Germany’s crypto custody license was supposed to give blockchain-based firms access to the basic banking essentials. Despite this fact, stories continue to emerge of companies finding it very difficult to acquire banking services such as checking accounts. A closer look reveals some of the reasons why the German banking industry is still pushing back against crypto adoption.
Confusion, FUD – Crypto Custody License
One of the main reasons German banks are hesitating to provide crypto-related platforms service boils down to a lack of clarity in the space. Both crypto firms and institutions have uncertainties and concerns related to applying for the crypto custody license. Until Germany’s Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) clarifies these issues, such as what type of activities would qualify as crypto custody, banks will still error on the side of caution.
For example, there is a lack of transparency around crypto exchange operations. Banks are curious about how functionalities such as staking and lockup periods could affect the custodial license of an exchange. Currently, the law states that any crypto firm with access to customer’s private keys is a custodian.
Crypto Custody License
Additionally, in March, BaFin released a guidance stating that tokens originating from security token offerings (STOs) can be custodied by a crypto custodian without the use of a depository bank. Shortly thereafter, regulators issued additional guidelines regarding the management, IT, and security requirements set for crypto-related businesses seeking licensing. Importantly, BaFin states it intends to create more rules focused on operational risks in the near future.
Stifling Bank Participation
This “to-be-announced” approach is enough to keep Germany’s major banking institutions on the sidelines for now. In fact, only tech-focused service providers contributed to the space so far. Next-generation banks, such as SolarisBank, continue to slowly propagate the sector. Solarisbank opened a location in Germany in December 2019.
Lack of Banking
In a recent interview, Matthias Winter, partner at Eversheds Sutherland Germany discussed how the lack of banking is a real issue facing the market. He explained that there is “no legal reason why” banks are hesitating to take on crypto clients. Winter described “confusion” as the main hurdle the industry needs to overcome. Additionally, he spoke on how banks function on a risk versus reward premises and opening a checking account for crypto-firm leaves them exposed to future regulatory changes
Notably, Winter also spoke on how the changes could affect the market. If, or rather when, BaFin clarifies these inconsistencies, there will be a gold rush to the market. In essence, banks would need to acquire crypto custody firms to gain access to the technology as fast as possible.
Crypto Storage Deutschland GMBH
To find examples of how this market confusion wreaks havoc on the industry, you need not look any further than Crypto Storage Deutschland GMBH. This firm underwent a real struggle when they decided to open a branch in Germany to take advantage of the new regulations. Executives went to no less than 15 different banks before they were able to get a basic checking account.
Discussing the tribulations, Stijn Vander Straeten, CEO of Crypto Storage AG cited a plethora of difficulties his firm encountered. Straeten described a scenario where you are up against the institutional banking arm. He explained that crypto companies aren’t “making them money by asking for checking accounts“, and as such, they are not a priority by any means.
White-Label Solution for Banks
Notably, Crypto Storage AG recognizes the need to secure digital assets. The firm currently offers a white-label solution for banks that want to offer the services to their clientele without taking on the risks associated with emerging markets.
Germany Moves Forward – Crypto Custody License
German regulators appear to be moving, albeit slowly, closer to the digitization of the markets. Every day that passes signals more growth and development in the country’s blockchain sector. Hopefully, in the coming months, BaFin provides banks with the specifics they need to give firms access to banking essentials. If not, Germany risks falling behind in the global race to tokenization.
Natural Selection: Could Stablecoins Eat Into The Crypto Market?
Despite the financial uncertainty posed by 2020, the tumultuous year has represented something of a prosperous one for the stablecoin market. Since the beginning of the year, the cryptocurrencies that have their values pegged to existing assets like gold or the US Dollar have seen a heavy flow of funding as more traders look to buy into stable assets as a way of keeping their money from depreciating.
While stablecoins have become a useful store of finance that promises stronger protection against the disruption threatened by COVID-19 and subsequent recessions, there’s reasonable evidence to suggest that the currencies are actively evolving beyond their role as a trading asset and are increasingly being looked upon as a means of transferring value.
Over the coming years, we’re likely to see a range of central banks and large corporations start to tap into the stablecoin landscape, with global behemoths like Facebook already signalling their intent with the shelved Libra Project. With large scale investment into stablecoins looking like an inevitability, what will this mean for the crypto world’s smaller, un-tethered assets, like Ripple?
The Rise and Rise of Stablecoins
As Bitcoin made its famous rally towards the end of 2017, more and more cryptocurrency exchanges started to make the switch from fiat currency-to-Bitcoin trading pairs to Tether-to-Bitcoin – thus enabling crypto-only exchanges to build on market share gains.
