Swan Bitcoin is warning users to not withdraw directly to Wasabi or Samourai wallets, two of the most popular bitcoin mixing services. For at least the third time, Swan customers are having problems with banking access.
Specifically, Swan Bitcoin co-founder Yan Pritzker recently admitted that “some of the banks and qualified custodians that Swan works with have been freezing or terminating accounts.” An email from Swan claims that these suspensions affect customers who deposit or withdraw bitcoin with a bitcoin mixing service.
Pritzker’s fellow co-founder and CEO Cory Klippsten says Swan is negotiating with banks and considering legal actions.
Swan Bitcoin has more problems with banks
Critics were quick to publicize the announcement. Many claimed Swan was kowtowing to banks. A customer said, “Swan financially only supports chain surveillance and policies in direct conflict with Bitcoin.’
Samourai Wallet had particularly sharp words. “It’s still a proposal you lame f*cking p*ssies,” the firm posted on X. “Instead of mounting a defense you preemptively comply? Absolute losers.”
Paul Sztorc bemoaned Swan’s announcement, saying Bitcoin’s ability to enable permissionless transactions — to any entity, including anonymizers — is Bitcoin’s primary value proposition. Many chuckled, claiming that Swan was walking an inexorable path toward reinventing PayPal.
Pritzker added more context to the Swan’s latest round of banking troubles. He clarified that Swan doesn’t have an explicit policy forbidding the use of mixing services. To the contrary, the company published a guide to using them.
However, a screenshot of Swan Bitcoin’s update on anonymizing wallets says otherwise. In boldface, it reminds customers that they shouldn’t deposit and withdraw directly with anonymizers, implying that adding a few hops might obfuscate their intentions to banking partners.
It’s unclear how effective or lasting this tactic would be for customers. Even if banks and payment processors targeted customers with direct transactions with anonymizers in their latest round of suspensions, tracing activities a few additional hops might be a trivial addition during their next round of suspensions.
Yan Pritzker continues anti-FinCEN rant
Pritzker says banks and qualified custodians have been terminating services to various companies — not just Swan — that interact with crypto mixing services. He sympathizes with customers, admitting that these financial institutions are often the only way to have a viable on-ramp and off-ramp for bitcoin activities.
Indeed, many financial institutions have demonstrated reluctance to support customers to directly send funds to mixers, tumblers, coinjoin pools, or any other type of identity-obscuring service. Pritzker blamed the US political climate and stringent regulations for financial businesses that don’t implement strict know your customer (KYC), anti-money laundering (AML), and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (CFT) procedures.
Pritzker ranted, saying politicians vastly overstate how much bitcoin is used to fund criminal activities like terrorism. He promised to fight for privacy rights in courts and express political dissent to entities like the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. He recommended an alternative to Wasabi and Samourai, Bisq.
Pritzker blamed surveillance overreach of the Patriot Act and its predecessor, the Bank Secrecy Act, which require banks to collect and report on suspicious activities. He blames banks’ filing of frivolous suspicious activity reports (SARs) that make it easy for the government to surveil innocent people’s financial lives.
Banking problems persist at Swan Bitcoin
In the end, the news is simply another banking problem at Swan Bitcoin. For whatever reason, the company seems to have a fiat on-/off-ramp crisis every few months. Swan’s first custodian of record went bankrupt. The acquirer of Swan’s second custodian of record bailed on that acquisition after it lost millions of dollars worth of assets, and its CEO resigned.
It claims that custodying bitcoin through third parties is so problematic that it is building its own custodial solution alongside BitGo. It will debut that self-branded service sometime in 2024.
In summary, banks and qualified custodians have suspended services to some customers of Swan Bitcoin. The freezes and account terminations have targeted Swan customers who interacted with coin mixing services like Samourai and Wasabi.
Swan is now recommending that customers who want to use these services add hops to their transaction trail, but the effectiveness of this strategy seems temporary.
Edit 17:55 UTC, Nov 15: Corrected headline to clarify that only some Swan customers have been affected.