Kraken, a cryptocurrency exchange based in the United States, is expanding into the Middle East and will establish its regional headquarters in Abu Dhabi after obtaining a full license to operate a regulated trading platform in the UAE.
“We’re incredibly excited to be able to set up our operations right in the ADGM [Abu Dhabi Global Market] itself to operate a virtual asset platform that finally offers Dirham pairs for investors in the region,” Kraken’s managing director for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, Curtis Ting, told CNBC’s, Dan Murphy.
After receiving regulatory approval from the ADGM and the Financial Services Regulatory Authority, Kraken will become the first cryptocurrency exchange to offer direct funding and trading in UAE dirhams against bitcoin, ether, and a variety of other virtual assets.
“It’s critical for us to ensure that investors and traders in the region have access to local currencies in order to facilitate access to global markets and global liquidity,” Ting said.
Kraken, which was founded in 2011 and now operates in over 60 countries, stated that the UAE launch represents a larger foray into an increasingly lucrative region. According to Chainalysis, the Middle East is one of the world’s fastest-growing cryptocurrency markets, accounting for 7% of global trading volumes.
Each year, the UAE trades approximately $25 billion in cryptocurrency. According to Chainalysis data collected between July 2020 and June 2021, it ranks third in the region in terms of volume, trailing Lebanon (about $26 billion) and Turkey ($132.4 billion).
“One of the reasons we see an influx of entrepreneurs, builders, operators, and developers coming into Abu Dhabi and Dubai… is that there is a sense of greater regulatory clarity at ADGM, in Dubai, and at the federal level,” Ronit Ghose, global head of fintech and digital at Citi, said on CNBC’s “Capital Connection” on Thursday.
“Some of the talent the UAE has attracted in the last 12 to 24 months during COVID is frankly amazing,” Ghose said. “Is it really starting to establish itself as a crypto hub as well as a Web3 hub?”
Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange by trading volume, is among those considering expanding its presence in the Middle East, where cryptocurrency trading is becoming more popular.
Binance was recently granted permission to operate in Abu Dhabi, where it will recruit for over 100 positions. Last month, fellow exchange Bybit received approval to open a headquarters in Dubai, while FTX received a virtual-asset license in Dubai and will soon establish a regional headquarters.
Rival financial centers in Singapore and Hong Kong are also attempting to create fully regulated environments for cryptocurrency trading, with the goal of strengthening regulatory mechanisms in order to attract investment and trading volumes in an increasingly competitive landscape.
But while the Emirates might be winning over some of the world’s largest crypto companies, it’s also coming under increasing international scrutiny for not doing enough to crack down on so-called dirty money flows.