The late 2017 boom opened the door for more stablecoins to enter the market, with countless projects surfacing in a bid to emulate Tether’s purpose and success.
As the arrival of COVID-19 caused widespread financial uncertainty, the market capitalization of stablecoins swelled up collectively to over $7bn in value in a matter of three months – with almost $6bn comprised of Tether investments.
Since the spring time, the rise of DeFi protocols have caused stablecoin markets to swell up by as much as $100 million each day – leaving the industry’s market cap more-than doubling in size since the start of the year.
Furthermore, more emerging trends surrounding the acceptance of stablecoin projects among banks have led to a greater level of acceptance among investors. The Liechtenstein-based Bank Frick recently announced that it would be supporting USD Coin – allowing customers to send, receive and store the stablecoin using their bank accounts.
The meteoric rise of the stablecoin market, coupled with ever-increasing levels of interest in blockchain technology from both banking institutions and big businesses alike means that stablecoins are set to emerge as the cryptocurrency market’s primary form of banking coin. But what will this development mean for coins like Ripple and investors who look to switch their holdings in Bitcoin to Litecoin, for instance, in order to leverage fast transactions?
Eating Into The Crypto Market
Payments using the coin were set to be swift and free of hefty processing fees that some early crypto assets commanded. The focus of the coin was set on interbank payments, but its early success caused Ripple to expand into a leading crypto payments network around the world.
At the height of its popularity, Ripple was easily accessible on leading crypto exchanges that allowed easy access to digital finance that could be easily traded.
However, Ripple also unwittingly formed the blueprint on how to build a successful stablecoin.
The implementation of stablecoins that are pegged to various assets designed to hold their value amid economic downturns while operating on an easy transactional framework with limited processing fees has placed numerous stablecoins in direct competition with Ripple.
With the arrival of other corporate-backed stablecoins like the JPM Coin and the Utility Settlement Coin Project, it’s clear that the old guard of XRP faces a significant battle to avoid being drowned out by the market’s new upstarts.
The financial might of corporate stablecoins means that Ripple’s swift payment systems may soon be bettered via new transactional developments.
However, there may be some hope for Ripple due to the coin’s longevity in a rapidly expanding market. Ripple has helped to onboard over 300 customers during its lifespan, and possesses a greater level of crypto experience compared to its competitors.
It’s clear that stablecoins are here for the foreseeable future, and even hold the potential to overhaul national fiat currencies in mainstream usage. With market caps inflating exponentially, the old guard of un-tethered cryptocurrencies may be at risk of losing out as more adopters look to find practicality and consistent prices within crypto assets.
For Ripple, the notion of competing to recapture its place as the industry’s preferred coin for transactions seems too whimsical given the financial might of these new players introducing stablecoins into the market place.
Instead, what was once looked upon as one of the world’s most promising cryptocurrencies will have to tap into its experience to adapt away from its swift transactional roots. The cryptocurrency market is based on natural selection, where only the most innovative survive. In this unforgiving climate, many of the pragmatic cryptocurrencies of yesterday will be required to explore new blockchain developments elsewhere to maintain their relevance to adopters.
Wave Financial Makes First 1000 Barrel Purchase for ‘Kentucky Whisky 2020 Digital Fund’
Tokenization is beginning to attract increased attention from investors with this past week bringing multiple examples of important markers being met. First, INX met its minimum threshold for token distribution, with $7.5M USD raised. Second, Wave Financial completed its first purchase of bourbon/whiskey for tokenization through its Kentucky Whisky 2020 Digital Fund.
Whisky – A Different Approach
What is intriguing about these events is the underlying assets. To date, the vast majority of tokenization efforts have surrounded real estate. In this instance, however, the underlying assets are a trading platform and Kentucky Bourbon/Whisky.
Although investors have taken an interest in alternative assets such as wine and art for decades, the fund by Wave Financial represents one of the first efforts to tokenize an asset such as bourbon/whisky.
“For investors to gain exposure to real assets that have impressive investment fundamentals such as whiskey is very difficult, but now it is possible via our fund. Following the launch in March we are delighted to have completed our first tranche time sensitive capital raise and purchased 1,000 barrels of physical premium Kentucky bourbon whiskey on behalf of our investors” – Benjamin Tsai, President and Managing Partner of Wave Financial
Other examples of niche tokenization efforts include:
CurioInvest – Fractional investing in rare automobiles
TheArtToken – Fractional investing in fine art
Although reaching this first marker is an important moment for Wave Financial, it is just the first on a long road. With Wave Financial expecting to tokenize between 10,000-20,000 bottles, this current crop of 1000 only represents 5-10% of its goal.
