If you hold crypto, and if I were a betting man, I would bet that you are likely holding your crypto in one of two places. It’s either on the exchange where you bought it (naughty!) or, if you’re someone who likes security, maybe you’ve transferred it to a wallet. Hopefully, a cold storage hardware wallet for ultimate safety.
Whether your crypto is on an exchange or in a wallet, unless it is an asset that can be staked from a wallet, chances are it is just sitting there like a lemon collecting dust.
Here is where you argue against me calling your precious Bitcoin a lemon, scoff, and ask sarcastically if lemons increase in value by hundreds of percent per year, and yeah, fair enough, you got me there. But aside from long-term capital appreciation, let’s be honest and say that most of us just sit there and watch the price of our favourite crypto assets bounce up and down day to day like a kid who ate too much sugar on a trampoline. Though it doesn’t need to be that way, there are ways that you can put that crypto to work while still holding out in hopes of gains in the future.
BlockFi allows you to do just that. It’s a centralised financial (CeFi) crypto platform that gives users the chance to earn interest on their crypto holdings, take out loans in USD using their crypto as collateral, spend using the BlockFi Bitcoin cashback credit card, and trade different cryptocurrencies. It’s also an institutional lender, offering loans in cryptocurrencies, stablecoins and USD to companies and organisations needing financial services.
In this review, we’ll take a closer look at BlockFi. The services it offers, the people behind it, and most importantly, if it is safe and worth your consideration.
If, after reading this article, you feel like you would like to give BlockFi a shot, Guy has managed to secure a pretty sweet deal from the folks over at BlockFi for the Coin Bureau community. Customers who sign up using this link can get a $250 welcome bonus!
Disclaimer that I personally use BlockFi as part of my personal crypto investment strategy.
What Can You Do With BlockFi?
Let’s start with an overview of the services and products that BlockFi offers. We’ll look at specifics like interest rates and supported assets and break down each of the platform’s key features.
Earn Interest in an Interest bearing account
This is perhaps the most popular feature of BlockFi for retail crypto users as it allows an opportunity to earn passive income on your crypto stash. Once you’ve gone through the KYC process and opened an account, you can transfer your crypto from a wallet or buy crypto directly on the platform and start earning compounding interest straight away.
Here is a look at what 0.1 BTC would look like after holding for 10 years:
The rates offered by BlockFi used to be among the highest available from CeFi platforms, though they have been reigning in the earnings potential a bit over the past year. The APYs offered by BlockFi are still fantastic and competitive on lower amounts, but anything over 0.1 Bitcoin and 1.5 ETH, and you may be better off looking at alternatives like Nexo or Celsius if a high APY is your primary goal.
The rates vary depending on the asset you’ve deposited and the amount. If you hold one of their three stablecoins, you can earn up to 8%, which is pretty good by anyone’s standards; good luck getting rates like that at your bank. Here is a look at some of the rates:
The total rates list and 20+ supported assets can be found here.
Note that BlockFi has recently had some troubles with the SEC, and as a result, BlockFi interest accounts are not available in the United States. BlockFi is working towards US regulation and compliance, but in the meantime, I recommend Nexo for US-based users.
Assets held in the interest accounts will earn compounding interest which is a big deal. Compounding is a potent tool, and Einstein himself once said:
“Compounding interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it earns it; he who doesn’t pays it.”
So, you definitely don’t want to pass up an opportunity to earn compounding interest. On BlockFi, crypto interest is calculated right from day one of deposit, and interest payments are made on the last business day of each month. Here is a great diagram from Acorns that illustrates the power of compounding interest:
Customers can choose two methods in how they want their earned interest paid. First, the interest generated can be paid out in the currency deposited initially, meaning that if you deposited BTC, you’ll receive monthly interest payments in BTC. The other option is that the platform has introduced a service called Interest Payment Flex, which allows customers to choose to receive those interest payments in a different currency, as long as it’s one of the assets supported by BlockFi. This is a fantastic option for anyone who wants to keep some dry powder on the side in stablecoins yet earn interest in BTC for their stablecoin holdings.
