Just What Is Going On at Blockchain.Com?
Has the “world’s most trusted Bitcoin wallet” lost its way? Should you pull your money out right now?
I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Blockchain.com’s wallet.
There’s really nothing special about it and, in fact, there are far prettier wallets out there — such as Exodus and Luno — and I also use these. But Blockchain, well, let’s just say you never forget your first do you?
Although I’d stumbled across it several years beforehand, I’d consistently “bottled out” of buying Bitcoin directly until around 2016. It seemed scary and I was worried I would lose my money through the apparent minefield of scammy sites and dodgy players that were prevalent at the time.
That delay cost me dearly in terms of return, but it allowed me to finally discover Blockchain, a wallet that seemed simple, secure and straightforward, even for a novice like me. And it really was. Within a short time of signing up and getting verified, I had purchased my first bitcoin, quickly and easily, using my debit card. I was finally in the game I’d been observing from the sidelines for so long.
In fact, it was so easy and gave me such a buzz that I bought more and more, often reaching my maximum daily limit. And, now that I was confident in what I was doing, I started introducing other people to Blockchain.com and taking them though the process of buying.
By now I had written my second book, a novice’s introduction to Bitcoin written in a lighthearted way, titled “How to Explain Bitcoin to your Mum,” inspired by the very act of trying to do just that one sunny afternoon in 2017. Blockchain.com was, of course, the wallet I promoted within the book to receive the free bitcoin I sent out as a little starter amount for all readers.
Within a few months of the book launching, I was running presentations and webinars talking about cryptocurrency in general, and Bitcoin in particular. I started writing, here on Medium, but also on blogs and in various crypto publications. Inevitably, a podcast and YouTube channel followed. And in all that time, I continued to promote Blockchain.com.
In fact, as of the start of 2020, I estimated that I’d directly introduced several hundred people to bitcoin via Blockchain.com over that time, some of them being what traders would call “big hitters.” I’d even written a “newbies guide” on how to use it to save me explaining it each time, and those people had collectively converted many tens of thousands of pounds into Bitcoin. It was even possible it had reached six figures.
I’m sure Blockchain.com, had they known, would have been very happy with this performance and continued endorsement.
But then, it all seemed to go wrong very quickly.
Something is Amiss…
Blockchain is one of the oldest running wallets out there, having been established in 2011 and having a current Alexa ranking of 2,339. To put it into context, the official site of the NASDAQ index is only 2,993.
This is definitely a well-established wallet with a good reputation, surely worthy of their self selected strap line of “The World's Most Trusted Wallet.”
So, when I went to make another bitcoin purchase on Monday 27th April, I was not the least bit worried about doing so.
This was a transaction I needed to make urgently. I had just purchased an additional ASIC (a specialist machine designed for the sole purpose of mining bitcoin) for my operation in Siberia and needed to replace the bitcoin I’d used to make the purchase. For accounting reasons, I obviously needed the amounts to match directly, so I went to the purchase tab in the Blockchain wallet to make it.
But something was off. The card option was missing and no amount of searching in the help files would reveal why. It had simply been eradicated and all reference to it had been removed, like something out of George Orwell’s book “1984.”
“Purchase Bitcoin by card? No Sir, we’ve never done that here. Move along now, don’t make a fuss,” it seemed to say.
The only option was to do a bank transfer, but since I knew my bank account allowed for instant transfers, it seemed it would work just as well. Blockchain.com’s own system said it could take up to a day for it to process, but in practice it would probably be much less. Not ideal, but not a show stopper. The most important thing was to get it done ASAP so the books would balance correctly.
I set the amount of bitcoin to buy, and wired the money, which was actually a little tricky to work out as the instructions were poor. Nevertheless, I got a confirmation that the funds were in Blockchain’s account in seconds.
Then … nothing.
No Bitcoin, no money, and no updates. The Blockchain status simply read “Awaiting Funds” and refused to change.
I’d never seen a transaction take more than a few minutes before, so I started to become concerned after a few hours. Worse, bitcoin’s price had unexpectedly started surging immediately after the purchase and I started to wonder if they would honor the original purchase price ($7735.98) or take market value at time of transaction, leaving me significantly out of pocket. I was worried. This was a significant amount of money and not something I could afford to lose.
It was time to contact support.
Support to the Rescue …. Or Not
Through the help section, I found the support pages at support.blockchain.com and raised a ticket. It had now been 10 hours, and my concerns were preventing me from making any progress on any projects I was supposed to be working on. I had refreshed the page a hundred times, and there was nothing. No update. No acknowledgement. Nothing.
