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OKEx review

OKEx Review: Full-service Crypto Trading but not in China or US

OKEx in Brief

China’s OKEx has risen to the top of CoinMarketCap’s exchange rankings with $1.5 billion in daily trading volume. Although not available in the US or Hong Kong, people in more than 100 countries actively trade on OKEx. Our OKEx review will give you the details you need to decide if this is the exchange for you.

Pros

  • Large trading volumes.
  • Hundreds of crypto-to-crypto trading pairs.
  • Futures market and leveraged trading for advanced users.
  • Near-global presence.
  • Peer-to-peer market to buy crypto with fiat.

Cons

  • Not available in the US or Hong Kong.
  • Exchanges don’t support fiat-to-crypto trades.

What is OKEx?

History

Chinese crypto exchange OKCoin created OKEx in 2014 to provide crypto trading services outside of China. The firm is officially registered in the Central American nation of Belize, but operates out of Hong Kong.

OKCoin had to shut down its domestic service when China cracked down on cryptocurrency activity within the country. As China’s ban on renminbi-crypto trading went into effect, the South China Morning Post cited an OKCoin statement that the ban represented “an end, as well as a new beginning.”

OKEx became the focus of the firm’s crypto trading activity. The exchange now has customers in more than 100 countries and has risen to the top of the digital exchange rankings.

In mid-April, OKEx announced its expansion to Malta. The small, Mediterranean nation’s regulatory regime has attracted intense interest in the crypto world. Rival exchange Binance recently relocated to Malta earlier this year. OKEx Chief Technology Officer Tim Byun said in the announcement, “Malta’s Virtual Financial Asset Act is a solid foundation for the industry and the government to work together.”

Decentralizing OKEx

OK Bucks on OKEx
Source: OKEx

Much like Binance and other crypto exchanges, OKEx is pushing more of its operations onto the blockchain to become more decentralized. The first step in this process was the development of OKEx’s own utility token, OK Bucks (OKB) on Ethereum’s ERC-20 smart contracts platform. OKB will, according to OKEx’s announcement, become “a vital piece of its architecture & development.”

OKEx will distribute more than one billion OKB to the exchange’s stakeholders with the lion’s share going to its customers. With 60% of the OKB issued eventually going to customers, OKEx hopes to create a “sharing community of users” who will not only use OKB to pay transaction fees and interest charges but also vote on the exchange’s development and share in its profits.

In what OKEx calls its “Happy Fridays”, the exchange pays out half of the service fees it collects to OKB owners. OKEx distributed 875.34685 BTC during the first Happy Friday.

OKB-holders also get to vote on important decisions. Over the next few months, OKEx will roll out a polling system that will decide which tokens get listed on the exchange. An internal team will review proposals before handing short-listed candidates to the exchange’s Prime Investors. OKEx will present the final list of candidates to the OKB holders who will cast the deciding votes.

Turmoil in 2018

For all its success over the past year, the first few months of 2018 have caused some headaches for OKEx.

Executive turnover

Chris Lee, the CEO of OKEx and the CFO of parent company OKCoin, took the crypto world by surprise in mid-May when he abruptly resigned. Early reports of Lee’s surprise departure, led by Bloomberg, offered little explanation beyond Lee’s desire to “start a new life.”

For the past year, Lee led OKEx through its rise to the top of the exchange rankings as well as through OKCoin’s Series B financing round.

One week later, rival Chinese exchange Huobi announced that Lee would join its board of directors and head up business development. In a WeChat post discovered by CoinDesk, Lee pointed to the high level of turnover at the top of the OKGroup’s companies.

Market manipulation

An attempt to manipulate OKEx’s bitcoin futures market occurred in March 2018. A group of users closed extremely large positions in a block. This sent bitcoin contract prices plunging and triggered wave after wave of automated and panic sell-offs. By the time OKEx shut the market down, the gap between the bitcoin contract price and the index price had reached 25%. OKEx rolled back all bitcoin futures contracts to before the manipulation attempt.