“With our unique access to Wilderness Trail’s whiskey production capacity for this year remaining open, we are in a great position to continue the capital raise for the fund.” – David Seimer, CEO of Wave Financial
If Wave Financial is able to reach its end goal, this would represent the tokenization of an entire years-worth of bourbon/whisky from manufacturing partner, Wilderness Trail Distillery.
A Full Set of Macallan Whisky
For those wondering if Bourbon/Whisky can indeed represent a good investment, look no further than Macallan.
Matthew Robson, 28, was the recipient of one bottle of Macallan single malt scotch whisky on his birthday, for 18 consecutive years. He recently made the decision to sell this collection, which was left untouched over time. This decision resulted in a sale, bringing in $56,000 USD.
While not an example of tokenization, the appreciation in the Macallan Whisky collection is exactly what investors are after. Providing the whisky is properly cared for, it is a product that will not deteriorate over time, and is only produced in limited runs. Furthermore, there will always be a consumer demand – simply put, people like to drink. For each of these reasons, Wave’s Kentucky Whisky 2020 Digital Fund may just go on to prove quite successful for investors thinking outside of the box.
Speaking with Benjamin
When the Kentucky Whisky 2020 Digital Fund was first announced, we were fortunate to have completed an exclusive interview with one of its fund managers – Benjamin Tsai.
As the President and Managing Partner of Wave Financial, Benjamin Tsai was able to provide unique insights into the fund, Wave Financial, and the digital securities sector at large.
To learn more about each, make sure to peruse this discussion HERE.
Founded in 2018, Wave Financial is headquartered in Los Angeles, California. As a Registered Investment Advisor with the SEC, Wave Financial is able to offer investors opportunities such as the fund described here today. In addition, Wave Financial offers various consultation and treasury management services to its clients.
CEO, Dave Siemer, currently oversees company operations.
Baxter Hines, Author of “Digital Finance: Security Tokens and Unlocking the Blockchain” – Interview Series
Baxter Hines, CFA, is managing partner with Honeycomb Digital Investments. He co-founded the firm in 2020 to provide income producing solutions for clients. His firm manages portfolios consisting of traditional assets, security tokens and digital assets.
His new book “The Digital Finance Book: Security Tokens and Unlocking the Real Potential of Blockchain“, is currently available to be pre-ordered at all major on-line retailers globally and will be in stores on November 17th, 2020.
What initially attracted you to blockchain and digital assets?
I spent an extensive amount of time looking into cryptocurrencies initially because I was so curious as to what the buzz was all about and after learning as much as I could about Bitcoin and cryptos I sought to gain a deeper understanding of the underlying technology, its capabilities and real world applications. It was at this point that I came to realize that blockchain is so much more than simply Bitcoin. It became obvious to me that this innovation would impact the transfer and management of assets such as stocks, real estate, bonds, private securities, intellectual property and much more. Placing real-world assets on the blockchain can lower costs of capital and that feature alone will cause eventual widespread adoption. When that idea sank in, I knew I wanted to learn as much about blockchain and digital assets as I could.
You’re a managing partner with Honeycomb Digital Investments, an investment firm that manages portfolios consisting of traditional assets, security tokens and digital assets. What are the things that you look for when reviewing investment opportunities?
I spent twelve years as a portfolio manager at NFJ Investments (a subsidiary of Allianz Global Investors) focused mainly on stocks with an emphasis on dividends. I bring that mindset to the digital asset space in that I seek out investment opportunities that I believe will capture the benefits of the upcoming growth of blockchain technology and its underlying ecosystem. Specifically, Honeycomb looks to invest in companies that are building the platforms and infrastructure to support the megatrend of blockchain and those cryptocurrencies and projects which will also be a part of the underlying ecosystem.
How would you personally describe what security tokens are?
Simply put, security tokens are a digital representation of real ownership in an asset – in most instances, one token is equivalent to one share in an asset. Security tokens are a digitized title to a financial instrument combined with the agility and speed of blockchain. Security token holders are entitled to certain rights and privileges of an underlying asset just as they would be if they owned the asset outright.
