Cryptocurrency industry faces insurance hurdle to mainstream ambitions

Last month, Mohamed El-Erian, Allianz’s chief economic adviser said that cryptocurrencies would gain wider acceptance as institutions began to invest in the space. (File/FAP)
Updated 20 December 2018
0

Cryptocurrency industry faces insurance hurdle to mainstream ambitions

  • Over $800 million worth of crypto currencies were stolen in the first half of this year
  • Insurers struggled to understand the new technology and its implications

HONG KONG: Cryptocurrency exchanges and traders in Asia are struggling to insure themselves against the risk of hacks and theft, a factor they claim is deterring large fund managers from investing in a nascent market yet to be embraced by regulators.
Getting the buy-in from insurers would mark an important step in crypto industry efforts to show that it has solved the problem of storing digital assets safely following the reputational damage of a series of thefts, and allow it to attract investment from mainstream asset managers.
“Most institutionally minded crypto firms want to buy proper insurance, and in many cases, getting adequate insurance coverage is a regulatory or legal requirement,” said Henri Arslanian, PwC fintech & crypto leader for Asia.
“However, getting such coverage is almost impossible despite their best efforts.”
Many asset managers are interested in digital assets. A Greenwich Associates survey, published in September, said 72 percent of institutional investors who responded to the research firm believe crypto has a place in the future.
Last month, Mohamed El-Erian, Allianz’s chief economic adviser said that cryptocurrencies would gain wider acceptance as institutions began to invest in the space.
Most have held off investing so far however, citing regulatory uncertainty and a lack of faith in existing market infrastructure for storing and trading digital assets following a series of hacks, as well the plunge in prices.
The total market capitalization of crypto currencies is currently estimated at approximately $120 billion compared to over $800 billion at its peak in January.
“Institutional investors who are interested in investing in crypto will have various requirements, including reliable custody and risk management arrangements,” said Hoi Tak Leung, a senior lawyer in Ashurst’s digital economy practice.
“Insufficient insurance coverage, particularly in a volatile industry such as crypto, will be a significant impediment to greater ‘institutionalization’ of crypto investments.”
Regulatory uncertainty is another problem for large asset managers. While crypto currencies raise a number of concerns for regulators, including money laundering risks, few have set out clear frameworks for how cryptocurrencies should be traded, and by whom.
Insurance might allay some of the regulators’ concerns around cybersecurity. Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission recently said it was exploring regulating crypto exchanges, and signalled that the vast majority of the virtual assets held by a regulated exchange would need insurance cover.
Custody challenge
Keeping crypto assets secure involves storing a 64 character alphanumeric private key. If the key is lost, the assets are effectively lost too.
Assets can be stored online, in so-called hot wallets, which are convenient to trade though vulnerable to being hacked, or in ‘cold’ offline storage solutions, safe from hacks, but often inconvenient to access frequently.
Over $800 million worth of crypto currencies were stolen in the first half of this year according to data from Autonomous NEXT, a financial research firm.
Some institutions have started working to solve this problem, and may provide fierce competition to the incumbent players.
This year, Fidelity, and a group including Japanese investment bank Nomura have launched platforms that will offer custody services for digital assets.
Despite the industry’s complaints, insurers say that they do offer cover. Risk adviser Aon, received some two dozen inquiries this year from exchanges and crypto vaults seeking insurance, according to Thomas Cain, regional director, commercial risk solutions, at Aon’s Asian financial services and professions group.
“It is not difficult to insure companies that hold large amounts of crypto assets, but given the newness of the asset class and the publicity some of the crypto breaches have received, applicants need to make an effort to distinguish themselves,” Cain said.
The industry also says it is getting closer to solving the custody problem.
“This year there have been a number of developments, and some providers have developed custody solutions suitable for institutional clients’ needs,” said Tony Gravanis, managing director investments at blockchain investment firm Kenetic Capital.
“Players at the top end of the market have also been able to get insurance,” he said.
But this is not the case for all.
One cryptocurrency broker, declining to be named because of the subject’s sensitivity, said insurers struggled to understand the new technology and its implications, and that even those who were prepared to provide insurance would only offer limited cover.
“We’ve not yet found an insurer who will offer coverage of a meaningful enough size to make it worthwhile,” he said.


