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Crypto Wallet vs Exchange: What’s the Difference?

11 Dec 2023

According to Statista, the cryptocurrency market is forecasted to grow by 14.40% during 2023-2027 for obvious reasons. CNBC highlights that 1 in 5 Americans has traded in, invested, or otherwise used cryptocurrency. 

The accessibility of crypto empowers banked and unbanked populations by allowing them to participate in the global economy and engage in digital transactions securely regardless of their location - hence the skyrocketing popularity. 

Yet, the distinction between a crypto wallet vs exchange remains a perplexing topic for many, “How is a cryptocurrency exchange different from a cryptocurrency wallet?”

Below, we’ll break down the specifics for clarification and to help you make informed decisions in the crypto sphere. 

What is a Crypto Wallet? 

A crypto wallet, also termed a digital wallet, is a tool that allows users to send, receive, and store their cryptocurrencies or any other digital asset. 

Think of it like a traditional wallet that stores your credit cards or cash. A crypto wallet holds your digital assets. 

The primary difference, however, is that instead of storing money in the form of cash, it allows users to store cryptographic keys like public addresses and private keys. 

You can use this wallet with several cryptocurrencies, including Ethereum, Bitcoin, and Litecoin. 

It is worth noting that although they are termed “wallets”, they don’t store your digital currencies but rather their keys. This allows you to use your assets on the blockchain when needed. 

How Does It Work? 

A cryptocurrency wallet functions via a technology called public key cryptography. Every wallet contains a pair of them - a private and a public key. 

A public key, as the name implies, can be shared with everyone. People use it to send you digital funds. It’s akin to a bank account number that can be disclosed. 

Contrarily, the private key is a digital signature used to sign off transactions. Consider it like an ATM PIN code that cannot be revealed. Otherwise, people will be able to use your digital funds. 

When someone transfers you a fund, they sign off the coin to your wallet address. 

For you to access and utilize these funds, your private key must correspond with the public address assigned to the currency.

Once it does, your funds increase, and the sender’s balance reduces.

Types of Crypto Wallets 

There are different types of cryptocurrency wallets, and each offers unique use cases and features. Here’s a quick overview of the most common types. 

Non-Custodial Wallets

Non-custodial wallets grant users exclusive control over their private keys. Simply put, they have complete autonomy over their funds, unlike custodial wallets that entrust key control to third-party services and limit user sovereignty. 

  • Hot Wallets. These user-friendly wallets can be used on desktops, web, and mobile phones. You can easily connect them to the Internet. Overall, they are convenient and secure. However, they are slightly prone to online threats. 

  • Cold Wallets. The cold wallets provide better security since they aren’t connected to the Internet. People typically use them for storing cryptocurrencies for excessive periods. 

  • Paper Wallets. They are physical documents that contain your cryptocurrency address and private key. It’s either written or printed on paper and is generally used as a long-term cold storage solution. Although they are secure from online hacks, they can be easily lost, damaged, or stolen physically. 

Custodial Wallets

Here, third-party services, like crypto exchange, manage the private keys. This is a suitable option for people who do not want to manage their keys. Nonetheless, it also implies that users will entrust their security measures to a third party. 

What is Exchange?

Crypto exchange refers to a type of digital wallet provided by a crypto exchange program. 

It allows users to store, send, and receive their assets, but unlike traditional wallets, which users manage independently, these wallets are integrated into the exchange platform’s infrastructure. 

As such, when users create an account on a cryptocurrency exchange, they are automatically assigned an exchange wallet. 

The main type of exchange wallet is linked with centralized exchanges (CEXs). Platforms like Binance, Kraken, and Coinbase oversee these wallets for users. 

Decentralized exchanges (DEXs) are also an integral part of the cryptocurrency trading landscape. However, they lack built-in wallets to engage with the exchange.  

How Does It Work? 

In centralized exchanges, the exchange generates a dedicated wallet when users create their account. The exchange controls this wallet. In other words, it secures and manages the private keys. 

When engaging in trade, users transfer their digital assets into this exchange wallet, and it efficiently manages these assets. 

For instance, it maintains balance, allows users to purchase, sell, and trade crypto assets, and facilitates transactions. 

On top of that, it also tackles the transaction's security and verification. However, it is worth noting that this pro comes with a downside - heightened risk. 

