Coinbase is currently the biggest Bitcoin exchange and broker in the US. Having started out in 2012 with brokerage only, the company has branched out to offer advanced trading services, a retail wallet, commerce services, and institutional support as a broker/custodian for Bitcoin.
While Coinbase serves 35 million users in over 100 countries, it’s also the primary onboarding ramp for Americans wanting to enter the crypto markets. Because of their size, user base and large quantity of crypto assets available, Coinbase offers a high level of liquidity to investors. In December 2020, exchange volume for Conibase was almost double that of Kraken (yet only 16% of Binance.com, which is based in Hong Kong and is not available to the US).
Coinbase and CEO Brian Armstrong have attracted leading investors who are backing the exchange, with $540 million invested by companies like Andreessen Horowitz and The NYSE. When MicroStrategy recently announced its $425M Bitcoin buy, it was Coinbase who brokered the deal. In early 2021 Coinbase went public.
“Coinbase stock is what every exchange token wants to be but never really captures: real ownership of an exchange where the fastest growing asset in the world trades.”
– Luke Martin, Venture Coinist
It’s interesting that such a well funded exchange that is so involved with institutional Bitcoin buyers and hedge funds would also be the main onramp for newbies.
Additionally, Coinbase has the reputation in the cryptocommunity of having latency issues (systems going down) during every big Bitcoin uptick. During our research, we found this to be an overly critical as it isn’t uncommon across the board with other exchanges as well. Whether this happens due to increased volume stressing current systems or something more nefarious is hard to determine. It should also be noted that 3rd party review sites are rife with fake reviews and spam, and that the crypto industry in the US, due to the regulatory stranglehold, is intensely competitive. Additionally, when you are providing a service to 35 million users who are learning a new technology, it is not unimaginable that there would be a lot of growing pains.
Throughout this review, we’ll refer to Coinbase.com (which enables crypto buys, sells and transfers), as well as CoinbasePro (for advanced trading). We’ll also touch on a few of Coinbase’s additional offerings including CoinbasePrime (brokerage for institutions).
Coinbase provides a quick and easy way for global investors of all skill levels to buy and store forty difference cryptocurrencies. Buying fees are competitive with other major US exchanges, but fees for trading and transferring to external wallets of Coinbase are high. When reviewing the Coins available on Coinbase, it’s important to note that some cryptocurrencies are available in certain regions but not in others.
A quick, simple set-up enables businesses to accept cryptocurrencies as payment, with no fees at this time for the service. The crypto you take in as a merchant this way may be sold for cash or USDC. This service has been one of the few ways for companies to accept crypto since before 2017. Additionally, chargebacks are not possible since cryptocurrencies are involved, which utilize immutable blockchain ledgers for transactions.
Coinbase.com offers staking (not CoinbasePro) on a few altcoins, including Cosmos (ATOM) and Tezos (XTZ). You must have Level 2 verification to participate.
How it works is that you can hold these cryptocurrencies on Coinbase.com to earn more of the same coins. You only need a few dollars to get started (i.e. 1 ATOM) and the first rewards payout is credited to your account after about 40 days. From that point on, rewards hit your account every 3 days. You can stop or start staking at any time.
Users can also earn rewards when holding Coinbase’s USDC stablecoin. You only need at least $1 worth of USDC to begin earning.
The level of resources available to newcomers to the crypto space are staggeringly lacking. There is virtually no mention of how to safely store cryptocurrencies. This is mainly due to the fact that Coinbase diverts a lot of funds and attention to their own safe storage systems. But making crypto so easy to buy without mentioning risk factors or safe wallet practices seems problematic.
Coinbase does offer an Earn Crypto learning program where you watch a video, have several tries to answer a question, and when correct you earn a bit of cryptocurrency. These quizzes are usually added as new coins are added to the exchange as a means to get people to familiarize themselves with the new assets. The quiz is set up so that anyone can try multiple answers without watching the videos.
Information about safe storage of cryptocurrency private keys and ways to protect one’s digital assets from sim swaps and other scams is non-existent on the Coinbase websites. That said, this isn’t overly uncommon among large exchanges and in recent months, since they have gone public, Coinbase has beefed up their blog exponentially and more of these types of resources have been addressed.
Here is a list of the full fee schedule on the corresponding Coinbase Help Center page. Below is an overview.
Deposit fees, depending on the payment method cap out at 3.99%. Debit card purchases, while instant are typically on the higher end at the 3.99% level, whereas ACH, SEPA transfers (Europe), and wires are 1.49% with an additional fee of $10 for wire transfers.
Coinbase charges a spread of about 0.50% for all crypto purchases and sales. But the actual spread can be higher or lower due to market fluctuations between when the price is quoted and when the order executes.
Additionally, a Coinbase fee is applied, which is the greater of:
Flat fees for buying and selling are as follows:
Buy limits are set according to your verification level. If fully verified, US users are allowed to buy up to $50,000 worth of bitcoin daily.
USD withdrawals from Coinbase.com will work with ACH, Debit Card, Wire Transfer and Paypal and are instantly processed with the Debit Card or Paypal option. There is a 1% fee to convert and withdraw your crypto to fiat in addition to standard network fees.
The minimum withdrawal amount fluctuates according to current exchange rates. But normally it is very low, i.e. about $0.10. There is no maximum amount that you can withdraw. Users can withdraw all your funds at your discretion.
When transferring one crypto to another, Coinbase charges a spread margin of up to 2%.