Rumors that OKEx itself was behind the market manipulation spurred the exchange to release a rebuttal statement: ”We have not [sic] reason to, and have never and will not, manipulate the prices of any of our market.”

Inflated trading volumes?

Also in March, cryptocurrency trader Sylvain Ribes posted an analysis of trading volumes on OKEx that led him to believe “most of the volume OKex claims is completely fabricated.”

While the internet is rife with bloggers and redditors yelling “scam” at the slightest hint of controversy, CoinTelegraph reported on a tweet (since removed) from Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao complimenting the analysis. Zhao’s comments do need to be taken with a grain of salt. Binance competes with OKEx and Zhao, who was once the chief technology officer of OKCoin in China, has had a bad relationship with his former employer.

Violating China’s ban

In early May, China National Radio (CNR) accused OKEx of violating China’s ban on buying and selling cryptocurrencies. CoinDesk reported that CNR accused the exchange of using overseas registration and over-the-counter trading to get around China’s regulations.

Leadership and investors

A new OKEx CEO has yet to be named. In the meantime, OKGroup executives and the remaining OKEx executives oversee the company’s operations.

Tim Byun, chief risk officer: Byun oversaw risk management at bitcoin payment processor Bitpay. Before that, he ran the anti-money-laundering team at Visa and spent 16 years at the US Federal Reserve.

Andy Cheung, head of operations: Cheung ran Groupon’s operations in Hong Kong and Taiwan. He previously worked at Alibaba and iClick Interactive and was an IPO project leader for consultancy RR Donnelley.

Prominent investors include venture capitalist Tim Draper’s VenturesLab and Chinese investors Ceyuan Ventures, Giant Network Group and LonlingCapital

Protecting customers’ coins

Legal and regulatory compliance

Beyond having anti-money-laundering and know-your-customer procedures, OKEx does not discuss regulatory issues publicly. The exchange has clearly adjusted its operations to reflect the shifting sands of crypto regulation by refusing to accept fiat currencies, creating a peer-to-peer marketplace, and choosing not to enter the US market.

Coin listing policies

OKEx provides some guidance to teams hoping to list their project on the exchange.

  • Company background – is the objective credible, does it comply with regulations?
  • Business model – what is the market size, adoption rate and association with the blockchain?
  • Distribution strategy – how much is being raised and how is it distributed?
  • Team members – what is the team’s technical background and investors’ financial background?
  • Marketing strategy – what is the media outreach and promotional plan?
  • Transparency – how thoroughly documented is the roadmap and status?

OKEx consultants can help coin development teams with technical implementation and marketing via OK Blockchain. The group even has a $100 million investment fund to finance promising projects.

Network security

OKEx does not discuss its security procedures.

Customer support

OKEx provides a knowledge base for general self-help purposes and a ticket-based support system for help with specific account issues. The exchange also moderates its own subreddit where it posts announcements to its community of users.

OKEx reputation

Despite the issues that have plagued OKEx this year, the exchange has a dedicated following that turned OKEx into the largest crypto exchange by trading volume.

How to Join OKEx

Blocked regions on OKEx
Source: OKEx

Who can join?

OKEx has customers in more than 100 countries, but there are several important markets where people cannot use the exchange. Most notably, people in Hong Kong and the United States (including its territories) are blocked from creating an account.

Verification

Individual accounts

OKEx has a three-tier verification system that gives users access to the company’s services. At Level 1, all a user has to do is enter their email address, real name, and government ID number. That opens most of the exchange’s services, but with a $2,000-per-order limit.

To get verified at Level 2, users must scan their ID and upload an ID selfie. That bumps the transaction limit up to $200,000. The limit rises even further to $500,000 when users provide a video selfie as part of the Level 3 verification.

What Can You Trade on OKEx?

Markets on OKEx
Source: OKEx

Cryptocurrencies

OKEx supports more than 120 cryptocurrencies that you can trade in the exchange’s Token Trading service, which is based on currency pairs just like most other crypto exchanges. The The Token Trading service lists its crypto in markets for bitcoin, ether, tether and bitcoin cash.