I raised a support ticket, included screenshots and raised a number of questions. These concerned the mysterious disappearance of the card payment system, asking for confirmation that the money was received and the transaction was in progress and, finally, requesting a completion estimate.
I was initially buoyed to receive an answer within an hour of submission, but then dismayed to read the contents. “Greg” had apparently replied without actually reading the comments. Here is the complete response to my neatly number questions and attached supporting evidence:
Little did I know, this was to be the only direct response I would ever receive from Blockchain, something that would have depressed me at the time if I’d known.
It’s a pet hate of mine when companies ignore what you put in your complaint and send a vague response that they know doesn’t address anything you raise. They do so because the representative knows there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it and there will be no repercussions.
So why bother? Of course, as the one who raised the issue, you have to start all over again and most people, I suppose, simply give up.
I, however, am not “most people.”
Of course, I replied to the email pointing out that this didn’t address anything I’d raised, but received no response. “Greg” had evidently gone home.
So, I chased again the matter next morning and every few hours after that. I still haven’t received a response, even at the time of writing this article, 14 days later.
I raised another ticket in the hope this would attract attention, but later found out this had also been immediately marked as “solved” without my consent, knowledge or even an email to let me know. I’ve since reopened multiple tickets, but as of now, they also remain unaddressed.
By the time I wrote this article, bitcoin had risen by 10% to around $8,507, and the potential gap between the bitcoin I’d requested and what I might receive was becoming alarming. To make the books balance, any shortfall would have to be made up by me, and I was not happy about this prospect.
However, after years of great service and unwavering devotion, I was sure this was a hiccup and I’d be dealt with fairly.
We’re Not Talking To You
It was now 24 hours after the purchase, the longest time Blockchain’s own system advised the process could take. There was still no bitcoin, no update, no response and, since I’d already transferred the money as requested, no way to buy it elsewhere.
I was getting desperate, so I tried the “live” support channel on Blockchain’s Twitter account @AskBlockchain. As with the support channel, I was glad to see my message was picked up and read immediately, but was dismayed to see there was no response.
I took to following up every 90 minutes or so, and over the next three days, tried another 16 messages. Frustratingly, every one was read, but none were ever responded to.
With no response from support.blockchain, email@example.com or the support channel on Twitter, it was clear that all support systems were offline. However, no announcement was visible on any platform.
Even more odd, Blockchain was still posting as usual on their main social media accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn and their main Twitter account with no apparent reference to anything out of the ordinary. No announcement of service delays, no suspension of support, nothing. Everything was cheery and upbeat.
It seemed, therefore, that it was simply a matter of me not being important enough to talk to.
Ooooh, that hurts.
A New Strategy
If Blockchain personnel are still posting on social media, then it stands to reason the company itself must still be operating, just choosing not to engage with its customers. It was time to adopt a strategy I’d used before on large public facing companies with significant success — spamming social media posts.
For the next three days, every time any of Blockchain.com’s social media platforms posted anything at all, I’d immediately post a comment asking for support and providing details that I had ready to be copied and pasted. After around 40 posts, I got my first response, and here it is:
I think the irony that I was placing posts on the social media channels because support wasn’t responding was lost on whoever made the reply, but of course, this was the exact route I had taken to start with. I pointed this out in a return tweet, now a little sarcastically as I was growing tired of spending several hours a day being ignored.
But, perhaps there was hope after all! Just a few minutes after submitting my response, I received a comment back:
Finally! I had made contact and it had only taken 2.5 days of hard graft and (by now) a total of 74 support requests over five channels!
Excited, I tweeted my support number and …. never heard from them again.
That, in fact, was the last response I received from Twitter. All comments posted since have been ignored, even after 12 days. However, there was new hope.
Among all the dozens of scammers I now had contacting me from dubious “lookalike” accounts on Blockchain’s clearly unmanaged Facebook page, I finally had a response from the company itself. Here it is:
Well, it wasn’t ideal, but seeing as were now on May 5th, eight days after trying to buy Bitcoin, it was something. And right now I’d take anything.
Inevitably, of course, submitting my ticket number yielded no response and I never heard back from them again. I resumed my comment spamming at, at contact attempt number 94, I got another hit, also from Facebook:
Excited, I logged into the support system and found … nothing. Email, nothing. Twitter support, nothing, LinkedIn, nothing, Facebook, nothing. Where had this contact come from? I asked the question in response to the comment. There was no answer.
In fact, apart from these formulaic requests for ticket numbers, I have not heard from Blockchain on any channel after 14 days of waiting and over 100 contact points over all the platforms they are represented on. Well, apart from “Greg” that is.
So, where does one go from here?
