Fred Schebesta, who became one of country’s youngest self-made millionaires at the age of 26 with the sale of his first business before founding comparison website finder.com.au, describes himself as a “time traveller” who looks into the future in order to make it a reality.
His bet on the online comparison space paid off. From a simple credit card blog called Creditcardfinder.com.au, Finder today is worth in the area of $1 billion and operates in 10 countries, with 10 more planned this year.
Now Mr Schebesta has found his new passion. He’s obsessed with cryptocurrency and blockchain — he hosts a daily crypto talk show from Finder’s York Street offices in the Sydney CBD — and is undeterred by the apparent drop-off in interest since the market’s peak in December.
“Remember, people said bitcoin was a bubble at $US10, a bubble at $US100, a bubble at $US1000,” he said. “After it went to $US100 it went down to like $US12, that’s way lower than $US20,000 down to $US6000.”
Finder launched its cryptocurrency comparison offering in September last year and quickly saw massive interest, with traffic growth pacing at about 10 times that of other topics like insurance, telcos and credit cards.
In February, he and co-founder Frank Restuccia launched an over-the-counter (OTC) crypto exchange called HiveEx — which is now processing “millions” of dollars in large transactions every week — followed by crypto bill-paying service HiveSpend.
Mr Schebesta said the interest now was actually “so much higher” than during bitcoin’s manic rise in 2017, which pushed the digital currency from under $US1000 to touch $US20,000, and the entire cryptocurrency market over $US800 billion.
Bitcoin was trading at around $US7000 at the time of writing, a 65 per cent decline from its peak.
“At its core, you’ve got to remember, just because the price of bitcoin has gone down and people feel angry, that doesn’t reduce the interest,” he said.
“The interest has boomed. I was at [crypto conference] Consensus in New York, there were 8000 people there. It took 30 minutes to get up the lift. New technologies are being built, it’s like going from Basic to DOS. Bitcoin’s like gold, it will just sit there and do its thing and keep on going, I don’t think it will die.”
Mr Schebesta said cryptocurrency adoption was at a similar point as the internet in 1996.
“Its interest level is 100 per cent growing,” he said.
“We just saw a massive spike in retail investors coming on board. That’s why everyone bought and they sold and everyone’s really angry. But all you do is just wait. Bitcoin’s been going for nine years. And if they don’t think their bitcoin is worth anything just send it to me, I don’t mind.”
Mr Schebesta said the next move would be to “build the crypto bank of Australia” by partnering with an existing bank, rather than Finder applying for its own authorised deposit-taking institution (ADI) licence.
He recently bought a “significant” personal shareholding in West Australian bank Goldfields Money.
“They’re a $35 million market cap, tiny business, but a bank, and the only bank with an ADI in Western Australia,” he said.
“As crypto adoption takes off and it becomes bigger and bigger, people are going to [need] certain services [like] custodianship, cold storage, escrow, exchange and spending.
“And then lending — lending is what makes the fiat economy [government-backed currency] work, and once lending really cranks up in crypto, that’s the thing that will basically take this to a whole other level.”
While that goes against recent moves by nearly all major banks to ban cryptocurrency purchases on credit cards, Mr Schebesta predicts funding for crypto lending will come from the exchanges themselves rather than traditional sources.
“Deustche Bank has 98,720 people, they [made] $US146 million in profit [in the first quarter],” he said. “Binance has 300 people and they make $US200 million in profit. Something’s going on here.”
Mr Schebesta believes he could have his crypto bank up and running within 18 months. “There are already three big banks in America — Silvergate Bank, Signature Bank and Bank of Silicon Valley — that have pure crypto teams now,” he said. “They’re going to lead the way. That’s where all the big money is.”
He argues the major banks in Australia are “scared of cryptocurrency”.
“They’re closing accounts, they won’t bank people, and I don’t think that’s fair and I don’t think there’s any reason to do that,” he said.
“There’s a lot of intricacy when it comes to cryptocurrency and how it actually operates. We understand this market, we know how to make it safe and make it scalable and actually bring it to banks.
“We’re living in the future. That’s what I’m all about. I think I’m a time traveller. I travel forward five years in the future, work it out then come back and try to take active steps to make it happen.
“Comparison wasn’t very big because Australians weren’t really comparing, but I thought that was going to change, so I put a big investment and a big bet on comparison. I think with crypto, [people will want to] own their own currency and be able to hedge against fiat currency.”
He said the economy was “only stabilised by manufactured tools”.
“You don’t have your money. The bank has your money. Have you ever gone to the bank and asked for all your money? If everyone did a bank run on CommBank right now, they wouldn’t be able to service it.
“That’s why I’m so big on crypto. I think eventually people will go, ‘Oh my god, this is so messed up’, and they’ll move to where they can hold their value. Not all of their money, but some of it.
“I’m not saying it’s going to be the be-all and end-all, but it’s going to be a much bigger percentage of the entire financial economy. That’s why I’m hedging Finder.”