At this point, there are nearly no industries and individuals remaining that have not been affected by COVID-19 in some shape or form. Between self-isolation measures, lost income due to business closures, and overall fear, many have a sense of unease due to these radical changes to everyday ways of life.
DTC Suspends Paper Certificates
This first disruption relates directly to the trading of securities. The Depository Trust Company (DTC), has instructed all transfer agents, within the Unites States, that they are ceasing their efforts to process paper based securities.
The following is a list provided by the DTC in their notice, breaking down their suspension of services.
- All physical deposits
- Withdrawal & certificates on demand (COD)
- New York window (NYW)
- Envelop Settlement Services (ESS)
- Custody Reorg
- SBA Pooling
While moves such as this are necessary for keeping COVID at bay, they also shed light on a burgeoning technology being used to supplant traditional paper based securities – Security Tokens.
“The suspension of paper-based certificate handling by the DTCC has left the status of many trades in limbo. With rule exceptions for Transfer Agents now in place under SEC guidance, some paper-based transactions may not be processed for weeks if not months. Where does this leave the affected broker-dealers or investors? We do not know. However, we do know that digital or tokenized shares would not be affected, as they are not subject to a single point of failure mechanism like centralized office-based paper processing. This systemic failure at a time of great need for liquidity surely calls for new methods of ownership and trading for all sorts of assets.”
Hendricks continued, highlighting the need for implementing digital change, by stating,
“It’s time for issuers and investors, especially with respect to private assets, to effect digital transformation and improve the resiliency and response time of securities transactions. Only fully digital transfer agents like Vertalo are capable of this sort of step-function improvement.”
As a company serving the digital securities sector in a variety of ways, including that of a transfer agent, Vertalo has a unique, and direct, insight into the effects of COVID on related operations.
Homeland Security Denotes Blockchain Managers as a ‘Critical Service’
We’ll begin this section with an excerpt from a recently released statement by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“If you work in a critical infrastructure industry, as defined by the Department of Homeland Security, such as healthcare services and pharmaceutical and food supply, you have a special responsibility to maintain your normal work schedule.”
One of the most promising applications of blockchain technology is within supply chains. Whether tracking the origin of diamonds, authenticity of designer goods, or agricultural products, these processes seem tailor built to benefit from blockchain.
This point is underscored by the recent inclusion of Blockchain Managers as a ‘Critical Service’, by Homeland Security. While use of blockchain may still be in its early stages, it is clear that it has already established itself as a pivotal tool for those involved, specifically in Food and Agricultural sectors. Beyond the efficiencies made possible through its use, blockchain based supply chains have the ability to accurately relay information on products, ranging from place of origin, manufacturing dates, travel routes, and more.
Recording, and gaining quick access to, this information can go a long way when screening products, and ensuring trade channels continue operating as intended.
Through use computational power garnered via a global distributed network, Folding@Home is doing their part to help expedite our understanding of COVID-19. While not explicitly using blockchain, the idea of utilizing a distributed network to achieve a goa, with new levels of speed and efficiency is a common theme. The distributed network utilized by Folding@Home is comprised of anyone that has a surplus in computational power.
- Idle laptops
- High-end desktops
- Crypto-currency ASIC devices
The list goes on. Cumulatively, it is believed that the Folding@Home network, built on these devices, has grown to control more computational power than most of the world’s supercomputers.
With regards to COVID-19, in particular, Folding@Home is directing much of their cumulative processing power to understand the structuring of the proteins found within the virus. By gaining this understanding, it is hoped that new treatments will be discovered.
— Greg Bowman (@drGregBowman) March 16, 2020
Recently, what the company has seen is a massive influx of contributors – specifically, from those already well-versed with blockchain and mining. This has resulted in the network attaining over 450 Petaflops of computational power. An example of this comes from crypto-mining specialists, CoreWeave. The company has taken a serious, and proactive, stance against COVID-19 by reallocating 6,000 high-end GPUs, typically utilized for mining, towards the Folding@Home network.
Needless to say, it is uplifting to see individuals and companies from around the world come together in an attempt to halt the spread of COVID-19.
Central Bank Digital Currency
While various nations around the world have announced their intent to develop, and issue, a central bank digital currency (CBDC), the United States have taken a more trepid approach. This, however, may change, as the advent of COVID-19 has forced many to rethink the merits of such an endeavour.
Beyond the oft-touted benefits behind a CBDC, a new benefit to recently come into view is the ability to limit the transmission of contagions. Physical money passes through countless hands, and environments, on a frequent basis. This very nature makes money a prime candidate for spreading illnesses.
