When cryptocurrencies first emerged, most people trading it were either from the US or Europe.
That has changed dramatically in recent years, and especially in 2017 when Japan and South Korea stepped into the crypto trading world.
Just a few months ago, Japan was all over the news for making Bitcoin legal - and in return, hundreds of thousands of Japanese merchants and retailers started to accept the digital currency as regular payment method.
South Korea on the other hand has a special relationship with Ethereum.
Out of the 5 biggest Ethereum Exchange platforms, 3 are Korean - which means that over 40% of all Ethereum traffic can be accounted to Koreans.
When you consider that the other global top 10 exchanges are using major currencies like Dollar, Yuan or Bitcoin, the trade pair Ethereum/Korean Won could actually be the most concentrated per capita.
And that although the Won is only used by 50 million people in the world!
In June, the Korean "Ethereum Fever" even drove the ETH price to a 30% premium on Korean exchanges.
“People are crazed over it. Grandpas and grandmas come to our office lobby and say they want to put half a billion won ($447,000). We ask them how they heard about us, and they say, ‘I heard about you through a friend who invested a couple thousand and made a killing, and I want to do it too’ ... but they have no idea how to use the app or email.”
-Steve Lim, CSO of CoinOne
What are the reasons for Korea's sudden crypto-craze?
While no one can really answer this question for sure, there are a few possibilities.
The first reason is that children of the Korean upper class have discovered the potential profits of cryptocurrency trading.
These are mostly millenials, and being children of wealthy Korean business owners, they are investing and trading with their parents' money.
When you look at average Ethereum trades in the US, they range from $100 to maybe $10.000 per trade.
But in Korea, $100.000 steps are no rarity!
Another one is that other local investment options have decreased.
Real Estate and the domestic stock market have always been a safe option to invest in South Korea, but both have lost stability and popularity in recent times. Even gambling, which is the favorite activity of many Asian risk-takers, has become illegal.
Then, these risk-takers turned to cryptocurrencies due to the high volatility.
The market first started getting interested in Bitcoin, suddenly pouring in millions of Korean Won (KRW), and then turned to Ethereum a little later.
“They looked into other assets with high volatility and Bitcoin was the perfect one. So high-risk traders put their money into the Korean Bitcoin market and it went up like crazy. Once people saw that, they just poured their money in.”
-Lee Seung-gun, president of the Korea Fintech Association and CEO of Viva Republica
But why especially Ethereum ?
Steve Lim from CoinOne speculates that Koreans were too late to join the Bitcoin craze in 2012, so they just watched.
But when Ethereum launched in 2015 and showed immense gains this year, they were eager to get on board.
CoinOne was the first open Ethereum exchange platform in Korea, offering direct exchange between Won and ETH without having to go through other cryptocurrencies. This added to the local trend of wanting to invest in Ethereum.
Another beneficial factor is that Vitalik Buterin, Ethereum's founder, met personally with many Korean cryptocurrency enthusiasts, namely putting a face to the investment and strengthening the business relationships to Koreans.
“During the Ethereum boom, lots of Koreans bought it and luckily made a lot of money. That was a period when Ethereum jumped 300% in a couple days. The range of choice is narrow, so Ethereum was only coin that was moving. Influence of mass media was also great.”
-Steve Lim, CSO of CoinOne
What's next for Korea and its Ethereum-hype?
Right now, there are no signs of the Ethereum-craze to end.
Even on Steemit, we have seen an immense growth in Korean users, easily noticeable by the "kr" tag at the top of the trending page.
While the Korean premiums may not be as extreme as a few months ago, the interest in trading still hasn't gone down.
When looking at the Top 24 Hour Volume Rankings from all exchanges worldwide, Korean platform Bithumb is clearly at the top of the list - in front of Bittrex, Bitfinex, Poloniex and Kraken!
It comes to no surprise that the most popular trading pair is ETH/KRW (Korean Won), with a trading volume of $162.633.000 in 24 hours - over 52% of ETH trades!
What do you think about the sudden Korean Ethereum/Cryptocurrency Craze? And for all Korean Steemians, how do you experience the shift towards cryptocurrency in everyday life?