CoinIQ

Ben.co Review – This Beginner-friendly Crypto Chatbot Has Potential

Ben.co in Brief

Ben the cryptocurrency chatbot is a new app that combines two popular technologies into a single mobile platform: NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) and cryptocurrency.

The basic idea behind Ben is that everyone should have a well-informed friend who knows the facts about how cryptocurrency works. Ben is programmed to not only tell you all the basic facts about cryptocoins, but also to keep you up to date with price alerts and breaking news. In addition to functioning as a knowledge resource, Ben’s built-in wallet and exchange service lets you buy cryptocurrency right in the app.

Are the chat app’s features truly useful, or is the chatbot just a novelty? How well can Ben actually communicate? More importantly, how much does Ben charge in fees? Read on to find out the answers to those questions and more.

Editor’s note: The article was corrected to reflect the app’s positive reception on Reddit.

Pros

  • Easy to use and beginner friendly.
  • Delivers cryptocurrency news and price updates.
  • Supports both ether and bitcoin.
  • Ben’s informative tutorials explain cryptocurrency basics.
  • The exchange’s co-founders have public profiles on Crunchbase, LinkedIn and other similar sites.

Cons

  • Currently only available in 21 US states.
  • The only way to place an order is through the Ben app.
  • The chatbot misunderstands easy questions and sometimes provides out-of-date info.
  • The 1% commission fee makes Ben pricier to use compared to other, similar exchanges.

What is Ben.co?

History

During an interview with PYMNTS, Ben.co CEO Miguel Kudry explained that the idea to create a cryptocurrency chatbot came to him when he bought bitcoin for the first time in 2017.

The process for making his initial purchase required the completion of a number of confusing steps. Then, after he successfully placed his order, the delay between his purchase and the deposit caused him to assume that he had made a mistake. Kudry tried placing a new order on a different exchange and ran into the same frustrating problem.

“Neither exchange really told me anything about what was going on, and so I actually thought I had just lost my funds. A little research on my own and I realized there was just a lag between the transfers.”

Kudry teamed up with entrepreneur/software engineer Alex Simansis and pitched the chatbot concept at Y Combinator last winter. The first version of the Ben app hit the iTunes store in February.

Leadership and investors

  • Miguel Kudry – Co-founder, Chief Executive Officer. Before co-founding Ben, Kudry founded a tutoring marketplace called HelpHub. He also founded an identity verification service called Floggia.
  • Alex Sismanis – Co-founder, Chief Technical Officer. The first job of Sismanis’s career was at Nokia. From there, he moved on to Colligo and then NVIDIA. Before starting Ben with Kudry, he founded a social media platform called Currents. He also developed FestFeed, an event management app.
  • Mike Mull – VP of Engineering. Mull has over three decades of software development experience. He’s worked at a number of prominent tech companies and was the Lead Software Engineer at Yahoo! in the early 2000s.
  • Brandon Lau – Lead Engineer. Lau was a full stack developer at Hootsuite, a social media management platform. He left the company to form a software development company called Elevate Digital.

According to Crunchbase, Ben was awarded $120,000 in venture funding capital at Y Combinator. TechCrunch reported that before Y Combinator, the company raised $580,000 from Third Kind Venture Capital and “various angel investors.”

Protecting customers’ coins

Legal and regulatory compliance

The Ben.co website doesn’t contain much information about how and where it’s licensed and registered. However, the site’s Terms of Use document does contain this relevant statement:

“The regulatory regime governing blockchain technologies, cryptocurrencies, and tokens is uncertain, and new regulations or policies may materially adversely affect the development of the Auction and/or Site and the utility of cryptocurrency.”

This paragraph seems to indicate that the exchange is a registered auctioneer in Delaware:

“This Agreement, your access to and use of the Site and Content, and your participation in the Auction shall be governed by and construed and enforced in accordance with the laws of the State of Delaware, without regard to conflict of law rules or principles of the State of Delaware, or any other jurisdiction) that would cause the application of the laws of any other jurisdiction. Any Dispute between the parties that is not subject to arbitration or cannot be heard in small claims court, shall be resolved in the state or federal courts of the State of Delaware, and the United States, respectively, sitting in the State of Delaware.”

The site’s Privacy Policy document shows that the company is headquartered in San Diego, California.

Source: CoinIQ

Coin listing policies

Ben’s approach to currency listings to date seems to indicate that the company only supports well-known, marquee coins.

Network security

Ben has a clean security record so far. There have been no reports of any publicized hacks.

No specific information about Ben’s security system is available on the Ben website. However, if you select the question “Is Ben secure?” in the Ben app, the chatbot sends the following reply:

“Your wallet is very secure. I encrypt your private keys on your device so that no one can access them except for you. Private keys are never sent to our server and someone would have to gain control of your phone and both your phone passcodes and your Ben PIN in order to gain access to your funds.”

Customer support

The Ben blog currently only has one entry and there is no knowledge base available on the site– only a simple form that lets you contact the Ben support team. This is somewhat unusual, but understandable given that the Ben development team likely wants their customers to attempt to talk to the Ben chatbot as much as possible.

