was updated thoroughly with Coinbase’s statement.