MaskEx’s new Chief Strategy Officer Ben Caselin never intended to get involved with another cryptocurrency exchange, but its founder and CEO Eric Yang was ultimately able to prompt a change of heart.
Today, we sat down with Caselin to discuss what convinced him to join MaskEx and how the exchange differentiates its offering amid an increasingly crowded and competitive marketplace. In addition, Caselin talks about the reasons for MaskEx’s decision to base itself in the growing, crypto-friendly hub that is the UAE, its plans to expand by tightening integration between the MENA and APAC regions, and its novel ideas for integrating crypto with traditional, fiat-based finance in ways that no other exchange can offer.
- You’ve recently joined MaskEX as its Vice President & Chief Strategy Officer. What attracted you to them?
First of all, thank you for having me. To be honest, following everything that happened in 2022, especially at my previous exchange, AAX, I was not intent on joining another centralized crypto exchange. However, after many conversations with MaskEX’s Founder and CEO, Eric Yang, the opportunity became quite clear and I did decide to join the exchange.
The network that supports this company is strong and includes our shareholder Sheikh Hamed bin Rakadh Al-Ameri, who is associated with a well-known sovereign wealth fund in Abu Dhabi. Such backing gives me confidence that we can drive growth in a sustainable way as it enables us to reach into target markets and engage the masses, while also building relationships of trust with governments and influential institutions. The fact that our soon-to-be-opened headquarters is located in the Mashreq Bank Global HQ building in Downtown Dubai is a case in point.
- Prior to joining MaskEX, you had been with AAX for over 3 years and had just been appointed Vice President at the exchange – one month before the company collapsed. What are the most important lessons we can all take from that experience?
AAX was very dear to me, and what happened at the exchange is heartbreaking, to say the least. To this day, users are left without recompense and little to no recourse. Of course, we need to place this tragic ending in the context of the larger contagion which also saw the collapse of FTX, Three Arrows Capital, TerraLuna, Celsius, and the more recent developments in the US involving Silicon Valley Bank, Signature Bank, and other banks as well, although in each of these instances, situations differed and we need to remember that.
I find it difficult to reconcile my personal dedication to championing bitcoin and stablecoin adoption in the emerging markets, knowing that it is the users there who arguably suffered the most from the exchange collapsing, but I have always advocated for risk mitigation through a diversified custody approach – including self-custody – and even at MaskEX, I continue to highlight this important principle. People who want to trade and gain exposure to global markets should be free to do so, but it’s always good to hold a substantial percentage of your digital assets in your own hardware wallet.
At the same time, on the exchange side, both Eric Yang, our CEO, and myself are aligned on the idea that an exchange should showcase some form of Proof of Reserves, which we do on Nansen; and when we do open our headquarters in Dubai in August, it will be accessible to the general public – which is a first for any crypto exchange. Other than that, MaskEX is registered directly under the DED in Dubai (rather than a “free zone”) and as such it is the first onshore virtual asset exchange in Dubai to have received initial approval from VARA for the FMP license. Going forward, we expect to work closely together with the regulator and I do see this as a crucial difference with AAX which was unregulated and fully offshore.
- Some might say MaskEX is just “yet another exchange platform” in what is becoming an incredibly crowded market. How would you respond to that? What makes MaskEX different from other platforms?
When TikTok came out, one might have said, it’s just another streaming platform. Or, if you’re familiar with Grab in South East Asia, people could have said “but it’s just another Uber”. Of course, the reality is that the market for digital assets is far, far from saturated, but we are now entering the phase of regional consolidation. From the early days when there was really only Mt. Gox – the Bitcoin exchange that accounted for around 85% of global trade volume – we are now coming to the phase where we will see regional consolidation. In the USA, we see Coinbase and Kraken. In the APAC region and arguably Sub-Saharan Africa, we see Binance, along with other notable exchanges such as ByBit and OKX, and in the MENA and CIS region, MaskEX is on the rise. This is a healthy development.
But also, I would like to stress that MaskEX is not just an ordinary crypto exchange. In addition to crypto trading across spot, perpetuals, margin, options, and copy trade, the exchange also offers markets for US and Hong Kong stocks, a MasterCard-powered virtual card, which can be integrated with Apple Pay, and with MaskEX Pay, the company is building out actual banking capabilities, bridging the gap between crypto and fiat. I can’t share too many details about this yet, but while it may seem that crypto and fiat are going through a divorce, in a battle over custody (pun intended), the reality – at least for MaskEX – is that we are finding ways to integrate them seamlessly. The implications are significant.
- Why did MaskEX choose to set up its headquarters in Dubai? What advantages does being in Dubai bring?
For the past eight years, I’ve lived in Hong Kong for the most part, and to some degree I still do. I’m very happy to see Hong Kong opening up to Bitcoin and digital assets, or Web3 more broadly, but if you’ve followed the news, Hong Kong is also increasingly coming together in a partnership with the UAE and there are deeper reasons behind this. Personally, I’m happy to contribute to strengthening the relationship between these two cities.
Our network across the MENA region, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Turkey all the way to Uzbekistan, is strong, and the UAE is well-positioned to service these markets, so Dubai makes a lot of sense for us from an expansion perspective as well. Linking the MENA region with APAC is significant on a global scale, especially given the regulatory stalemate in the US.
So, both from a globally strategic point of view as well as an expansion perspective, for MaskEX, it is very favorable to be based in Dubai, although I must stress that at this stage we do not yet service UAE citizens, pending final approval from VARA.