Fee information for withdrawing to an external wallet was not found by our researchers. But we did a test and purchased $175 in Bitcoin on Coinbase.com, immediately transferred it to an external wallet, and was charged an 18% fee. The process for that took under a minute and the transfer was done within 5 minutes (though it says it may take up to 10).
These are some of the highest fees out there, but crypto influencer “Boxmining” has suggested two ways to get around these steep fees:
You can set up recurring buys on Coinbase.com to dollar cost average Bitcoin buying. Their Instant Buy feature allows fully verified investors to purchase up to $35,000 in Bitcoin per day week with weekly, biweekly and monthly options as well. Users with Level 2 verifications can buy up to $100 per week [see verification info in following section].
On Coinbase Pro, users can place market, limit and stop orders with 80 trading pairs. The interface is appropriate for experienced and institutional traders, but also easy enough to grasp for the new trader.
CoinbasePro maker fees start at 0.50% which is considerably higher than Kraken which start at .16%.
Taker fees are almost double that of Kraken until you get over the $50,000 threshold, after which Coinbase taker fees drop significantly to almost half of Kraken’s.
It is not clear which maker and taker fees apply to $100,000 since the figure is listed twice in their fee schedule with two different sets of fees. Same applies for $1m, $10m, etc.
Over the Counter (OTC), brokerage, custody and account management are available through Coinbase Prime for institutional investors.
Coinbase Pro’s order book is the default view for trading (whereas in Kraken, it’s a simpler trading interface, where the order book is easier to read and understand for a newbie). The price charts include view choices from 1m to 1 day, 2 EMA overlays (12m and 24m), and line vs candle view.
The super simple interface makes it easy for a complete newcomer to understand what to do right away. Setting up an account and buying crypto is a quick, easy process.
There is a lot of white space on Coinbase.com, however. But CoinbasePro and CoinbasePrime are in dark mode and much easier on the eye, yet studies have shown are less intuitive from a user experience standpoint.
Easy. Coinbase has perfected the crypto UI for newbies. While the fee structure and service offerings may sometimes seem unclear, navigating the Coinbase website is a very simple process. Coinbase.com has minimal, easy to understand text and imagery while the steps leading to other pages are intuitive and make sense.
There are three levels of verification each with its own requirements. By verifying at each level you are allowed certain services. Coinbase’s verifications vary by country. In the US, they are as follows:
UPDATED: June 2021: It appears that Coinbase has listened to their current customer base and have addressed many of the customer service issues that haunted them in the past. In addition, reviews in Google Play and the App Store are much more favorable.
When you do searches for customer service reviews on various platforms, you will see negative feedback. Some of the common threads that we found in the plentiful amount of negative reviews, as well as in some positive reviews, point to Coinbase’s high fees, their penchant for freezing accounts, and sub par customer support. Out of 2794 TrustPilot reviews of Coinbase, 75% are negative.
However, many of the reviews appear to be spammers trying to use the review service to plug other exchanges or recommend ‘professionals’ who can ‘make all trading troubles go away’. It’s obvious that this and other review services have become breeding grounds for spam.
Still, when our researchers reviewed recent TrustPilot reviews, there were 5 negative reviews from the last 24 hours that appeared legitimate (Coinbase has 35 million users). Their complaints were varied:
On Coinbase’s Subreddit, early negative feedback was prevalent. The big difference was that there weren’t any spam posts because they get blocked in Reddit.
Some of the Reddit respondents cited that they’d been waiting for a year or more for a satisfactory response from Coinbase. TrustPilot and other 3rd party review sites also included Coinbase reviews by people who had been victims of 3rd party scams that were directed at Coinbase users.
Even with all the downage times and customer service issues, Coinbase doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to getting more people to buy Bitcoin on the platform. When Bitcoin was soaring past $45,000 in early 2021, Coinbase conveniently enabled instant bank deposits during the same week they experiences downages.
The fact that Coinbase experiences downtime during every big Bitcoin price spike only contributes to the overall negative view of Coinbase that emanates from its own user base.
As mentioned above, there are some services and perks that are desired but not available on Coinbase. Many of these items may be available in the future and could even be currently in the pipeline. Coinbase keeps an active blog with updates for what they are working on and for releases.
Coinbase has been the leader in crypto assets security. The security features they offer include:
Investors can learn more about Coinbase’s security features in this Wired article about Coinbase’s Vault.
Coinbase is the first crypto company to go public and remains the go-to platform for Americans wanting to buy Bitcoin.
Up until recently Coinbase.com has a very convoluted fee structure that is not clearly explained so that a user (or researcher) can easily find it. They have fixed this and listed their fees quite clearly in their help center.
Coinbase claims it has never been hacked, although one phishing attack may have occurred as reported by Decrypt.
Coinbase is the mainstream choice for most Americans and provides a super easy platform for beginners to get started. Fees are higher unless you use CoinbasePro or trade large amounts.
Coinbase provides an easy, safe outlet for buying bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, as well as a basic yet industrial grade trading engine. The Coinbase team led by CEO Brian Armstrong has bent over backwards to be proactive about compliance. Because of the lack of clear guidelines and under threat of constrictive US regulatory policy, Asian-based crypto exchanges are outperforming American platforms by daily volume at a staggering rate.
Coinbase has the investors, the institutional products, and perhaps the best security (non withstanding issues with locked out accounts), but is missing this community piece. It shows in the unnatural amount of negative reviews and comments found throughout all of its social media channels and numerous 3rd party sites so it is advisable to not believe everything that you read when deciding whether to trade on the exchange.