If you need access to cash but don’t want to sell your crypto holdings, then BlockFi offers crypto-backed loans. BlockFi customers can borrow for as little as 4.5% APR plus a 2% origination fee. For example, here is the amount of collateral in BTC you would need to borrow 10k:
The minimum loan amount is $10,000, and you can deposit either BTC, ETH, LTC, or PAXG as collateral. The money is then wired to your bank account in USD or to an external wallet in stablecoins GUSD or USDC. BlockFi promotes this service as an ideal way to finance big-ticket buys such as real estate, cars, holidays, paying down debt, avoiding triggering capital gains events by selling, or as an opportunity to diversify your financial portfolio. BlockFi actually has this awesome resource centre that highlights the multiple ways someone can benefit from crypto loans.
The amount of USD that customers can borrow depends on the amount of collateral posted against the loan and which loan to value (LTV) ratio is secured. The LTV is determined by the loan amount divided by the value of the collateral for the loan. Customers need to have more capital to deposit as collateral to qualify for that minimum $10,000 loan. The maximum loan-to-value (LTV) rate is 50%, with rates of 30% and 20% also available. Here’s a rundown of those loan rates in full:
Loan applications are processed quickly, with a decision from BlockFi often coming back within the same business day. The application doesn’t affect your credit score either, as BlockFi doesn’t perform hard or soft credit checks.
Rather than rely on credit checks, credit history, and income statements, BlockFi uses other factors to calculate interest rates, including loan size and the particular collateral being put up. This is a big attraction for many in the crypto space looking to break free from the red tape, restrictions, limitations, and often high-interest rates that traditional institutions often impose on their customers.
The repayment minimums are interest-only, and it is nice that overpayments can be made without incurring penalties. Here are the types of loan paybacks that customers can choose:
- Partial Payback: Customers can pay back a portion of their loan at any time. For loans less than $50,000, this will reduce the amount of interest paid monthly.
- Full Payoff: Customers can pay off their entire loan balance at any time and only pay the interest accrued through the date it is paid off.
One of the risks involved with crypto loans is the volatility in crypto. If your collateral value drops significantly, you may need to provide extra funds or pay down the loan balance. This is known as a trigger event. If your loan hits a 70% LTV rate, BlockFi will notify you of the need to take action to avoid having your collateral liquidated.
Crypto loans through BlockFi are not eligible for everyone as it varies by state and country and whether or not the customer was an existing client before regulatory changes. Check out their list of eligible jurisdictions to learn more.
BlockFi users can also deposit funds on the platform and use them to buy, sell, or trade for other crypto or stablecoins. Transactions are instant, and funds are deposited directly into your interest account, so you are earning interest from the minute the trade is placed.
Customers can purchase crypto via bank wire transfer and ACH. Options to fund your account are USD only, transfers can take 1-3 business days, and fiat is converted to stablecoins upon arrival.
You can get started for as little as $10 and even automate your buying strategy for your portfolio. Through BlockFi, customers can reduce volatility by setting up recurring buys over time, also known as dollar-cost averaging, and buy trades can be set to repeat daily, weekly, or monthly.
Crypto Rewards Credit Card
BlockFi was the first company to ever issue a crypto rewards credit card. I know you probably think this is no big deal, as crypto cards are a dime a dozen these days, but the BlockFi card is a step above the competition.
What sets the BlockFi card apart from the competition is that it is an actual credit card and, to my knowledge, is still the only one available on the market. Other crypto cards work either as pre-loaded debit cards or convert crypto to fiat at the point of purchase. Other crypto cards also often pay rewards in the platform’s token. For example, the Binance card pays cashback in BNB, the Crypto.com card pays cashback in CRO, the Plutus card pays cashback rewards in PLU etc. The BlockFi card pays customers unlimited 1.5% cashback on every purchase in that sweet digital gold, Bitcoin itself. Pretty sweet.
The card has no annual fee, no foreign transaction fees, and a promo where new users earn 3.5% cashback for their first 3 months. The card is only available for US residents at the time of writing, but they are looking to roll the card out internationally, hopefully sooner rather than later. If you are in the market for a crypto card, check out our article on the top crypto cards.
