More and more institutional investors are starting to invest in cryptocurrencies. As they do, the issue of crypto custody and how it fits within their existing workflows and regulatory requirements becomes a bigger and bigger issue. While a range of approaches are currently being used, everyone wants a better solution. Below David Wills, Co-Founder and COO of Caspian , reveals more.
Since the beginning of last year, cryptocurrencies have surged in popularity, usability, and, most importantly, value. While crypto markets have historically been dominated by individual investors, institutional investors have only recently joined the fray. However, with two Chicago-based commodity exchanges, Cboe and CME, launching the first regulated Bitcoin futures contracts at the end of last year, this new wave of involvement is growing.
As it does, the issue of crypto custody, which is essentially how an investor’s digital assets are stored and ‘kept safe’, gains more attention. In traditional markets, years of regulation have meant that organisations and mature systems, such as the broker/dealer relationship or future commission merchants, have developed for this purpose. In the world of cryptocurrencies, such institutions are only just being imagined or established and they are doing so against the grey area of crypto regulation.
Which begs the question, what solutions are institutional investors using now and are any of them good enough to survive for the long term?
Crypto custody as it exists today
While specific solutions for institutional investors are appearing with greater frequency by the day, they are normally a combination of established crypto storage practices. After all, much of the risk associated with holding and trading cryptocurrencies come from the fact that they are digital assets, which are as vulnerable as an individual’s personal online security measures.
This means that individual institutions are dealing with the same issues of hot storage on exchanges, which enables speed of trading, and cold storage offline, which means increased security of the digital assets held. One option that combines the benefits of both approaches for institutional investors is vault storage. In this scenario, the risk of hot storage is reduced because an exchange creates a private key offline, making it easy to send purchased cryptocurrency to the public address but much less easy to move it from the account using the private key.
Such solutions are being utilised in order to find the right combination of security and efficiency that institutional investors need. For the most part, they are using a diversified combination of hot and cold storage in combination with multi signature wallets and monitored concentration limits to mitigate risk.
As one can imagine though, this is still not the ideal solution for experienced investors used to a mature toolkit that has been optimised to make regulatory compliant trading as quick and easy as possible within a regulated fiat environment.
Solutions for the future
Innovation and consolidation in the area of crypto custody are occurring in parallel, signalling what the future direction of the solution might look like.
As mentioned, crypto funds are already providing a variety of custody solutions for institutional investors, including insurance, and this consultative approach will continue.
In addition, established crypto players are developing their own custody offers to attract the more security conscious players entering the market, either through internal innovation or acquisition. BitGo’s recent acquisition of digital asset custodian Kingdom Trust, which holds more than $12 billion in assets, is a recent example of the latter and it would not be surprising to see crypto exchanges making similar purchases to boost their offer.
On the technological side, recent innovations like the Glacier Protocol suggest that the development of blockchain-focused solutions will also play their part. Although designed for personal, long-term storage itself, the development of similar protocols to solve the problems of institutional investors would not be a surprise.
FInally, the role of the regulator cannot be ignored here. Institutional investors utilise custody solutions in the traditional fiat world that have been designed around the frameworks laid out by regulators. We already know that the SEC has kicked off a consultation with over 100 crypto funds, during which custodianship will undoubtedly be covered.
While a single solution has not yet revealed itself, as more and more regulated institutions enter the crypto space, more regulatory frameworks will be established, more solutions to fit this need will appear and the picture will become much clearer.