Japan's biggest messaging app Line is planning to launch a cryptocurrency exchange

  • Line Corp will launch a new division called the Line Financial Corporation to let users exchange digital currencies and use other financial services.
  • The Japanese firm has 168 million monthly active users and is facing increased competition from the likes of Facebook-owned WhatsApp.
  • Line's announcement follows a cryptocurrency heist that saw more than $500 million worth of alternative cryptocurrency NEM stolen from Japanese exchange Coincheck.

Japanese messaging service Line Corp is expanding its reach into financial technology, or fintech, with a new company that offers a cryptocurrency exchange, loans and insurance.

The Tokyo and U.S.-listed firm already offers a money transfer and payment service called Line Pay, but on Wednesday announced it would launch a new division called the Line Financial Corporation to let users exchange digital currencies and use other financial services within the app.

It did not add specific details on what this would entail.

Line added that it intends to "promote research and development of technologies such as blockchain" with the creation of its new financial offering. It claimed that its payments unit had scored "major growth" in 2017, with a global annual transaction volume of more than 450 billion yen ($4.1 billion) and 40 million registered users.

The Japanese firm has 200 million monthly active users globally and is facing increased competition from the likes of Facebook-owned WhatsApp in its four key markets of Japan, Thailand, Indonesia and Taiwan.

Line's announcement follows a cryptocurrency heist that saw more than $500 million worth of alternative cryptocurrency NEM stolen from Japanese exchange Coincheck in a major hack last week. Japan's financial regulator then ordered the firm to improve its operations and said it would inspect all cryptocurrency exchanges following the cyberattack.

Regulators have been unsettled by the virtual currency space due to severe swings in prices and reports of scams, money laundering and other dubious activities associated with it.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday moved to halt and freeze the assets of a huge initial coin offering (ICO) run by Dallas-based firm AriseBank. ICOs are a controversial means of crowdfunding for start-ups who sell new digital coins to raise capital.

South Korea has introduced new rules to rein in speculative cryptocurrency investing, restricting trading to real-name bank accounts. The country's customs office has also claimed to have uncovered almost $600 million in cryptocurrency crimes including illegal foreign exchange trading.

Meanwhile, Facebook said on Tuesday it is banning all cryptocurrency advertising to reduce the risk of users being misled or deceived.

Clarification: This story has been amended to show that Line Corp has 200 million monthly active users globally.