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CCAF publishes findings Global Cryptocurrency Benchmarking Study

The Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance (CCAF) has published the findings of its debut research around  digital assets and alternative payment systems. The report is titled: Global Cryptocurrency Benchmarking Study. The Visa-supported study is the first of its kind. It systematically examines the booming young cryptocurrency landscape and its key constituents: exchanges, wallets, payments and mining.

The Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance (CCAF) Global Cryptocurrency Benchmarking Study was carried out with the support of leading global provider of payment services technology, Visa. The CCAF study is the first to conduct a systematic investigation of key cryptocurrency industry sectors using empirical, non-public data. The report gathered the data of nearly 150 cryptocurrency companies and invested individuals in 38 countries spanning five world regions. With this data, the study details the key industry sectors in cryptocurrency and the different entities that inhabit them.

Key highlights

According to findings, the lines are increasingly blurred between the various sectors in the cryptocurrency industry, with 31% of surveyed companies now operating across multiple sectors. This trend has given rise to the growing number of universal cryptocurrency companies. Interestingly, the study estimates that the number of active cryptocurrency wallet users now lies between 2.9 million and 5.8 million. The data can confirm that at least 1,876 individuals are employed on a full-time basis in cryptocurrency companies, although the actual number is likely in excess of two thousand, when considering the addition of those working for large mining organisations and other firms that did not provide employment numbers. For payment companies and exchanges, the average headcount and cost levels as a percentage of total headcount or operating expenses are similar. In contrast, the study indicated significantly higher costs in these areas for providers of cryptocurrency wallets.

Methodology & study structure

Between September 2016 and January 2017, CCAF researchers conducted four online surveys, transmitted in the form of secure web-based questionnaires. These surveys each targeted organisations and individuals operating in specific sectors, namely: exchanges, wallets, payment service providers, and miners. Surveys were distributed primarily in English, although the survey focused on the exchanges sector was translated and distributed with the assistance of Survey data was gathered from respondents in 38 countries spanning five major world regions and included responses from more than one hundred cryptocurrency companies and organisations, plus 30 individual miners, all participating in one or more questionnaires.

CCAF directly communicated the study objectives to individual organisations; however, for cases in which currently active major companies did not contribute to the study, the dataset has been supplemented with additional research and web scraping using commonly applied methodologies. The research study sample included a total of 144 cryptocurrency organisations and individual miners. CCAF estimates that this benchmarking study has managed to capture upwards of 75% of the four main cryptocurrency industry sectors that are addressed in the report.

Below, an outline of the report structure is provided, with a brief description of the information that can be found in each section. The main chapters of the report are built around the aforementioned surveys, which are briefly described. In addition, a few of the most important findings from each of the four conducted surveys have been mentioned.

  • Exchanges 

    This section of the report offers an overview of the cryptocurrency exchange sector. It details different types of exchange activities, focusing particularly on security.

    • The exchanges sector has highest number of operating entities. It employs more individuals than any other industry sector covered in the study. The data shows a significant geographical dispersion of exchanges.
    • 52% of small exchanges hold a formal government license, compared to only 35% of large exchanges.
    • On average, security headcount corresponds to 13% of total employees, and around 17% of budget is spent on security.
  • Wallets

    This section evaluates the different types and formats of cryptocurrency wallets. Features covered are widely varied, including currency exchange services.

    • It is estimated that the current amount of ‘active’ wallets now lies between 5.8 million and 11.5 million.
    • Lines between wallets and exchanges are evermore blurred – 52% of wallets surveyed provide an integrated currency exchange feature. Of these, 80% offer a national-to-cryptocurrency exchange service.
    • In contrast with exchanges, the majority of wallets do not control access to user keys.
  • Payments

    This section provides a taxonomy of the four major payment activity types. It compares national and cross-border payment channels and transaction sizes.

    • Although 79% of payment companies have established relationships with banking institutions and payment networks, the difficulty of obtaining and maintaining these relationships was cited as this sector’s biggest challenge.
    • On average, national-to-cryptocurrency payments constitute two-thirds of total payment company transaction volume, whereas national-to-national currency transfers and cryptocurrency-to-cryptocurrency payments account for 27% and 6%, respectively.
  • Mining

    The section explains the mining value chain and presents miners’ views on policy issues and operational challenges. Another section feature is a map that indicates publicly known mining facilities across the world.

    • 70% of large miners rate their influence on protocol development as high or very high, compared to 51% of small miners.
    • The cryptocurrency mining map indicates that publicly known mining facilities are geographically dispersed, although a significant concentration can be observed in certain Chinese provinces.
  • Appendices

    The study concludes with a highly useful selection of appendices for report readers who may be less familiar with the topic. Below a brief overview outlines the information addressed in each appendix.

    • A: Brief introduction to cryptocurrencies highlights the general concept of cryptocurrencies and presents their key properties and value propositions.
    • B: The cryptocurrency industry offers a more detailed introduction to the emergence of the cryptocurrency industry.
    • C: The geographical dispersion of cryptocurrency users discusses the geographical dispersion of cryptocurrency users and activity.


To review additional findings from the CCAF Global Cryptocurrency Benchmarking Study, click here.

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