Institutional Lending & Services
BlockFi uses the crypto deposited by investors to finance loans to institutions. This is one of the main ways the platform makes money which we will go into more detail about later on. BlockFi caters to different types of institutions with a suite of digital investment products such as:
BlockFi Prime- Prime is a full suite of lending and trading capabilities geared towards institutions. Businesses can borrow digital assets or USD at negotiated terms for hedging, market-making, shorting, or other capital needs. BlockFi Prime services are ideal for:
- Investment funds
- Market Makers
- Pensions, endowments, foundations and insurance
- Miners, exchanges and ATMs
- Family offices and UHNW
- Decentralized organizations
BlockFi works closely with institutions and provides customizable and flexible products to build custom solutions to fit their needs.
BlockFi Trust- BlockFi offers a Bitcoin, Ethereum and Litecoin Trust to provide institutional and accredited investors with exposure to crypto assets without the need for the investors to understand the complexities of crypto investing and self-custody.
BlockFi Personal Yield
If you are someone fortunate enough to be considered a crypto whale, this service may be for you. BlockFi offers personalized yield services available to clients with at least $3M in assets available to invest.
High net-worth clients can negotiate rates, enjoy trading discounts and spreads, have access to a relationship manager and receive personalized support with “white-glove” service.
BlockFi’s leadership team is made up of people with plenty of relevant experience and some impressive credentials, which is always a positive start to any crypto project. The company was founded in 2017 and is based in New Jersey. Its co-founders are Zac Prince and Flori Marquez, who serve as CEO and SVP of operations, respectively.
Prince has a BA in International Business from Texas State University and a background in tech. Previous to BlockFi, Prince held the position of VP of business development at Orchard Platform and director of sales at Sociomantic Labs. Marquez, a Cornell graduate, brings traditional financial experience to the team, having worked at Bond Street and Oak Hill Advisors and is one of Crain’s rising stars in banking and finance for 2020.
Yuri Mushkin is the Chief Risk Officer and oversees BlockFi’s enterprise risk management strategy and operations. Before BlockFi, Yuri served as the Chief Risk Officer for Beneficent Group LLP, a private equity/alternative asset custodian. Prior to that, he worked at McKinsey and Company and Goldman Sachs, so Mr. Mushkin certainly has extensive experience and knowledge that he brings to the BlockFi team.
The rest of the leadership team has a similar mix of experience in FinTech and finance with decades of experience in consumer lending and financial services. BlockFi also benefits from significant institutional backing from investors, including Valar Ventures, Winklevoss Capital, Galaxy Digital, Fidelity, 3 Arrows Capital, and others. One of the strongest signs of confidence when evaluating whether or not a crypto platform is reputable and reliable is by looking at a list of its investors, and BlockFi has some big money behind it.
The company has experienced explosive growth since their launch and currently employ 794 staff members around the world, according to LinkedIn. BlockFi is trusted by over 1M verified clients and 350 global institutions and are currently managing over $10B in crypto assets. The platform and team behind it are heavily respected in the retail and institutional crypto spaces for being transparent, innovative, and trustworthy. It is easy to see why BlockFi is one of the largest and most well-trusted lending platforms in the crypto space.
It is good to be aware of the fees and limitations involved before going all-in with a platform like BlockFi. To avoid hefty fees while withdrawing, it may be best to only withdraw larger amounts and only when necessary or transfer crypto out to a cheaper exchange with a fiat off-ramp and stay within the one free crypto withdraw per month limit. Here is a breakdown of withdrawal fees:
- Wire: $20 withdrawal fee for domestic wires and $30 withdrawal fee for international wires. BlockFi states that these fees are imposed by their bank partner, and they are not responsible for fees that many banks charge to receive wires.
- ACH: BlockFi does not charge a fee to send a bank transfer to your bank, and they state that they are not responsible for any fees that might be charged by the receiving institution
For crypto withdrawals, BlockFi has a complex withdrawal structure that includes one free crypto withdrawal per calendar month depending on the asset, as shown here:
Image via BlockFi
If you are looking to get your hands on that sweet Bitcoin cashback credit card, here are the fees to be aware of:
- Annual Fee: $0
- Balance Transfer: N/A (Balance Transfers are not available)
- Cash Advance Fee: N/A (Cash Advances are not available)
- Foreign Transaction Fee: None
- Late Payment Fee: Up to $25.00
- Return Payment: Up to $37.00
- Over-the-credit-limit: None
All internal transfers made on the platform are free, as are stablecoin withdrawals via bank transfer. BlockFi has no commission fees nor monthly/annual fees for keeping your crypto on the platform, so customers can rest easy in hodler paradise knowing that they can earn that nice APY free of fees.
