Coinbase taps former Niti Aayog and Prosus exec for India expansion

Coinbase has hired Arnab Kumar, former executive at Prosus Ventures, in the latest push to relaunch its eponymous cryptocurrency exchange in India.

Kumar, who has previously also worked at influential think tank Niti Aayog and Deutsche Bank, is joining the exchange as director of India market expansion, a spokesperson said in an email. At Niti Aayog, Kumar was instrumental in conceptualizing, overseeing and liaising with different ministries for COVID contact tracing app Aarogya Setu, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The development comes at a time when Coinbase said it is shrinking its global workforce by nearly a fifth as it prepares to navigate the crypto winter. A company spokesperson said the recent layoff affected only 8% of its India staff.

Coinbase also recently hired former Snap executive Durgesh Kaushik to help the company with its launch in India and several other markets in the Asia Pacific region, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas.

The global crypto firm is scrambling to relaunch its exchange service in India. The publicly listed firm announced the launch of Coinbase in India to much fanfare in April. But the app became non-functional after just three days in the country.

Coinbase had launched in India with support for UPI, a payments railroad built by a coalition of retail banks that has become the most popular way Indians transact online today. But the same day the National Payments Corporation of India, the payments body that oversees UPI, threw a curveball at the firm by asserting that it was not aware of any crypto exchange using UPI. Three days later, Coinbase suspended the support for UPI from the app and currently its users in the country have no means to top their fiat currency.

The NPCI, which is a special unit of India’s central bank (the Reserve Bank of India), and the RBI continue to informally put pressure on banks into creating friction with crypto-related transactions despite India’s Supreme Court lifting the RBI-imposed ban on cryptocurrency trading three years ago, according to an executive at a cryptocurrency exchange.

Indian newspaper the Economic Times reported earlier that several banks have approached and questioned the NPCI on its “shadow banning” of cryptocurrency-related transactions and are seeking a formal directive. Reacting to the news piece, Brian Armstrong, co-founder and chief executive, said: “Tough questions, and good questions, for NPCI and RBI in India. Is their ‘shadow ban’ a violation of the supreme court ruling?”