By building on top of the blockchain, security tokens offer capabilities, features and innovations that would never have been possible in a world of paper certificates. We are truly at the dawn of a new digital age in finance! Some of the brightest financial, technological and legal minds of today are working feverishly to develop the potential of this reliable, consistent, safe and consumer-friendly method of doing business. The future potential of these technologies is massive and the growth will occur over many, many years.
One factor that distinguishes security tokens from cryptocurrencies is that they are more regulated instruments. Tokens can only be released after meeting stringent legal and compliance hurdles providing investors with certain protections. Because of the programmable nature of the blockchain, security tokens can include features to automate servicing, embed compliance and enforce contractual obligations.
Not only do security tokens contain regulatory safeguards; but also, they provide investors with two major additional features: cost saving efficiencies and the potential to create enhanced liquidity. Process automation brought about by the blockchain will allow for security tokens to provide greater functionality, lower costs, faster speeds and increased transparency to financial markets. These aspects should ultimately lead security tokens to have lower costs of capital than their traditional paper alternatives.
Security tokens have been a bit slower to take off than most of us expected, in your opinion what are the reasons behind this?
Three major factors are holding security tokens back from wide-spread adoption: regulatory uncertainty, lack of education and first mover hesitation. The benefits of digitization are significant and eventually projects will have to go on the blockchain just to stay competitive. But before a takeoff in demand can occur, these three issues must be resolved.
Regulatory certainty has begun to arrive and technology is matching what is needed for this digital future. Jurisdictions like Singapore and Switzerland are taking a clear approach to how they want to govern security tokens and their leaders have noted digitization to be the path to a better and safer financial future. It is my opinion that larger economies such as the United States, the European Union and Japan will likely eventually follow and simply refine the earlier established frameworks. Once the financial community sees the incredible benefits digitization has to offer, other countries will be fast to adopt digital-friendly laws so to reap the subsequent rewards.
Second, for security tokens to grow and flourish, the market and all of its constituents need to be further educated. Security token usage will be a growing trend in the market; but to realize the full potential, certain terms, concepts and a better understanding of the functions and benefits of blockchain must be realized by all of the players in the financial services industry including retail
investors, those employed in the financial industry, market regulators, and entrepreneurs trying to issue securities to raise capital. Hopefully my book can help out on this front!
Finally, we need more traditional financial services players and issuers to bring high-quality projects on the blockchain. Asset classes with higher frictions around trading are prime candidates for early adoption. This includes fixed income, real estate and private equity investments. We have already seen several pioneering projects in these spaces gravitate towards the blockchain. Many other projects are sitting on the sidelines today, waiting in anticipation to see how the first movers to blockchain fare. As these initial projects that have already digitized prove themselves to be safe and legally compliant, a new group of followers will jump in. Like the old saying goes “Nobody wants to be first to a party, but nobody wants to be last!”.
Are there any current security tokens (digital securities) which you are bullish on?
Without getting into specifics, I must say that I can say that I am bullish on the benefits of security tokens for the financial services industry as a whole – in particular the benefits this technology will have on the underlying investors and such investors ability to better gain access to liquidity when it comes to certain asset classes.
You recently wrote a book on security tokens and digital securities called “Digital Finance” which is set to be published in November 2020. What inspired you to write this book?
After extensively researching blockchain and its “better, faster, and cheaper” nature, I realized our financial system is on the verge of a massive transformation. Blockchain technology is the solution to spearhead the next generation of financial market infrastructure and blockchain may be the most important innovation since the internet.
While most people are aware of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, few realize the far greater potential of blockchain. Blockchain has already proven itself to be an incredible means of exchanging value and information – but there is so much more to offer! My book examines how this powerful technology can overhaul our current financial infrastructure in a way that will increase efficiency, transparency, and security.
I wanted to publish a non-technical, easy to understand primer on blockchain and security tokens that would be relatable and practical for those in the financial industry. John Wiley & Sons seemed like the perfect publishing partner to assist in realizing my aim of producing a clear and concise framework on how to think about investments in the digital space. My goal with the book is to help readers uncover how blockchain and distributed ledger technology are disrupting the financial industry in an easy to understand and non-technical manner.
In your book you will be discussing case studies, historical perspectives and latest trends. What are some of the case studies that are discussed?
