As FTX’s CEO eyes Robinhood, will we see crypto exchanges move into equities trading?

Because no one parties harder than I do, I spent a portion of my week reading through Coinbase’s investor call after its earnings report. The U.S. crypto exchange pulls in some questions from non-analysts during its chats, which makes for a slightly more entertaining set of prompts and responses. You can read it all here.

I bring it up because someone asked Coinbase if the company could spot a “strategic advantage in acquiring or merging with Robinhood.” You might be shocked to learn that Coinbase wasn’t entirely effusive about the idea.

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And then, yesterday, the CEO of Coinbase rival FTX, Sam Bankman-Fried, disclosed that he had purchased 56,273,469 shares in Robinhood, representing around 7.6% of common stock in the company.

Shares of Robinhood are up hugely in pre-market trading, rising nearly 24% in the wake of the news. Why? Because investors are hoping that FTX will scoop up Robinhood for a premium. If FTX was to buy Robinhood, investors would likely expect an exit price far above its depressed share price. Therefore, as the FTX CEO moved into the stock, its potential near-term exit value shot higher, making it a buy.

Per Bankman-Fried’s filing, he thinks that the Robinhood shares “represent an attractive investment.”

There is an interesting tension between the Coinbase and FTX news that we should unpack. It’s Friday, and we deserve a bit of a think. Let’s have some fun!

If equities go crypto, will crypto go equities?

A running joke at TechCrunch is that all fintech companies, regardless of where they start, wind up looking about the same.

A good example of this is SoFi, best known for its student loan refinancing work, which now offers credit cards, mortgages, business products, checking accounts and more. SoFi even offers crypto investing to a degree, which might seem like a pretty big stretch from its origin point.

The fact that SoFi went broad is not a diss; instead, it’s a reminder that acquiring users in the fintech market is expensive. That high cost makes it good business to try to get every user at your fintech company to use as many products as possible after they are acquired. The logic here is simple: CAC is CAC, so if you want to bolster customer leverage, tack on more LTV. (In venture-speak, CAC means “customer acquisition cost,” while LTV refers to the lifetime value of a customer.)

This is also why we’ve seen Square become Block and spread its wings across the fiat and web3 economies, why you can buy and sell crypto with PayPal, and so forth.

And yet when Coinbase held its earnings call, president and COO Emilie Choi said the following response to the question about possibly buying Robinhood (emphasis TechCrunch):