How does crypto OTC actually work?

JC jawe.sol
8 min readFeb 11, 2020

Over-the-counter (OTC) trading desks like Circle Trade play an essential role in the crypto industry but few people understand why they’re important, how they work, and what separates one from another. As part of our mission to provide you with key market insights, we at Circle Research put together an in-depth look at the relevance, structure and taxonomy of crypto trading desks.

Similar to their counterparts in traditional finance, crypto OTC desks deal in immense volumes with seeming opacity, outside the periphery of the public eye. In this article, we’ll aim to bring clarity to how crypto OTC actually works.

What are OTC markets?

There are two basic ways of organizing financial markets — exchange and “over the counter”, or OTC.

Exchanges such as the New York Stock Exchange or a crypto-equivalent like Poloniex essentially act as mediators between buyers and sellers. Traders post prices they are willing to sell assets for (asks) and others post prices they are willing to buy assets for (bids). When a bid and an ask overlap, the exchange facilitates the trade. All trades happen out in the open and the prices that different assets trade for are what you see scrolling across the bottom of CNBC or on a website like CoinMarketCap.


OTC differs in that trade happens directly between two parties, with one of those parties typically being a “desk” — a business dedicated to the buying and selling of a particular asset…