2C2P | Payments Powerhouses: Decrypting Crypto with Alrick Oh, VP of…
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Payments Powerhouses: Decrypting Crypto with Alrick Oh, VP of Marketing at Coinhako

In this instalment of Payments Powerhouses, we chat with Alrick Oh, VP of Marketing at Coinhako, about the crypto industry’s ups and downs, changing consumer expectations and increased regulatory safeguards.

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Alrick Oh is the Vice President of Marketing at Coinhako. He started his career in crypto when he was fresh out of university and digital currency was still in its nascent stage. Over the past six years, he has built a dynamic, multi-function marketing and communications department from scratch that has helped propel Coinhako into one of Singapore’s top financial apps.

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Welcome to Payments Powerhouses, Alrick. As one of the first hires of Coinhako, you have contributed immensely to where it is now — one of Singapore’s top financial apps with a team of over 100. I’m curious, how did you get into crypto?

Alrick: So, a fun fact: I actually started my career in crypto straight after university. I’d chanced upon crypto when I heard about “Bitcoin” on a TV series.

During that time, I was also working on my dissertation and exploring growth in adopting disruptive technologies in financial services. I found out that many FinTechs were started to improve the financial ecosystem in a post-2008 financial crisis world.

So, when I heard about Bitcoin’s value proposition to improve the financial ecosystem, I was enthralled and did my research. I felt that it was something I could talk about in my dissertation. That was how I first heard about it, but my first exposure only came about after I graduated.

I was one of those guys — I just never wanted to work. So, I ended up trading cryptocurrencies, thinking I could get rich. It went pretty well in the first couple of weeks, but after that, I got a bit arrogant, made a couple of bad trades and lost most of my money.

After that, as a fresh grad with no money, I realised, “Hey, I need to get a job”. Back then, when I graduated, if you Googled crypto jobs in Singapore, only Coinhako was available. So I sent my CV in, met up with our co-founder and CEO, Yusho, and joined the company as their seventh employee.

I've been there for about six years, and it's been an incredible journey so far. I've seen the company grow from just a team of seven to the size we are today.

I'm curious about the name Coinhako. What does it mean?

There are two parts. So “coin” is very intuitive because of crypto coins. “Hako” is a Japanese word which means box. So — “coin box”.

Why did we choose this Japanese word? It’s because our CEO, Yusho, is half Japanese. So that's how the whole idea came about.

In a nutshell, what does Coinhako do?

Coinhako is the market-leading platform that provides safe, reliable and seamless access to digital assets like Bitcoin. Coinhako allows you to trade your fiat currencies for cryptocurrencies. For example, if you want to buy Ethereum to participate in certain ETH-based DeFi protocols, you can use Coinhako to make a trade in Singapore dollars. It will be done within a couple of minutes. This is the core of it.

With the recent spate of events surrounding crypto, such as the collapse of FTX, how have consumer expectations changed from when you first joined Coinhako and now?

The market back when I first joined Coinhako and the market today is very, very different. The reason for this was in 2021 — I think that's what we can call the last bull market. That period is what many of us would call the greatest adoption of cryptocurrencies at any point in time thus far — the biggest wave of new crypto owners happened during that period of time.

In 2021, a lot of people came into the crypto space on the basis of just wanting to spot trade. But naturally, the market started getting a lot more mature, and people started having a bigger appetite for more types of crypto technology.

And that’s where you see, later in 2022, how NFTs became the big thing. Because at that point in time, a lot of those new crypto owners in 2021 started delving deeper into the Web 3.0 space. And then GameFi and DeFi started surging in popularity, and so forth. So I think the market today is definitely a lot more mature and more familiar with technology.

How about regulatory safeguards, then? Has the increase in regulatory safeguards affected the industry and Coinhako?

Other than retail investors, what we are seeing today is also how more institutions are getting more interested in this space. Why? I think there are just a lot more regulatory standards around today that allow them to fit digital currencies into their business models.

Also, as of last year, certain guidelines were released in Singapore whereby we can’t use third-party services to market our platforms. What this means is no Google ads, no Facebook ads, no agencies, and we can’t run promotions via ecommerce platforms.

So in Coinhako’s case, because we are so heavily reliant on Singapore's market, we had to focus a lot more on content marketing strategies and grow our platform organically. We have to focus a lot on product marketing and showcasing our products.

In the very early days of Coinhako, we realised the importance of having a strong community. Early on, we relied on our community, and how we grew was through word of mouth. We have a referral programme which has been one of our strongest points of customer acquisition.

We also used to work with local media platforms to drive conversations about cryptocurrencies, but due to the regulatory restrictions last year, we can no longer take that route. What we are doing right now is enhancing our blog to provide educational content.