Fiat currencies

Due to regulatory issues, OKEx does not handle fiat currencies directly. Instead, it operates a peer-to-peer marketplace called C2C for Customer to Customer. Like Paxful and LocalBitcoins, C2C provides a way for individuals to trade fiat currency for cryptocurrency and vice versa.

Unlike the established marketplaces, individual buyers and sellers go through a third party which OKEx calls Market Makers or Merchants. The Merchants must pass a screening process and pay a security deposit.

Advanced trading

Futures trading on OKEx
Source: OKEx

Index Trading is designed for more advanced high-frequency traders and is limited to the highest-volume cryptocurrencies: bitcoin, bitcoin cash, ether, ethereum classic and litecoin.

OKEx has also created a futures market for bitcoin, bitcoin cash, bitcoin gold, the eos token, ether, ethereum classic, litecoin and ripple.

For advanced traders who want to maximize their returns, OKEx offers the ability to engage in leveraged trading.

Trading Tools and Fees

Trading interface

The OKEx website is divided into four sections. Charts lets you review market activity and analyze price trends. Fiat to Token is the C2C marketplace where you can buy cryptocurrencies with fiat. Token Trading is the traditional currency-pair exchange and also the place where advanced traders can enter the Index Trading service. Finally, Futures is the interface for OKEx’s futures markets.

Trading sections on OKEx
Source: OKEx

As with many exchanges that serve advanced traders, OKEx provides charting tools that let traders analyze pricing trends and plan their trading strategies.

Chart tool on OKEx
Source: OKEx

Mobile app support

OKEx has an Android app that supports the Token Trading and Futures Trading services and lets users submit materials for verification.

Whether the app has really earned its 4-star rating is another matter. “A Google User” placed a huge number of 5-star reviews on April 8. Many of the other reviews complain about sluggish performance and the fact that the script for video verification is written in Mandarin rather than English.

There is no app for iOS, but a link on the OKEx homepage lets you sign up for the closed beta of the exchange’s new mobile app.

Deposits and withdrawals

Fiat currencies

Since OKEx does not directly support fiat trading, there’s no way to deposit fiat into an OKEx account. Customers who use the C2C service must link their bank account or their Alipay or WeChat Pay accounts. Any fees are between the customers and the Merchants they trade with.

Digital currencies

Withdrawals of digital currencies have transaction limits and daily limits that vary by cryptocurrency. Bitcoin withdrawals, for example, have 100BTC transaction limits and 500BTC daily limits.

Transaction fees

OKEx applies a volume-base, maker-taker structure to its fee schedule. Low-volume traders pay 0.15% as makers and 0.2% as takers. The fees decline to 0.02% and 0.05% respectively for the highest-volume traders.

A similar structure applies for futures trading with fees starting at 0.03% for makers and 0.05% for takers. The highest-volume takers pay a 0.02% fee while the highest-volume makers receive a 0.01% credit.

Leveraged trades incur daily interest charges. The rate for most of the tokens is 0.02%. The interest rate is 0.1% for bitcoin, ether, and tether.

Referral programs

The OKEx Global Partner program lets organizations earn commissions of up to 80% on the trading fees referred customers generate. To qualify, you must hold at least 5,000 OKB and have a history of promoting OKEx.

Final Word

Although OKEx hit some rough spots in early 2018, the firm has navigated the changing regulatory environment in China to become a globally dominant cryptocurrency exchange.

For new traders

OKEx provides people new to the world of cryptocurrency trading a smooth onramp. The C2C marketplace lets you buy cryptocurrency with fiat before shifting to the Token Trading service for crypto-to-crypto exchanges.

For advanced traders

OKEx offers more sophisticated cryptocurrency traders more opportunities to maximize their returns through the Index Trading and Futures Trading services. In addition, OKEx is one of the few exchanges that allows leveraged trades.

Christopher Casper

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