S’pore-based crypto lender Vauld in talks to be bought after freezing withdrawals

MUMBAI (BLOOMBERG) – Crypto lender Vauld is in discussions to be bought by rival Nexo after freezing client withdrawals and hiring advisers for a potential restructuring.

Nexo is conducting a 60-day due diligence process on Singapore-based Vauld, Nexo co-founder Antoni Trenchev said in an interview. Vauld said on Monday (July 4) that it had suspended withdrawals, trading and deposits on its platform and was in talks with potential investors after facing “financial challenges”.

Vauld became the latest among several crypto lenders to resort to emergency measures to stay afloat after a US$2 trillion (S$2.8 trillion) digital asset market rout sapped their finances. The turmoil has produced an opportunity for better-capitalised companies like billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX to swoop in and buy assets on the cheap.

Vauld pointed to a combination of volatile markets, financial troubles at “key business partners” and a jump in withdrawals since June 12 in its statement announcing the freeze. Mr Trenchev, however, indicated that the company’s own actions might have contributed to its difficulties.

“It was built out correctly. Unfortunately, it turns out they made some bad investment decisions, but the company as such is interesting as it has a lot of traction in India and South-east Asia,” Mr Trenchev said. He declined to elaborate on what those investment decisions were.

Earlier on Tuesday, Vauld chief executive officer Darshan Bathija tweeted about his company’s potential deal with London-based Nexo.

Mr Bathija told the BusinessLine newspaper in May that he was targeting boosting assets under management (AUM) to US$5 billion from US$1 billion. Mr Trenchev said Vauld now has “hundreds of millions” of dollars in AUM, declining to be more specific.

Nexo in June said it was preparing an offer for assets of Celsius Network, shortly after Celsius announced a freeze on withdrawals. That offer was open for a week and lapsed after Celsius did not want to make a deal. Celsius on June 30 said it was exploring options such as “strategic transactions” as well as restructuring its debt.

Singapore crypto rules

Nexo is in discussions with several other companies about buying their assets, Mr Trenchev said, without identifying them. The company in March announced a fund called Nexo Ventures and earmarked US$150 million for investing in “a wide range of early-stage retail and institutional projects”.

“Any investment we make needs to make financial sense,” Mr Trenchev said. “We are not the Federal Reserve where we can print money at will and spend as we see fit.”

The speed of the market meltdown has ensnared crypto lenders large and small – with some, like Vauld, freezing withdrawals just weeks after ensuring customers that their business was sound. On June 16, Mr Bathija said on Vauld’s blog that “over the last few days, all withdrawals were processed as usual and this will continue to be the case in the future”.

On Monday, Vauld said it had hired financial and legal advisers to explore restructuring options, and planned to apply for a moratorium with Singapore courts to give itself “some breathing space”.

Regulators are taking note of the crypto industry’s trouble and say they are moving to bolster guardrails. Hours after Vauld’s announcement on Monday, Singapore’s central bank said it was considering new crypto rules to protect consumers.

“These may include placing limits on retail participation, and rules on the use of leverage when transacting in cryptocurrencies,” Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who is also chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, said in a written response to a parliamentary question.