A Fintech Flub Exposes Risk of Cryptocurrency Hype

Hype is never far away from cryptocurrencies. Punters taking public transport or navigating social media are bombarded daily with enticing advertising and billboards dangling the next big coin, while self-proclaimed experts and gurus offer hot investing tips before the inevitable tired disclaimer: “Please do your own research.”

But when London-listed fintech company Mode Global Holdings Plc announced it would expand its Bitcoin cashback program to more than 40 online U.K. retailers this week — name-checking Ocado Group Plc, Homebase and Walgreen Boots Alliance Inc. — the hype seemed rather more deserved. Shares soared as much as 15%, the most in more than five months, on excitement that crypto was marching ever-onward into consumer hands.

Deserved, that is, until Mode’s “clarification statement” released on Friday sent its shares back down 14%. The firm explained that “certain specific brands” mentioned the day earlier had since pulled out of the program, which aims to convert cash rewards for shoppers into Bitcoin in return for a fee starting next year.

The word “clarification” here looks like a very expensive understatement. It suggests that the very act of publicizing the name of affiliated cashback partners, whether intentional or accidental, was enough to spook some partners into pulling out — a pretty terrible look. “Some brands don’t want to be associated to Crypto despite approving us through the affiliate process,” Chairman Jonathan Rowland tweeted. “We can’t control that unfortunately.”

Worse, the response of Boots, one of the brands named, appeared to rule out any involvement with Mode’s program in the first place: “We have not been directly approached by Mode and they have used our name without permission in their press release and marketing materials,” the company said via email. Ocado, meanwhile, said it had “never had any direct affiliation” with Mode.