BBVA Compass
Cryptocurrencies,  Innovators

Bank invests heavily in Coinbase, cancels customer accounts for using Coinbase

ICO advisor and John McAfee’s partner in NoBSCrypto says Coinbase investor BBVA closed his accounts just for using Coinbase

On April 6, when ICO advisor Chris Koerner logged on to see if his tenant had deposited a rent check, he was in for a rude awakening. Each of his five accounts had been emptied. The bank gave no warning or information, other than a call previously that month to ask him why he wanted to buy bitcoin.

Koerner is a partner in NoBSCrypto, a successful coin rating group, with famed wildman crypto enthusiast and software tycoon John McAfee. The Dallas resident said that his bank, a local branch of the Spanish-based BBVA, gave no warning until an email told him that his account had been removed. It took four weeks just to get his hands on his own money.

Chris Koerner's BBVA Compass
Chris Koerner’s BBVA Compass accounts.

On Tuesday after four weeks of calls, branch visits, and emails, Koerner got his money back. But he wasn’t allowed to deposit it into a BBVA account ever again. While the bank had the crypto investor’s money locked up, they also launched a pilot program that successfully sent a $91 million loan overseas using blockchain technology.

In February, Coinbase customers had to use their debit card accounts to buy cryptocurrency. Credit cards issued by Chase, Citibank, Bank of America, and Capital One banned the platform. That was for buying on credit, yet Koerner  made debit-card transactions.

The bank gave no official reason for closing his accounts, but on February 28 Koerner began getting calls from BBVA.

“I never get calls from the bank. It was specifically a call from the main office in Texas. They’d leave a voicemail. And they called every day and they were asking me why I was buying bitcoin. She asked me, ‘What’s the purpose?’” Koerner told Modern Consensus. “Of all the things your bank could get you for! I mean, I’m Mormon. I don’t smoke or do drugs or anything and they come after me for buying bitcoin.”

Modern Consensus confirmed Koerner’s call record and voicemail. Calls to the return number led to a voicemail box indicating that its owner was on vacation until May 8.

How did this happen to a straight-laced ICO advisor who spent two years as a Mormon missionary before starting a phone fixing business while getting his undergraduate at the University of Alabama?

Koerner had five accounts for his various cell phone screens businesses and rental properties.

“There was one email for each of my five checking accounts at BBVA Compass,” he said. “No one else has access to my account and my logins are all tightly locked down with 2FA [two-factor authentication].” He logged into his main accounts page and saw five empty accounts.

He thought he’d been hacked, “I had four accounts under this login and one account under another login for a different business I own and all were at $0. A check had been written and cashed in the exact amount that was left in each account, but when I clicked on the check to see the image, nothing would load.”

Koerner claims he has a spotless banking reputation with BBVA. But the only time he has ever heard from his bank was the month before when the corporate office called to ask about the bitcoin purchase he’d made. “Keep in mind, I had been buying crypto for almost 2 years with these accounts.”

Is the bank leading the way in the crypto revolution also freezing out independent crypto buyers?

At the time of the announcement about the $91 million loan using blockchain, BBVA’s global head of customer solutions, Derek White, said, “BBVA’s digital transformation continues to gather pace and reach into new areas, and this is a prime example of where disruptive technology can add real value to business processes. The use of blockchain in this transaction has greatly increased transparency and speed, while equally improving efficiency.”

But Koerner didn’t hear anything about BBVA’s speed, transparency, and efficiency when they gave him the runaround for four weeks and kept him from the money in his accounts. Koerner said he was told, “I see here that we decided to close your accounts, and unfortunately I cannot provide a reason. Please go to a local branch, tell them what happened and have them give you the money back.”

Even then he couldn’t get a straight answer or find the checks that emptied his accounts. “I have been banking with BBVA Compass for 8 years. I opened my first business checking account with them while in college, and ultimately ran millions of dollars of corporate transactions through those five accounts, without any overdrafts or fraud reports. I even had a mortgage with them for a time.”

Returning to that mysterious phone call from out of nowhere, Koerner remembers joking about it. “She asked why I was buying Bitcoin and I told her that I didn’t need to tell her why I was buying Bitcoin. I sarcastically asked if it was against the law to buy bitcoin,” he said. He asked if it was against their policy to buy bitcoin and the representative said no.

“I started doing some research of similar reports happening, and what I found shocked me.” Koerner said. “The same company they punished me for buying bitcoin from Coinbase, they actually own a part of!”

In 2015, BBVA Ventures participated in Coinbase’s $75 million Series C financing. The corporate venture arm of BBVA Group is specifically designed to fund “disruptive startups in the financial services industry.” The amount of their investment was not disclosed, “The round was led by DFJ Growth, with participation from existing investors, including Andreessen Horowitz, Union Square Ventures and Ribbit Capital,” BBVA said at the time in a press release.

So are there two sets of rules for the BBVA and Koerner’s local bank, BBVA Compass?

Modern Consensus spoke with BBVA Compass’ PR man Tristan Grimble, who was just as confused about the move. “I know we’re not in the bitcoin business. I wouldn’t know if they closed the account for that. We don’t mess with bitcoin, we’ve never had any clients messing with bitcoin. I don’t think they would close an account because someone was buying bitcoin.”

We asked him if it seemed odd that BBVA would champion and crack down on crypto at the same time. “That was BBVA from Spain with a pilot and it was blockchain technology, not bitcoin. From opening to closing to streamline the process. We haven’t had any talks about bitcoin processing. We are not in the blockchain industry and we don’t have any plans to get into that any time soon.”

Grimble’s Texas counterpart also spoke with us Tuesday to say that they are looking into the matter but there has not been a broader crypto crackdown.

As we spoke with Koerner by phone, he received a notification from LinkedIn that BBVA’s CIO Jorge Ortiz checked out his profile. But they have still not given any answer about his account.

Koerner makes a living by telling crypto enthusiasts where to put their money. Now he’s telling his followers to stay away from BBVA.

“It took me 4 weeks to get my money back, by the way. Only after a handful of calls, emails, and branch visits did it happen. Luckily, I also have a personal bank account elsewhere and a credit union. But you can imagine how someone who decided to check out Coinbase could stranded trying to buy gas if this were their only account.”

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Brendan Sullivan is a writer, producer, and author of the memoir Rivington Was Ours: Lady Gaga, the Lower East Side, and the Prime of Our Lives. Disclosure: he owns cryptocurrencies. Follow him on Twitter.