One of the book’s objectives is to make sure the reader can truly connect with the subject matter and as a result, the work contains many case studies, historical perspectives and latest trends to bring key concepts across. “Digital Finance” focuses on three major areas of digital assets: cryptocurrencies, stablecoins (like Central Bank Digital Currencies or other digital representations of money like the US Dollar or Euro) and security tokens. It is important that the reader get accustomed to real-world illustrations from all three of those fields. The book covers cases like Facebook’s Libra project building a global blockchain-based platform for cryptocurrencies and Britain’s Royal Mint creating a digitized way to own gold in its vaults. As security tokens are the main topic of the book, most of the examples focus on how blockchain can affect stocks, bonds, private equity and other alternative asset classes. As a result, examples such as the World Bank’s Bond-i, the Aspen St. Regis’ hotel token, and NBA player Spencer Dinwiddie’s professional athlete investment token (PAInT) are covered in detail. There is also considerable attention placed on projects that large established corporations such as IBM, HSBC, Goldman Sachs and the Singapore Exchange are undertaking to build a new blockchain-based infrastructure that will run our financial markets in the coming years.
The book also contains numerous examples from history that provide a framework on how to think about the upcoming rise of digital solutions. Through my research, I have noticed a striking similarity between the Internet Age of the 1990’s and the adoption of blockchain. By looking at the growth of the Internet from a historical perspective, one can gain a glimpse into what will unfold as blockchain becomes a bigger disruptive force.
What do you believe needs to happen to accelerate the pace of adoption of digital securities?
The move to a blockchain-based financial system will unfold one step at a time albeit in a quick manner with the most basic levels of finance developed first. As a result, payment systems will be at the forefront of digitization in the coming years and digital currencies will be a powerful force that will later aid in the growth of digital securities. The main reasons for gravitating to digital securities from their paper-based alternatives are largely two-fold: lower costs and enhanced liquidity. Without a digital payment mechanism in place first, security tokens will not be able to fully capture those benefits.
Cryptocurrency and stablecoins representing a national currency like the U.S. dollar have been the typical gateway people use to first experience digital financial products. Today, we are seeing many countries float the idea of a blockchain based national currency; the list includes the world’s largest economies such as China, Brazil, France, Canada and the United States just to name a few. If government entities around the world begin to formulate legislation that will allow for currencies to become digital in a legally compliant manner, this would be huge for digital assets in general. The move would certainly encourage people to further explore utilizing digital financial products and would provide an amazing amount of comfort in doing such.
Not only will national digital currencies facilitate adoption but also, they will clear hurdles for further regulatory reform. After creating a digital currency, government entities will have already had discussions around blockchain, its safety and the infrastructure that is needed to flourish. Leaders will then be more likely to debate further initiatives such as digitizing securities like stocks or bonds.
Liquidity around a digital security or security token is much easier once a digital currency is in place. Whenever a security token is bought or sold, it needs to have a digital currency on the other side of the trade to fully reduce frictions and allow for instant settlement. If the cash systems of today are used in that process, the trading aspects of security tokens will still be much slower than they can be. As a result, government entities will need to first focus on payments and central bank issued digital currencies in order for the pace of adoption of digital securities to really take hold.
Is there anything else that you would like to share regarding your book ‘Digital Finance’?
I think it is important for people to have a perspective as to just how big this wave of tokenization will be. Digital assets and security tokens are going to be a major factor in the future of capital markets and will represent the first new asset structure in roughly 30 years! The last new product with even remotely the same scale and effect was the ETF. This upcoming blockchain breakthrough will have a profound impact on the way we trade securities, how shares are maintained throughout their life cycle and even influence the ways we invest our money. This innovative process opens up the possibility of unlocking trillions of dollars in assets to new investment!
There are more and more signs that digitization will help to transform the traditional investment business model of today into a modern, fair, transparent and distributed marketplace. This new paradigm will connect investors and the projects they invest in directly with blockchain based platforms. Just recently, the first regulated security tokens have gone to market. We are at a point in time where more regulatory certainty has arrived and technology is being developed to match what is needed for this digital future. Everyone in the financial industry will need to have a broad comprehension of how the technology works, what it can affect and what consequences this could have for business.
The pace of development in this industry is remarkable. Almost every day I see another groundbreaking story that gets me excited. As a result, I’ve started a Twitter account for the book which highlights articles covering the hottest topics of the day. The purpose of this page is to aggregate the most important stories at a given time and put them into a one stop location for people to see the incredible milestones that digitization is hitting! Be sure to follow us on Twitter for the most important news!
Thank you for the fantastic interview, I enjoyed learning about your views on digital securities and the future of the industry.
Readers who are interested in learning more should know that the book is currently available for pre-sale at all major on-line retailers globally and will be in stores on November 17th, 2020.
Follow the Book on Twitter: @digifinancebook