FTX Contagion Revives Dreaded 2022 Crypto Knell – The ‘Withdrawal Halt’

In the crypto industry in 2022, the phrase "halting withdrawals" is like black smoke billowing out of a building. Damage is certain.

Technically it means that a crypto exchange or lender has gated customers from being able to get their money or digital tokens back – typically because there’s just not enough assets on hand to meet redemption requests. The likely upshot, though, is that the business is unlikely to recover easily from the destruction. In many cases, a bankruptcy filing is the next step.

Now, the rapid unraveling of once-billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried’s crypto empire, including the FTX exchange and the crypto trading firm Alameda Research, has unleashed a fresh wave of crypto exchanges and lenders halting customers’ withdrawals over the past few weeks.

The collateral damage lengthens a list of casualties from the dramatic collapse of the Terra blockchain earlier this year, which accelerated or led directly to the failures of crypto firms including Celsius Network, Babel Finance, Voyager and Three Arrows of Capital.

The contagion can spread swiftly. When one company suddenly refuses redemption requests, another company suddenly faces a liquidity crisis. Market jitters unnerve investors, leading to further withdrawal requests, exacerbating the panic. Such is the pattern in digital-asset markets where there is no Federal Reserve or central bank backstopping it all – as there is in the traditional financial system.

(CoinDesk counts 16 distinct withdrawal-halt announcements this year; the list is below.)

“For each player, you're going to be in this situation where all of a sudden you have to manage how much information you want to reveal,” said Benoit Bosc, global head of product at crypto trading firm and liquidity provider GSR. “It might be more information than you actually want to reveal them.”

BlockFi, Genesis

BlockFi, a crypto lender, paused client withdrawals from its platform on Nov. 10, citing the “lack of clarity” around FTX's current situation; it was two days after the FTX exchange fully halted customer withdrawals on Nov. 8. BlockFi later acknowledged its “significant exposure” to FTX.

Last week, Genesis, a big crypto financial firm, announced its lending unit had suspended redemptions and new loan originations, citing “the extreme market dislocation and loss of industry confidence caused by the FTX implosion.” Earlier in the year, the business suffered hundreds of millions of dollars in losses after Three Arrows Capital’s failure.

Bosc cited Warren Buffett’s oft-repeated quote: “‘When the tide goes out, you see who is swimming naked.’”

Nicholas Colas, co-founder of the market analysis firm DataTrek Research, wrote in a note that the current crisis will take time to be resolved, and “until then this space will likely see more selling pressure.”

The following is a timeline of crypto firms’ withdrawal suspensions in the past few weeks:

Nov. 8: The FTX exchange halted customer withdrawals, an FTX support employee said in the company's official Telegram group.

Nov. 10: Crypto lender BlockFi halted withdrawals from its platform, citing the “lack of clarity” around FTX's current situation at that time. (In a Nov. 14 update, the lender acknowledged its “significant exposure” to FTX.)

Nov. 11: FTX US ceased processing crypto withdrawals. The same day, FTX Group companies – including FTX Trading and FTX US – filed for bankruptcy protection in the U.S.

Nov. 13: The Hong Kong-based crypto exchange AAX said it had suspended withdrawal for as long as 10 days due to ​​the failure of an unidentified third party. The company said it had no financial exposure to FTX or its affiliates. On Nov. 23, AAX announced to close out derivatives positions.

Nov. 15: The Japanese crypto exchange Liquid, owned by FTX, suspended both fiat and crypto withdrawals on its Liquid Global platform “in compliance with the requirements of voluntary Chapter 11 proceedings in the United States.” The exchange announced on Nov. 20 that it had paused all forms of trading on its platform.

Nov. 15: Crypto lending platform SALT said it had halted all deposits and withdrawals on its platform due to FTX exposure.

Nov. 16: Crypto investment bank Genesis Global Trading’s lending unit temporarily suspended redemptions and new loan originations, citing “in response to the extreme market dislocation and loss of industry confidence caused by the FTX implosion.”

Nov. 16: The Winklevoss brothers’ Gemini exchange said it was pausing withdrawals on its yield-earning Earn program as the exchange suffered a $485 million rush of outflows following Genesis' announcement earlier in the day. Genesis Global Trading powered the Earn program for Gemini.

And here is a timeline of withdrawal suspensions from earlier this year:

June 12: Celsius says that it is “pausing all withdrawals, swaps and transfers between accounts.” (Celsius filed for bankruptcy on July 13.)

June 17: Babel says that “redemptions and withdrawals from Babel Finance products will be temporarily suspended.”

June 23: CoinFLEX announces that it is “pausing all withdrawals.”

July 1: Voyager Digital says that it is “temporarily suspending trading, deposits, withdrawals and loyalty rewards.” (Voyager filed for bankruptcy on July 5.)

July 4: Vauld says that it “made the difficult decision to suspend all withdrawals, trading and deposits.”

July 20: Zipmex says that it is “pausing withdrawals until further notice.”

August 2: ZB.com announces that "deposit and withdrawal services are now suspended" after losing nearly five million in a suspected hack.

August 8: Hodlnaut says that it "will be halting withdrawals, token swaps and deposits with immediate effect."