The acquisition will instantly make Circle a rising threat to Coinbase, the biggest cryptocurrency exchange in the U.S., as well as Bittrex and Kraken, the runner-ups. Counting contributions from Poloniex, Circle's revenues over the past three months, excluding February, exceeded $250 million, placing the company on an annual run rate greater than $1 billion. Not bad for a 5-year-old upstart.

With the expansion, Circle is laying the groundwork for a day when cryptocurrencies become pervasive, prices grow less volatile, and the utility of digital tokens goes undisputed. If most of the dozens of exchanges competing today are just places to buy and sell coins, Circle has loftier ambitions: It wants to eventually help consumers turn their trading profits into a Tesla, a mortgage, or a portfolio of blue chips. Circle has ample funds, mainstream investors, sophisticated tech, a new network of customers annexed from Poloniex--and, with some luck, a legitimate chance at building the bank of the next century around crypto-finance.

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