One potential customer support stumbling block is the fact that Ben is still learning how to respond to humans. When Ben CEO Miguel Kudry spoke with PYMNTS, he pointed out that Ben’s language will improve as time goes on.

“Ben will get much better over time as it answers more questions and learns to have more conversations on more specific topics.”

Ben.co reputation

Because Ben just came out, there isn’t much talk about the app on Reddit or other social media sites. There are only a few Reddit threads about Ben. The thread with the most comments indicates that the app has had a warm reception so far.

How to Join Ben.co

Who can join?

Currently, only residents of 21 American states are able to buy and sell cryptocurrency through Ben. Everyone else can still create and use a Ben Wallet to store and send bitcoin and ether. However, that’s pretty much all you can do with Ben if you live somewhere where Ben is not available.

Supported states include: Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

Verification

Individual accounts

Verification on Ben.co is performed via a series of short questions, which are delivered via chat. After Ben collects the KYC (Know Your Customer) information, the chatbot sets up your cryptocurrency wallet and helps you connect your bank account to your Ben account.

Business accounts

Ben.co does not use a separate process or standard for onboarding business customers.

What Can You Trade on Ben.co?

Digital currencies

When asked the question “What coins do you support?” the Ben chatbot replies with an incorrect answer:

Source: CoinIQ

Support for ether seems to have already been added. The website has a tutorial about how to buy ether through the app. Bitcoin is the only other coin that Ben supports.

Fiat currencies

The only fiat currency that Ben currently supports is the US dollar.

Currency exchanges

Ben only supports simple USD/ETH and USD/BTC buy and sell orders.

Advanced trading

No advanced trading features are not offered on this exchange.

Trading Tools and Fees

Trading interface

Ben’s interface centers around chat. After you download the Ben app, Ben guides you through providing KYC (Know Your Customer) data.

Source: Ben.co

The next wizard you will encounter will help you set up your cryptocurrency wallet and connect your bank account.

Source: Ben.co

After you get through the setup process, you can buy and sell cryptocurrency by asking Ben to place your order.

Source: Ben.co

Mobile app support

Both versions of the Ben app have a four-of-five star rating. Generally speaking, its users appreciate Ben’s concise explanations of cryptocurrency related topics. This Google Play reviewer encapsulates all the things that Ben users seem to like about the app:

“Ben is a pretty quick and easy way to learn, buy and manage your btc. Making a wallet is simple, and it’s made clear to you that you are in control. The lessons cover a host of topics, and feel casual and light. There are a few UX oddities, but it looks like the app is updated pretty regularly, so hopefully those will be ironed out soon.”

Common complaints on both platforms center around disappointment over the fact that Ben is still learning human language basics. This comment from a different Google Play user typifies this type of criticism:

“Lame, waste of time. Good concept, bad delivery. The UI needs work, kind of clunky and cheap. Asking simple questions to “ben” and generic answers, if any.”

Deposits and withdrawals

Fiat currencies

The only fiat payment method that Ben accepts is bank transfers. If you ask Ben about credit or debit cards, you will receive the following response:

“Unfortunately, you can’t use a debit or credit card to make purchases. Adding a bank account is quick and easy and you can make purchases immediately. Just ask me to add a bank account.”

Digital currencies

If you tell Ben to “transfer bitcoin” or “transfer ether,” the chatbot will offer the following instructions:

“Slide down the chat and go to the wallet tab and enter the amount you want to send. I will then ask you if you want to send to a friend on Ben or an external address. Keep in mind you can only sell coins that aren’t in the ‘pending’ state and you should only send coins to another address of the same type.”

Transaction fees

According to the exchange’s Terms of Use page, every transaction– including fiat and crypto deposits and withdrawals, apparently– results in a 1% flat fee. This is high compared to other crypto exchanges. Most exchanges charge 0.1% to 0.5% and offer fee reductions to frequent traders.

“For every transaction initiated on our Site, Ben gets a transaction fees equal to approximately 1%.”

Final Word

If you tried using cryptocurrency exchanges and got lost somewhere along the way, Ben is definitely worth a look. The app provides an easy, fairly user-friendly entry point into the world of cryptocurrency. The main downside of Ben is that the core features of the app only work in 21 states. Another potential issue is that Ben doesn’t understand simple words like “nevermind” and basic questions like “What can I trade?” However, these downsides will likely get sorted out if more people interact with Ben and if the developers continue improving him.

For new traders

The Ben app provides a simple solution for people who are curious about cryptocurrency but don’t know where to begin. Purchasing and selling crypto through the app is as simple as clicking a few buttons. Providing KYC information is also a breeze, and so is the process for connecting a bank account.

For advanced traders

Frequent traders probably won’t use Ben for trading because the fees are too high. Ben applies a 1% fee to every single transaction that’s initiated in the app. Most exchanges that cater to regular traders charge half that amount or less. If the developers upgrade Ben’s ability to deliver cryptocurrency industry updates and lower their fees, that might give serious traders a reason to use the app. A “pro” version of Ben that’s equipped with technical analysis tools and volume-based fee discounts could increase Ben’s appeal.

Alex Munkachy

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