The loan fees are discussed above in the loan section; users will have to pay the 2% origination fee on top of the loan interest rate and pay the origination fee again should they wish to extend their loan maturity for another year.
How BlockFi Makes Money
While I haven’t gone through BlockFi’s accounting statements, tax returns, investment statements nor counted their pennies to figure out how every cent is made, they do make it clear that the primary way that they make money is from the funds that investors deposit onto the platform, and of course, their massive capital raising events. The funds deposited with BlockFi are used to finance loans to organisations and customers through a process known as rehypothecation.
The interest that BlockFi pays out is paid at a lower rate than the rate collected from clients who borrow. Loans are over-collateralised, and the platform has automated risk management systems that constantly assess the health of all its outstanding loans.
The company itself has identified three main types of organisations that use its services in this way:
- Traders and investment funds: These are people and firms looking for arbitrage opportunities and who look to borrow crypto to close mispricing between exchanges or dispersed markets. Margin traders may also borrow to cover the costs of their trading strategies.
- Over the counter (OTC) market makers: BlockFi connects buyers and sellers looking to do business away from public exchanges that often have high fees and mark-ups. Rather than commit capital to own crypto outright, institutions may prefer to borrow to meet liquidity needs.
- Businesses needing crypto to provide liquidity: Institutions may want to keep the majority of their assets in cold storage but still need liquidity to provide for their customers.
The upswing in the price of crypto assets as adoption and popularity grows, combined with an increase in client sign-ups, has seen BlockFi’s asset pool and profitability grow considerably since the last funding round. In Q4 of 2021, BlockFi announced that it closed on a massive $350M Series D funding event that valued the company at a whopping $3 billion.
This is up considerably from the $50M Series C funding round that took place just six months prior when the company was only valued at $450 million. This all points to evidence that BlockFi is growing at breakneck speeds, and investors are confident in the platform’s growth, health, and sustainability.
Is BlockFi Safe?
BlockFi’s primary custodian is Gemini, which completed its SOC 2 Type 2 compliance exam, making it the first crypto exchange to attain this level of security. Gemini is regulated by the New York State Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) and keeps 95% of its assets in cold, air-gapped storage. BlockFi further spreads risk by utilizing custodial solutions from BitGo and Coinbase to avoid having all their eggs in one basket.
Gemini’s security protocols are among the most trusted globally by high net-worth and institutional clients who trust the company with custodianship of billions of dollars worth of assets. Therefore, the chances of funds being stolen or accounts hacked are extremely low. Like all crypto assets, funds held with BlockFi are not insured by FDIC or SPIC, but in the event of a breach, BlockFi carries insurance from Aon, and any losses would hopefully be compensated for.
As well as Gemini’s iron tight security, BlockFi themselves employ a range of features to keep client accounts safe. Two-factor authentication is in place, and all passwords and personal information are encrypted.
The platform also lets users enable ‘Allowlisting’ (aka whitelisting) on their accounts. This is an option that clients can use to ensure that funds can only be withdrawn to pre-approved addresses. They can even leave their Allowlists blank, which would prevent any withdrawals from taking place at all. In addition, the BlockFi mobile app can have biometric authentication enabled for another layer of security.
All these security features, custodial solutions, and insurance give many users confidence that BlockFi is safe to use.
At the time of writing, there have been no known successful attacks or breaches of security resulting in stolen funds. However, the BlockFi team did have a significant and slightly humorous blunder that severely damaged the platform’s reputation. In May 2021, BlockFi mistakenly deposited oversized Bitcoin payments to customers, resulting in some customers becoming sudden millionaires overnight.
Image via fool.com
These payments were associated with a promotion that BlockFi was running, in which the customers would receive USD in the GUSD stablecoin. Somehow, many accounts were paid the amount denominated in Bitcoin, not GUSD, with some customers receiving over 700 BTC, which was worth 28 million dollars at the time. Imagine opening up your BlockFi account to find 28 million in there! I’d be packing my suitcase and off to travel the world.
