Let’s face it, cryptocurrency would be virtually useless without somewhere to buy it, sell it, trade it, and allow it to develop into a fully functioning financial market. This technology is barely a decade old and so it continues to emerge with new innovations and features that will support further growth, to the great benefit of the trading community.
Recently, we’ve seen the emergence of Decentralized Exchanges (DEX), which operate without a central authority and allow for peer-to-peer trading. These new marketplaces are still in their infancy and lack many of the features of Centralized Exchanges, however, both types of exchange continue to grow at pace. Right now, all cryptocurrencies combined are valued in excess of $250 billion.
With so much money and opportunity at stake, this article will be focused on the major exchanges that are working night and day to keep your coins safe and allow you to trade to your heart’s content.
By trading volume, Binance is the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the world, but despite being the dominant force, it remains well-liked and users have kept loyal as the platform continues to deliver quality services and products. With Changpeng Zhao at the helm, they have a very transparent leader who is not shy to invest further into the platform (including the 2020 purchase of CoinMarketCap for $400m and the 2019 acquisition of India’s WazirX exchange). What makes Binance all the more impressive is that it took Binance less than a year from its July 2017 launch date to become the world’s biggest exchange.
- Offers CEX and DEX
- 591 markets
- Ranked #1 by CoinMarketCap
- Highest daily trade volume
San Francisco’s Coinbase has become the easiest and most convenient platform for new entrants into the crypto-world, especially as it allows fiat-to-crypto transactions in 32 different currencies. With revenues in the hundreds of millions of dollars, they’ve quickly become profitable, sustainable, and a key mainstay in the crypto-sphere. Coinbase is a Centralized Exchange, but they have developed many products and Dapps that act as decentralized extensions of their core platform.
Coinbase Pro was formerly known as GDAX, and it’s now a recommendable place for trading professionals to exchange valuable digital assets. Advanced traders can use this platform with lower fees and more suitable tools for their trading needs.
- 67 market pairings
- High liquidity
- Longevity and reliability
- High transaction fees
The world’s second-biggest cryptocurrency exchange by daily trading volume, Singapore-based Chinese Huobi has been growing confidently since 2013. With offices all over Asia, they’ve become the main trading platform for Asian crypto-traders, who can take advantage of the 541 different markets offered on their platform. Founded by former Oracle engineer Leon Li, it took Huobi only 7 months from launch to become China’s biggest digital asset trading company.
- Credit card payments approved
- Offers their own Huobi Token
- Huge security reserves in case of breaches or hacks
- Big community
Founded in July 2011, Kraken is one of the oldest and most reliable cryptocurrency exchanges in the world. It might not have the mega trading volumes or mass of market pairings that its competitors offer, but what it lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality. Kraken is also a big fan of acquiring smaller competitors (tokens and exchanges) and incorporating their technology, such as Coinsetter, Cavirtex, CleverCoin, Gildera, CryptoWatch, Cryptofinance.ai, Interchange, and Bit Trade. The founder of Kraken saw the collapse of Mt Gox in 2011 as his opportunity to build something more robust.
- Builds confidence and trust with users
- Low transaction fees
- Can be complex for beginners
- 161 market pairings
South Korea’s Bithumb has had a rough time over the last couple of years, after major hacks (some of which were suspected to be insider jobs), and major losses due to reduced trading volumes. They were also raided for tax evasion, laid off 75% of their staff, and have repeated experienced security issues. Confidence in Bithumb is at an all-time low, but it remains the best-rated exchange in South Korea, offering impeccable customer service from their world-class call centres to almost 5 million users. Let’s hope they’ve weathered the storm and their centralized exchange can move forward.
