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

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.


Huawei in early talks with US firms to license 5G platform: executive

Updated 19 October 2019

Huawei in early talks with US firms to license 5G platform: executive

  • Currently there are no US 5G providers and European rivals Ericsson and Nokia are generally more expensive
  • Huawei has spent billions to develop its 5G technology since 2009

WASHINGTON: Blacklisted Chinese telecoms equipment giant Huawei is in early-stage talks with some US telecoms companies about licensing its 5G network technology to them, a Huawei executive told Reuters on Friday.
Vincent Pang, senior vice president and board director at the company said some firms had expressed interest in both a long-term deal or a one-off transfer, declining to name or quantify the companies.
“There are some companies talking to us, but it would take a long journey to really finalize everything,” Pang explained on a visit to Washington this week. “They have shown interest,” he added, saying conversations are only a couple of weeks old and not at a detailed level yet.
The US government, fearing Huawei equipment could be used to spy on customers, has led a campaign to convince allies to bar it from their 5G networks. Huawei has repeatedly denied the claim.
Currently there are no US 5G providers and European rivals Ericsson and Nokia are generally more expensive.
In May, Huawei, the world’s largest telecoms equipment provider, was placed on a US blacklist over national security concerns, banning it from buying American-made parts without a special license.
Washington also has brought criminal charges against the company, alleging bank fraud, violations of US sanctions against Iran, and theft of trade secrets, which Huawei denies.
Rules that were due out from the Commerce Department earlier this month are expected to effectively ban the company from the US telecoms supply chain.
The idea of a one-off fee in exchange for access to Huawei’s 5G patents, licenses, code and know-how was first floated by CEO and founder Ren Zhengfei in interviews with the New York Times and the Economist last month. But it was not previously clear whether there was any interest from US companies.
In an interview with Reuters last month, a State Department official expressed skepticism of Ren’s offer.
“It’s just not realistic that carriers would take on this equipment and then manage all of the software and hardware themselves,” the person said. “If there are software bugs that are built in to the initial software, there would be no way to necessarily tell that those are there and they could be activated at any point, even if the software code is turned over to the mobile operators,” the official added.
For his part, Pang declined to predict whether any deal might be signed. However, he warned that the research and development investment required by continuously improving the platform after a single-transfer from Huawei would be very costly for the companies.
Huawei has spent billions to develop its 5G technology since 2009.