Centralized exchanges are enticing targets for hackers since they contain users' private keys and funds. Breaches can, unfortunately, lead to a significant asset loss. 

Cryptocurrency Wallet vs Exchange: What’s the Difference?

The primary difference between cryptocurrency wallets and exchanges lies in their functionality. Below, we’ll take a closer look at their differences.

Cryptocurrency Wallet 

  • Privacy. They offer better privacy since transactions aren’t associated with user identity unless a user chooses to reveal it. This aspect appeals to users who prefer confidentiality and anonymity. 

  • Security & Control. Personal wallets (hot, cold, or paper wallets) offer better security because users have complete control over their private keys. This naturally reduces the risk of unauthorized access and hacks. Ultimately, this makes them ideal for the long-term storage of substantial cryptocurrency amounts.  

  • Ownership. A personal wallet means you own your digital funds outright. This boosts a sense of control and ownership, which is favorable for some. 

Cryptocurrency Exchange

  • Liquidity. Exchanges generally have high liquidity. This ensures that users can purchase or sell cryptocurrencies without major price fluctuations. This is beneficial for traders who seek to capitalize on market movements. 

  • Convenience & Accessibility. Exchanges are user-friendly for active traders. They provide hassle-free access to various cryptocurrencies and an easy conversion between digital assets, which is a plus. 

  • Additional Services. Exchanges often offer additional services like lending, margin trading, and staking. This allows users to access diverse opportunities and grow their investments. 

Cryptocurrency Wallet vs Exchange: Which One to Choose? 

Although the choice depends on your unique needs, here’s a quick overview to help you choose the right option. 

  • For Security-Conscious Users. Cryptocurrency wallets are better due to enhanced security features and user control over private keys. 

  • For Active Traders who seek convenience. If you’re an active trader who values convenience, accessibility, and the ability to quickly trade various cryptocurrencies, you better opt for crypto exchanges. 

It is important to note that a few users prefer both wallets and exchanges. For instance, they allocate a portion of their funds for regular trading on exchanges and store the bulk of their assets in secure wallets for long-term holding. 

Before you pick your route, it’s vital to understand the risks involved. Make sure you research and adhere to the best security practices to safeguard your investments. 

Ultimately, the choice boils down to your specific needs, risk tolerance, and investment strategy. 


Crypto wallets and exchanges play a critical role in the realm of cryptocurrencies. However, their unique functionalities set them apart. 

Wallets offer the utmost control and security. Contrarily, exchanges provide quick access to cryptocurrencies and convenient trading. 

It’s similar to choosing between a safe deposit box for long-term security and a marketplace for active transactions. 

Remember, the best approach often combines both - protecting your investments in a secure wallet and utilizing exchanges for trading opportunities. 


Is It Better to Keep Crypto In a Wallet Or Exchange?

The decision to keep crypto in a wallet or an exchange depends on your preferences. If you prioritize security and control over your funds, using a crypto wallet is better. 

Contrarily, if you want convenience and frequent trading, consider choosing an exchange. They do come with potential security risks, however. 

Is Coinbase a Wallet Or Exchange?

Coinbase is a self-custody wallet. It has been termed rightfully so because it gives you greater control over your crypto. Consider it like a physical wallet that holds your essentials and which you can directly access on the go. 

Does Crypto Lose Value In Wallet?

Cryptocurrencies do not necessarily lose value when stored in a wallet. That’s primarily because their value depends on the supply dynamics and market demand. 

If the market demand for a particular crypto plummets, its value may decrease. Conversely, the value might boost when the demand increases.

Is Binance an Exchange or Wallet?

Binance is a cryptocurrency exchange. It is one of the most popular and largest crypto exchanges globally and offers a platform for individuals to trade several cryptocurrencies. 

Although Binance provides wallet services within its exchange platform and allows users to store their funds temporarily, it is worth noting that these wallets are custodial wallets managed by Binance. 

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Written by Reid Zedkongor

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Reid Zedkongor is peeling away layers of confusion around blockchain and cybersecurity. With a computer engineering background, he can dive into the details of crypto complexities to make crypto adoption easy for everyone. In his free time, he often reads fiction or enjoys a good laugh over a beer.

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