- 103 market pairings
- Trading around $250m a day
- Working hard to improve their service and image
Hong Kong’s Bitfinex entered the crypto-exchange market back in 2012 and for several years was seen as a powerhouse with a bright future. Sadly for them, after $73m worth of assets were stolen in a 2015 hack, they’ve been unable to restore normal banking relationships, especially with the US. After several lawsuits and suspicions of dodgy dealings, confidence in Bitfinex is low, however, the platform itself is actually very good for the average trader. If you can overlook the behind-the-scenes failures, Bitfinex is a great platform with 278 different market pairings and high levels of liquidity.
- Over the counter trading (OTC)
- Advanced security
- Dedicated servers to avoid shutdowns
bitFlyer is at the smaller end of the scale when compared to the other cryptocurrency exchanges in this article, but it’s worth including as it is Japan’s largest cryptocurrency exchange. Their platform only offers 5 markets, but that’s because stability is paramount to their mission. The management made sure that trust and reliability were key, and so gained licensing and passed the necessary regulations to trade in Japan, Europe and the US.
bitFlyer has proudly not been involved in any major hacking scandals, which sets them apart from other Japanese exchanges, such as Mt Gox, Tech Bureau, and Coincheck, which all lost millions of dollars and customers.
- Has a high-speed secondary exchange called bitFlyer Lightning
- Includes a popular mobile app
- Most popular and trusted exchange in Japan
Seattle-founded Bittrex was put together by a team of ex-Microsoft employees and offers 420 different market pairings. Now based in both Washington and Liechtenstein, a centre for the international development of the Blockchain, the popular platform has a wide range of benefits, such as high security, a custom-built trading engine, and fast deposits and withdrawals.
- High trust factor
- Keen to be an innovator and leader in the US crypto-market
- Founded in 2014
When it comes to daily trading volume, the Malta-based OkEx platform is ranked as the fourth biggest in the world. Their development has been fast but sustainable, and has allowed them to offer services in over 100 countries, for 383 different financial market pairings. Their fiat-to-crypto service is very good and enables users to quickly start trading and getting involved in the crypto-market. As well as their Centralized Exchange, they launched OkEx DEX which enables customer-to-customer trading when using their OKChain wallet (which stores no information).
- Secure integrated wallet
- Futures contracts available
- CTC, OTC, CEX and DEX
- WeChat, Alipay, bank transfers and credit cards can all be used to buy crypto
Hong Kong’s HitBTC has a mixed reputation. We’ve included it in this list because they offer more coin pairings on their platform than any other exchange, and that’s by quite a huge margin. HitBTC’s 832 pairings, compared to Hotbit (679) and Binance (591) makes them a very interesting proposition to many traders who wish to conveniently purchase rarer or less common cryptocurrencies without having to send them between multiple platforms and wallets.
They offer a competitive OTC service for transactions over $100k, and they have an easy-to-use trading platform with a pretty good API. But, regardless of all of their other benefits, HitBTC remains the go-to place for new and viable technologies to get their tokens listed, in fact, projects can submit an application and HitBTC will let them know if it has been approved in under 10 days. Sadly for many users, tech issues, disappearing funds, and poor customer support have left HitBTC with a reputation that it doesn’t care very much about its users.
- Great for altcoin trading
- Interesting for investors who want long term profits from obscure coins
- Low transaction fees
Throughout this article, you will have seen a few terms pop up time and time again. We’ve mentioned the importance of market pairings (such as USD/BTC, ETH/EOS), and that’s because an important factor of how reliable and institutionally secure an exchange is, can partially be defined by how many markets they have gained access to. We’ve also talked about daily trading volume, which indicates how much is being spent and traded per day on a platform, which may give assurances to size and user base, but doesn’t necessarily correlate with quality. That being said, a large user base and profits will allow a platform to develop better products and services and increase their quality over time. We’ve also mentioned how old some of these exchanges are, and the reason we’ve done that is that longevity can be used as a type of proof. If an exchange can survive for many years despite the volatility of the market, hacker groups, and changes to economic conditions, then they could be seen as a reliable place to purchase and trade digital assets.
Good luck trading out there!