Additionally, when the guidelines came out last year, we had to do quite a lot of consultations with our legal and compliance team to draft our internal framework. So there's clarity in terms of how we can market to Singapore. Most of my days are spent looking at all the content that my team has drafted and making sure that it doesn't go against any of the guidelines out there.

Have your views on the industry changed?

Let’s just put it this way, right? I wouldn't have been in this space for this long if I didn't have faith in the market.

Yes, there were quite a lot of scandals last year; it's very unfortunate. Naturally, when the market is slightly bearish, the media tends to focus on the negatives a bit more. And when the market is a bit more bullish, the news also seems more bullish. Last year, crypto was often touted as the future — a lot of these narratives were being pushed out. And today’s narrative is that crypto is back to being this very thing that we should avoid entirely.

I always like to put it this way: crypto is still very much experimental. It is a 14-year industry; Bitcoin came out in 2009. So, there are still a lot of things that the market is figuring out. And I think all these scandals that happened last year show that there are still a lot of faults with merging centralised business models and cryptocurrencies.

However, on a positive note, these events are helping the market mature and pushing us to find ways to further derisk the market. Because now, we have seen how centralised entities can just implode at any point in time. As a result, governments are also gaining a bit more clarity in terms of how they can structure their regulations in their jurisdictions for crypto firms.

What would you say is the biggest misconception in crypto?

To be honest, my point of view on this might be a bit contentious, but I think it’s the whole narrative that crypto and Web 3.0 are the future.

I mean, don't get me wrong, I think the existence of cryptocurrencies has done a great job accelerating the development of financial technology.

Just think about it today, banks are all talking about having their own version of digital currencies, including government institutions. What was very interesting when I went to the Singapore Fintech Festival last year was that every major payment company out there has some prototype of their own self-custody wallet.

So companies are evolving towards that direction, and this wouldn't happen without the existence of the decentralised world that's really pushing companies to innovate. The problem with framing it as the future is that a lot of people come to this place thinking, “Hey, crypto is going to take over the entire financial ecosystem”.

I feel that the right way to view this is that both the crypto ecosystem and the traditional financial ecosystem should coexist. That creates healthy competition and will allow both sides to continue to innovate, which is overall very healthy for the general financial ecosystem.

Speaking of government institutions, there have been quite a few developments across the world regarding CBDCs. Will CBDCs pose a threat to the industry?

This is very similar to my point about how crypto and the traditional finance space should coexist. Likewise, CBDCs and decentralised cryptocurrency should coexist.

Why? They operate very differently. CBDCs function on a closed network, whereby people who contribute to this development are chosen by whoever is running the CBDC.

But with a cryptocurrency, which is decentralised, it is an open network whereby anyone in the world can participate in its development. This brings a lot of fresh and interesting ideas on finance and how we can manage currencies. As a result, entities working on these CBDCs can benefit from these ideas from the decentralised space. All in all, this will accelerate innovation.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into the space?

If you want to become a new digital asset owner, do your research. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. That's the same for any other investment out there. Maybe put in a little bit, put $50 in, check it out, go and try some apps, and see what it's all about before you decide if this is something for you.

Don't rush into it. Don't go in because of FOMO (fear of missing out). So yeah, make sure that you know what you're getting into because I think that's one of the biggest problems with a lot of people coming into this space.

In terms of career, I would say if you are coming from a non-crypto industry, make sure you go in with an open mind. Because this industry has a lot of quirks, and it's very different from a lot of other industries out there.

For example, one thing I see that comes as a huge shock to people from the corporate world is that you work with bosses who are likely to be a lot younger than you. The fact of the matter is, a lot of the crypto adopters come from the millennial generation or even younger. And today, because they got in early, they are founders of different projects and companies.

As a result, you might find that there are a lot of corporate structures that are lacking as well. The best way to do this is to think about how you can come in as a mentor for these people and bring your experience to help them scale their company.

I've seen people come and go, and the biggest problem is that some people come in and expect certain crypto firms to work the way other corporations do. As a result, they do not stay for long.

If you want to enter the space, don't just come into crypto because you think crypto is the future. You must know why you think that crypto is the future. What is the value that it is bringing to society? Understanding that will allow you to assimilate a lot better into this industry.

Having talked a lot about the crypto industry, let’s wrap up with this: What do you do outside of crypto?

This is actually a very good question. Because whenever I go out, people tend to identify me as the crypto guy. Your identity tends to revolve around crypto somehow. But all of us in the industry, we are people as well.

I personally enjoy travelling. Fun fact: I've visited about 34 countries. Right now, I’m trying to hit 40 before I am 40. I also enjoy music – I play piano. All in all, outside crypto, I’m a very normal guy.

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Payments Powerhouses is a monthly editorial series interviewing the movers and shakers of the payments and wider fintech industry in Southeast Asia and beyond. If you’d like to be featured on Payments Powerhouses, reach out to us here.