CNBC Disruptor 50

SoFi to launch cryptocurrency trading in partnership with Coinbase

Key Points
  • The online lending start-up will launch cryptocurrency trading in the second quarter of this year.
  • Through SoFi Invest, customers will be able to check prices and buy certain cryptocurrenies. The company also plans to launch zero-fee So-Fi branded exchange traded funds this year, and a credit card in the back half of 2019.
  • “Our target audience wants to see what the price of cryptocurrency is and to buy it,” SoFi CEO Anthony Noto says.

Online finance start-up SoFi is moving into cryptocurrency.

The San Francisco-based company will allow users to buy digital currencies through a partnership with popular exchange Coinbase, SoFi announced on Tuesday. The crypto capability will be available to SoFi users in the second quarter of this year.

"Our target audience wants to see what the price of cryptocurrency is, and to buy it," SoFi CEO Anthony Noto told a group of reporters at the firm's New York offices Tuesday. "They have a desire to do that and in many cases they already are."

Noto, Twitter's former chief operating officer and a former managing director at Goldman Sachs, joined SoFi last January. He declined to specify which digital coins will be available. The buying, selling, and price-checking of whichever cryptocurrencies they allow will be enabled by a partnership with popular trading platform Coinbase, valued at $8 billion after its most recent funding round. Fidelity has a similar arrangement with Coinbase, where users can view digital asset balances as part of their portfolio. But Fidelity doesn't offer the ability to buy or sell a digital coin.

Cryptocurrency trading will be available under the umbrella of SoFi Invest, which went live earlier this month. SoFi Money, another new arm of the company, will offer a 2.25 percent APY cash account with no fees — joining a list of peers increasingly competing for customer deposits. Both products became more widely available on Tuesday.

On Monday, the start-up filed for two index exchange traded funds that will waive management fees for the first year, encroaching on an a market dominated by Vanguard and BlackRock's iShares. Through SoFi Invest, the firm will also offer "active" investing with the help of a broker and automated, or "robo" advising.

The company is re-launching its home loans product March 1 and Noto said SoFi plans to offer a credit card in the back half of 2019. Later this year, it will also release joint accounts, "saving vaults," and round ups -- similar to Acorns' core product --- "to make SoFi money even more useful."

As for an initial public offering, Noto said it's "not a priority" in 2019. But long-term, he said an IPO remains on the roadmap.

SoFi, short for social finance, was founded in 2011 with a focus on millennial student-loan refinancing. It has since expanded offerings to the demographic with personal and mortgage loans, mortgage refinances and wealth management services. It acquired banking start-up Zenbanx in 2017, enabling it to offer debit, payments and money transfers.

The company was last valued at $4.4 billion and has raised $1.9 billion to date from names like SoftBank Capital and Peter Thiel, according to data from PitchBook.

SoFi's move into cryptocurrency comes as the price of bitcoin and other digital assets have come crashing down. Bitcoin has lost more than 80 percent of its value since skyrocketting to almost $20,000 at the end of 2017. Still, Noto said SoFi customers are interested and could see the volatility as "two-sided coin."

"Some people may see it as an opportunity," Noto said.