Crypto firm Ripple buys Swiss startup as SEC crackdown forces companies to consider overseas moves

Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse speaks during the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, on Oct. 19, 2021.
Kyle Grillot | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Blockchain firm Ripple said Wednesday it has acquired Metaco, a Swiss firm that holds digital assets securely on behalf of clients, in a bid to expand its international footprint and broaden its range of services.

News of the deal, one of the largest acquisitions in the crypto industry in the past year or so, comes as the San Francisco-based startup continues to contest a lawsuit from the United States Securities and Exchange Commission.

It also comes as the crypto industry as a whole is facing a host of challenges, from higher interest rates and tighter funding conditions to mass layoffs and dwindling company valuations.

“This is the largest deal we’ve seen in the last year,” Brad Garlinghouse, CEO of Ripple, told CNBC on a call Tuesday.

Ripple invested $250 million of cash off its own balance sheet to fund the acquisition, Garlinghouse said.

“At a time when others are closing their doors or facing layoffs, I think it’s a real important signal for the industry, it’s also a signal that ripple’s in a strong position — we’re going to play offense,” he added.

Ripple’s boss said the deal was a sign that it was still possible to make sizable deals even with the pressures the broader market is facing.

From crypto winter to crypto spring?

Garlinghouse said the deal would help the company increase its presence overseas at a time when the Securities and Exchange Commission is taking tough actions against major industry players — Ripple included.

The crypto titan, valued at $15 billion in its most recent private round of financing, has been faced with a great deal of regulatory uncertainty after the SEC sued the company and two of its executives accusing them of unregistered securities.

The regulator’s main assertion is that XRP, a cryptocurrency Ripple is closely associated with, is akin to a security which should have been registered with the agency before being issued and sold to investors.

Ripple, for its part, denies XRP should be treated as a security.

Founded in 2015 in Switzerland, Metaco offers a range of services aimed at helping financial institutions store, trade, issue and manage digital currencies in a secure manner.

“We’ve been partnering with that segment — banks, payment providers, in our whole history,” Garlinghouse said, adding Metaco is “a good fit in terms of the strategic opportunity.”

“There’s a lot of deals people have tried to do during this crypto winter — I think this will really be a mark of a crypto spring.”

Secure custody of crypto in segregated accounts has become a heightened priority for financial institutions seeking to make a play in the industry in the wake of the collapse of FTX and numerous other notable crypto platforms.

Metaco counts several major financial firms as clients including Citi, BNP Paribas, BBVA and Societe Generale.

SEC lawsuit outcome expected in ‘months’

Crypto companies have been playing a game of poker with the U.S. SEC, making bold threats to leave the country following tough enforcement actions from the agency.

Major players are hoping the SEC and Washington takes, what crypto watchers see as bluffs, seriously and soften the hard line that regulators have taken on the industry.

Garlinghouse said last week that the firm will have spent $200 million in total defending itself against the SEC lawsuit.

The company’s legal battle with the U.S. agency is expected to draw to a close sometime later this year.

In an interview with CNBC Tuesday ahead of the news, Garlinghouse said he expects the firm will get an outcome in the legal fight in a matter of months.

“I think the most likely scenario is that we’ll hear [a decision] sometime either two to four or five months from now,” Garlinghouse said.

Gary Gensler, chair of the SEC, has made clear the regulator has no intention of backing down from its aggressive enforcement actions in the crypto space. Gensler has insisted that existing securities laws are already a good fit for crypto.

Some industry executives, however, believe the regulator’s actions are misguided. Numerous crypto industry insiders have been calling for a clear regulatory framework from the U.S. Congress to help give companies clarity over how they can operate in a way that’s legally sound.

Ripple is now Metaco’s sole shareholder, the company said. Metaco will continue to remain independent and its CEO Adrien Treccani will stay on as CEO.

“This deal will enable Metaco to leverage Ripple’s scale and market strength to reach our goals and deliver value to our clients at a faster pace,” Treccani said in a statement Wednesday.

“We look forward to continuing to serve unprecedented levels of institutional demand with the utmost excellence in delivery, as our clients have come to expect.”

WATCH: Ripple will have spent $200 million fighting SEC lawsuit, CEO says