Ghosn vows to stay in Japan if granted bail

Updated 7 min 43 sec ago
0

Ghosn vows to stay in Japan if granted bail

  • “I am not guilty of the charges against me and I look forward to defending my reputation in the courtroom,” Carlos Ghosn said
  • The Franco-Lebanese-Brazilian executive said he has been in his Tokyo detention cell for 64 days “with no release in sight”

TOKYO: Carlos Ghosn, the ousted Nissan boss detained in Tokyo on charges of financial misconduct, on Monday vowed to remain in Japan if granted bail and again proclaimed his innocence.
The Tokyo District Court will later Monday consider the 64-year-old’s latest petition for bail but has already rejected previous applications, judging Ghosn a flight risk who might seek to destroy evidence.
“As the court considers my bail application, I want to emphasize that I will reside in Japan and respect any and all bail conditions the Court concludes are warranted,” Ghosn said in a statement released by his US-based representatives.
He vowed to attend any subsequent trial “not only because I am legally obligated to do so, but because I am eager to finally have the opportunity to defend myself.”
“I am not guilty of the charges against me and I look forward to defending my reputation in the courtroom,” concluded the statement.
A spokeswoman for Ghosn, Devon Spurgeon, said his family had already rented an apartment in Tokyo where he promised to reside while awaiting trial.
He has also promised to hand over his passports, refrain from contacting people connected with the case and pay for security guards approved by prosecutors to monitor his movements, according to Spurgeon.
She added that Ghosn has also offered a higher bail fee by stumping up Nissan stock as collateral and promised to wear an electronic tracking bracelet paid for by himself.
The Tokyo court has dismissed all previous attempts by Ghosn to secure his freedom and even his lead lawyer has said he is unlikely to be granted bail until a trial takes place — which could take six months.
However, the case has been full of twists and turns that have kept Japan and the business world gripped since his first stunning arrest as he landed in his private jet at Haneda Airport.
The Franco-Lebanese-Brazilian executive said he has been in his Tokyo detention cell for 64 days “with no release in sight.”
Since then, he has only been seen in public once, in a dramatic court appearance where the much thinner executive pleaded his innocence in a packed courtroom.
His wife Carole has appealed to Human Rights Watch, claiming he is being held in “harsh” conditions and subjected to round-the-clock interrogations intended to extract a confession.
Ghosn’s arrest represented a sudden fall from grace for a once-revered tycoon widely credited with turning Nissan around from the verge of bankruptcy.
Nissan immediately ousted him as chairman after the arrest, as did Mitsubishi Motors, the other Japanese firm in the three-way alliance with Renault.
The French firm is expected to meet later this week to discuss removing Ghosn as chairman and CEO. French government officials have already urged the company’s board to pick a “new lasting leadership.”
Late Sunday, Nissan held an inaugural meeting of a special committee designed to improve governance in the wake of the scandal.
The head of the committee, Seiichiro Nishioka, said the problem was “an excessive concentration of authority in the hands of a single person.”
The committee is expected to meet three or four additional times before issued a final report at the end of March.
The charges against Ghosn are that he under-declared his income in official documents to shareholders over an eight-year period — in an apparent bid to dodge accusations he was overpaid.
In addition, prosecutors have formally charged him with involvement in a complex scheme they say was designed to make Nissan pay for personal investment losses sustained in the financial crisis of 2008.
Ghosn’s arrest has thrown into question the future of the auto alliance he forged, which has come under pressure in his absence.
French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire on Sunday denied talk of a potential merger between Renault and Nissan, despite reports in the Japanese media that Paris was pushing for that outcome.
“The subject is not on the table today. What is on the table today is the governance of Renault,” he told journalists during a visit to Cairo.
“The most important thing for us is to have solid, stable, sustainable governance for Renault.”