If you want to trade in digital currencies, you are going to need a platform on which to trade them, and an intermediary to communicate with the network. Coinbase is a global digital asset exchange company (GDAX), providing a venue to buy and sell digital currencies, as well as send information about those transactions out to the blockchain network to verify those transactions. Coinbase serves as a wallet, too, where the digital currencies can be stored. The application operates exchanges of Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash, and Litecoin, as well as other digital assets with fiat currencies in 32 countries, and Bitcoin transactions in many more countries. According to its website, Coinbase has served over 10 million customers and facilitated the exchange of more than $50 billion worth of digital currency.
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Coinbase requires you to link a bank account, or credit or debit card to your Coinbase account to purchase cryptocurrencies. Using a bank account allows for higher limits ($100/transaction, $2,500/week), but it also takes longer to verify transactions, so you will not see money in your Coinbase wallet for two to four days (depending on your bank). And when selling Bitcoin, once the sale is confirmed, it takes two to four days for the proceeds of that sale to show up in your bank account. With a credit or debit card, limits are lower ($200/week), but you can purchase digital currencies by simply transferring funds from that bank account to the site. For these transactions, Bitcoin shows up in your Coinbase wallet instantaneously. You can also sell Bitcoin to your PayPal account, effectively cashing out, as your Bitcoin will be exchanged for local currency. This transaction, too, is instantaneous.
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The other 2% of customer funds, held online, are covered in the event of a breach of Coinbase's online storage. Also, Coinbase holds all customer fiat currency in custodial bank accounts, on behalf of customers. So, if you have fiat currency in Coinbase, in a USD wallet, it is covered by FDIC insurance up to $250,000 (just like a "regular" bank). This protects customer assets (so long as they have been converted to fiat currency) even in the event of Coinbase becoming insolvent.
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Coinbase was founded in June 2012 by Brian Armstrong and Fred Ehrsam. Blockchain.info co-founder Ben Reeves was part of the original founding team but later parted ways with Armstrong due to a difference in how the Coinbase wallet should operate. The remaining founding team enrolled in the Summer 2012 Y Combinator startup incubator program. In October 2012, the company launched the services to buy and sell bitcoin through bank transfers. In May 2013, the company received a US$5 million Series A investment led by Fred Wilson from the venture capital firm Union Square Ventures. In December 2013, the company received a US$25 million investment, from the venture capital firms Andreessen Horowitz, Union Square Ventures (USV), and Ribbit Capital.
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In April 2019, a UK corporate filing stated that Coinbase's non-U.S. revenue grew 20% to €153 million (U.S.$173 million) in 2018 resulting in a net profit of €6.6 million. Coinbase UK CEO Zeeshan Feroz said the company's non-U.S. operations accounted for nearly one-third of the company's overall revenue and Reuters estimated that the company's global revenue totaled "around $520 million" in 2018.
Cryptocurrencies are experiencing a moment of unprecedented attention and speculation for several reasons. 1) The value of Bitcoin has been steadily climbing through 2017, with Ether seemingly poised to overtake the cryptocurrency giant any day; 2) Blockchain technology has purposes above and beyond cryptocurrency, and has been hailed by some as the backbone of the future financial system; 3) The increasing number of people who see cryptocurrency as a form of investment similar to gold. If cryptocurrencies stabilize in value, buying Bitcoin or Ether has the potential to be a worthy venture.