Until recently, pioneering bitcoin investors had a problem – there was no way to enjoy the fruits of liquidity in a soaring market without selling their holdings. As prices continued to skyrocket, investors were understandably reluctant to part with their reserves. Traditional banks have remained on the sidelines, but several startups have emerged offering a solution – arranging loans with bitcoins as collateral. Bitcoin’s volatility means terms can be steep, but that has not diminished significant demand from the burgeoning market. Let’s examine several of the companies and how they operate.
SALT touts itself as “the first asset-backed lending platform to give blockchain asset holders access to liquidity without them having to sell their tokens.” Borrowers use SALT tokens, which have a $25 set value, as collateral for cash loans. These tokens cover membership fees and also set borrowing limits – one SALT token establishes a $10,000 limit, while 100 SALT as collateral allows asset holders to borrow over $1,000,000. SALT doesn’t require a credit check to borrow, and loans are made available offline through vetted member lenders, rather than secured through blockchain. Interest on loans through SALT varies between 10 and 15 percent, and any coins held as collateral are returned after the loan is paid in full.
Much like SALT, Unchained Capital allows borrowers to make loans with bitcoin as collateral. Their philosophy revolves around making it easier to use bitcoin as a functioning currency, rather than a way to store value. Lenders can borrow 50 percent of what they establish as collateral capital, and interest rates range between 10 to 14 percent, all-in. Terms are between three months to two years, and have a renewal option with sufficient capital. Loans are secured via bitcoin, rather than tokens.
ETHLend offers “fully decentralized peer-to-peer lending on the Ethereum blockchain”. The company emphasizes transparency and free market principles, with lenders and borrowers connecting via the ETHLend platform and negotiating terms directly with each other – as a result, ETHLend does not hold assets. Any Ethereum token can be used as collateral, but user adoption and activity is encouraged via sale of LEND tokens, which offer a “25 percent discount on deployment fees” on the platform. Defaulting on a loan means forfeiting all coins held as collateral to the lender.
Bitbond, “the first global marketplace lending platform for small business loans”, is more experienced than most of its competitors, having successfully and profitably offered loans of up to $25,000 for several years. Prospective borrowers submit financial assessments and are matched with institutional and individual lenders for blockchain-secured loans. This peer-to-peer approach is beloved by borrowers and investors alike; lenders gain higher interest rates than usual and have no investment limit, while borrowers receive loans at affordable rates regardless of location or background once they are vetted by Bitbond’s algorithm.
BTCpop is a large-volume peer-to-peer lender tracking the reputation of its borrowers and lenders – this “reputation-based lending” is their guiding principle. They offer a variety of services, including lender and borrower matching, instant loans, custom loans, and user-funded IPOs. They even have a chat system, making it easier for users to discuss specifics about potential transactions. Loans start at 15 percent APR and are exchangeable between altcoins, a distinguishing feature among competitors.
Banks are slowly becoming more comfortable dealing with digital currencies, but mass acceptance of bitcoin as collateral is likely a couple of years away. In the interim, expect more services to attempt to fill the void and provide bitcoin holders with a path to liquidity.