In the end, the transaction completed by itself many days after Blockchain’s supposed maximum time frame, at a bitcoin price of $8895.08. This meant I was out of pocket by a very significant amount. To balance the books, I transferred the missing money from my personal account and took the hit.
As you can imagine, I wasn’t impressed with the service or the lack of response from Blockchain. I still have tickets open and I still want answers and, of course, reimbursement.
It’s perfectly OK to make a mistake — all companies and people do — it’s not OK to make your customers pay for it and refuse to answer their inquiries.
What Happens Now?
Well, that depends on what Blockchain.com does next. However, I think it’s clear that I have to reconsider my position as an enthusiastic promoter of the Blockchain wallet, whatever happens from hereon in.
First, my main concern, apart from the loss of my own money, it to make sure that no one I have introduced to Blockchain is affected, and I have started recommending they pull their Bitcoin out and leave the wallets empty.
Exodus is extremely user friendly and has a very cool instant conversion tool, although you can’t buy bitcoin directly. I like Luno too, but it’s limited to only 40 countries at the moment and has some other limitations.
Second, I will no longer be endorsing Blockchain in any form, and the second edition of my book, due out later this year, will be promoting one of the other services. I haven’t decided which yet.
Third, all references to buying bitcoin through Blockchain in my articles and publications will be removed where possible and excluded completely from future ones.
Of course, I’m really saddened to have to stop using a company I’ve had such a warm and fuzzy feeling for for such a long time, but the reality is this sort of behavior is inexcusable.
Just imagine if I had been a new user introduced to bitcoin for the first time. Think of the damage that would have caused to someone’s perception.
No, Blockchain, in my view, is no longer fit for purpose and should not be used by anyone going forward, at least until they have provably fixed the problems and reimbursed anyone affected.
The gateway to Bitcoin must be trouble-free and entirely trusted — it’s simply too risky to the “cryptosphere” as a whole to allow a poor operator to be the first contact for a new user.
Recently, I discovered that it wasn’t just me who was being ignored, but actually that doesn’t make me feel better. There’s obviously a systemic failure here that needs to be resolved, but I see no evidence of any attempts to do that yet. It seems that as my transaction has completed, as long and stressful as it was, it is no longer an issue in Blockchain’s eyes.
I’ll continue reaching out to them, though perhaps just once or twice a day rather than the amounts I’ve been doing, and I’ll update this article as soon as I get a response.
But in the meantime, I’d strongly suggest not using or recommending Blockchain, at least until we know what’s going on.
UPDATE and RESOLUTION (14/5/20)
A few hours after posting this in multiple places, I received a personal email from Peter Smith, the CEO of Blockchain.com, apologizing for the problems and appointing his head of customer service to resolve, which they promptly did. Here’s the email:
The reason for the delay was made clear — it was simple technical issue that had delayed the purchase transaction that wasn’t spotted for several days and affected many people. This, of course, created an overload of support systems and the whole process fell apart.
In my own case, I have now received the missing Bitcoin back into my wallet and I consider the matter technically closed. Yes, they put me back in the position I should have been in to start with, but I can’t help but feel it was a bit ‘do the minimum’ to fix it.
After all, there’s no recognition of the dozens of man hours I spent on this rather than earning a living and the hassle and stress it caused. And, since they knew they were overwhelmed, why not let people know and create reassurance? They were still posting regularly on all social media channels, so it wasn’t like this process wasn’t being managed.
I don’t feel ‘convinced’ that this was the best they could do or that they really wanted me back as a customer and overall I’d say it was a missed opportunity to turn a PR mess into a positive outcome. All good customer service people know that you can often turn someone who’s had a disastrous experience into your most passionate advocate with surprisingly little effort. It just needs to be perceived as above and beyond and genuine.
So, if this was a survey with a range of options to chose from I’d pick the middle one.
Y’know the one that basically says ‘Meh’
If you found this article helpful, you may also like these:
Incredibly, this was not the first time I had to create a PR storm to get attention from a company I had been endorsing. Did Wirex handle it any better? You decide.
As each day goes by this becomes more important … and harder to do.
What will happen with Bitcoin over the next five years? Here’s some likely scenarios: (update: 4 and 7 have already happened! But what about the rest?)
Disclosure: The author of this opinion piece has been heavily involved with Bitcoin for several years and holds a substantial portfolio, including Bitcoin. He also has a mining operation running the SHA 256 algorithm based in Siberia and is a published author on the subject of promoting the understanding of cryptocurrency. Jason is an analyst at Quantum Economics.
Disclaimer: Investing in any asset class is risky. The above should not be taken as financial advice, nor construed as so. Always do your own research before investing or consult with a professional financial planner.