BlockFi was able to recover some of the funds from customers who did not withdraw off the platform, and for the customers who did withdraw the funds (since Bitcoin transactions cannot be reversed), BlockFi had to reach out and ask the customers to return the BTC. BlockFi even went as far as threatening legal action and offering $500 in compensation to those who did not return the funds straight away.
The drama did not end there. The threatening emails were not well received. Many users who withdrew their own Bitcoin and did not even realize what was going on were surprised and shocked to find the threatening emails in their inboxes as the emails were sent to many of the wrong customers. There has been a lot of debate as to whether or not BlockFi would even be able to successfully take legal action on their mistake. As far as I could tell, BlockFi did end up recovering all the funds. How embarrassing; I would hate to be the employee who pulled the trigger on that blunder.
There’s a good list of FAQs and a comprehensive knowledge article section on BlockFi’s website, answering most customers’ questions. In addition, the Contact Us page on BlockFi is a great place to navigate to as it houses all of the different contact information, phone numbers, email addresses etc., that customers can reach out to for specific issues.
BlockFi’s support team can be reached via ticket submission, email, and telephone support during business hours. In addition, there’s a live chat support bot that you can interact with, which I never personally find very useful on any site. Sorry support bots, but you aren’t as good as human support…yet.
Reviews of the quality of the support provided by BlockFi seem mixed on sites like Trustpilot and Reddit, with some complaints about slow response times. I have personally had to reach out to BlockFi for an issue and waited well over a week for a response. Though this was a while ago, I wouldn’t expect world-class support from the team unless you are one of those high-value clients that have your own personal account rep.
BlockFi has a lot of benefits to offer crypto holders and is used by millions of satisfied customers worldwide. It is a great platform that offers traditional banking solutions to the crypto community, which is great to see. Lending platforms like BlockFi, Celsius, and Nexo are seeing some of the fastest growth and adoption in the crypto space as crypto holders flock to these platforms to earn a nice APY or utilize crypto collateralized loans.
Another reason for the explosion in popularity is that these CeFi platforms provide an easier way for crypto holders to benefit from their crypto holdings without having to understand and navigate the complexities of DeFi.
BlockFi has a strong team with a healthy mix of experience in blockchain tech and traditional finance, and there is no lack of support from investors. Customers are signing up at an increasing pace as crypto becomes more popular and the insane jump in BlockFi’s valuation is a clear sign that the business is absolutely booming. Aside from their mistake in making it rain Bitcoin, there is no lack of security protocols in place keeping funds safe either, so customers who use BlockFi can sleep peacefully knowing their funds are safe and insured.
The platform is really easy to navigate, and the mobile app is a breeze to manage your portfolio on the go. I am a fan of simple to navigate, intuitive platforms, and I am pretty sure I could have my grandmother surfing the site like a pro within minutes.
The most significant risk with BlockFi is a hotly debated topic among crypto holders, and that is the issue with ownership and the old mantra “not your keys, not your crypto.” Users should be aware that when you transfer your crypto to a custodial platform like BlockFi, it is technically out of your control, and the platform ultimately has control over those funds, so you need to be sure that you trust the platform or exchange that is holding your funds.
One should also make sure that they feel that the interest they are likely to earn is worth the risk of handing over control of their crypto assets to a third party. It’s important to understand that the funds you deposit onto BlockFi are being lent out to other users on the platform, and there is always a risk of mass defaults on loans, however unlikely that may be.
I should also note that, to many customers’ disappointment, including my own, BlockFi has repeatedly dropped the interest rates they are paying out on crypto holdings. While BlockFi used to have fantastic rates on crypto holdings, they are now only paying a measly 1% on BTC accounts with over 0.1 BTC, so double-check the tier rates before depositing and make sure you know how much you are earning and if it is worth it.
With that bit of negativity out of the way, there is no doubt that BlockFi is a legitimate and trustworthy platform and that they can be trusted with your crypto. It is a good way to earn passive APY on your holdings and borrow against your crypto.
Disclaimer: These are the writer’s opinions and should not be considered investment advice. Readers should do their own research.