China was the first to recognize this, and act on the fact by removing cash from circulation and either disinfecting or destroying it. Close on their heels was the United States, having implemented similar precautions. These precautions surround money specifically entering the country from high risk areas, such as Asia. Money that ‘fits the bill’, will undergo an extended holding period, allowing for the disinfecting of potentially contaminated bills.
In a world gripped by the effects of COVID-19, this is one time where the laundering of money is actually a good thing (in a literal sense of the word).
On a smaller scale, many have seen a sharp disruption in an ability to even use the cash that they do have. With money being one of the items most commonly transferred between people, countless businesses have ceased accepting it as a form of payment. Instead, many are relying soley on debit and credit networks – further underscoring a potential need for CBDCs.
Attention towards a U.S. CBDC has grown to the point that it is now being discussed in potential stimulus packages. While nothing concrete has managed to make it into any final drafts, there is clearly an intrigue surrounding the topic, with significant legwork being put into the potential structuring of such an asset.
A Path Forward
These are only a few ways in which COVID-19 has managed to disrupt the way we view blockchain, digital securities, and currencies. With the pandemic still on the upswing, we will surely come across new implementations as the weeks go on.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and we might just see blockchain based endeavours provide a path forward, in search of inventive solutions.
Investment Activity in Japan Signals Interest in Digital Securitization
All the pieces are falling into place for the digital securities market in Japan. One of the biggest traditional financial institutions in Japan, Tokai Tokyo Financial Holdings is advancing rapidly with its plans to digitize the financial services the company provides in a traditional sense.
New Investment in Blockchain Company by Tokai Tokyo
According to a Nikkei report, Tokai Tokyo completed a new investment in blockchain development company Hash Dash Holdings. Tokai Tokyo Financial Holdings will own 33% shares of the company, which is working on integrating the blockchain technology into the traditional financial industry. The aim is to enable the issuance of digital securities while providing investors with a trading service on their mobile devices.
Digital securitization is picking up steam as more traditional financial institutions dare into the digital asset space. With uncertainty looming over traditional markets, digital assets are piquing the interest of investors – and not only retail, but institutions are taking clear steps to be part of the paradigm shift. Tokai Tokyo’s efforts to build a digital securities exchange is an example of the latest venture into the field.
Per the report, Tokai Tokyo’s platform will tokenize securities, and will start with Japan’s real estate industry with plans to explore digitization of Intellectual Property assets as well as corporate bonds.
Alongside Tokai Tokyo, other shareholders are the founder of Hash Dash and ICH X Tech, the company operating iSTOX. With this venture, the goal is to issue digital securities powered by blockchain technology and trade these on iSTOX, the digital security exchange based in Singapore.
The iSTOX exchange also has previous strong ties with Tokai Tokyo, as the latter had announced a $4.5 million investment in ICH X Tech just seven months ago in November 2019.
As reported, the iSTOX digital exchange was part of the MAS Fintech Sandbox program undergone by the Monetary Authority of Singapore and was one of the select successful products. The motivation behind the investment was to make digital securities on the iSTOX platform available to Japanese investors; this being possible through the brokerage capabilities of Tokai Tokyo Financial Holdings.
If at the time, the digital securities exchange was a sandbox, it has since become a recognized market operator with a capital market services license. Other iSTOX investors included the Singapore Exchange (SGX), state-owned Temasek’s investment firm Heliconia Capital, and Hanwha Asset Management.
Asian countries have been known to be at the forefront of the digital asset industry – starting off with a dominant presence in the mining industry to having a lot of cryptocurrency exchange platforms across different countries and a population eager to experiment with novel cryptocurrencies.
Japanese Companies Bringing Digital Securitization Closer to Mainstream
In the past few years, Japanese companies have also been actively seeking opportunities to enter the digital securitization space. SBI Holdings has been long making the headlines in the industry with their collaboration with Ripple and XRP.
In the past year, Nomura and Nomura Research Institute started the BOOSTRY platform, which focuses on securities and bonds issuance. Tokenization platform Securitize already created a Japanese real estate investment platform, receiving funding from numerous high profile Japanese investment firms.
While Tokai Tokyo Financial Holdings is almost a century old company with deep roots in the traditional financial markets, the company is determined to adapt to changing market conditions.
In December, Tokai Tokyo made an investment of 500 million yen ($4.7 million) in Huobi Japan, the popular crypto exchange licensed in Japan. In order to execute their vision of becoming an “advanced financial integrated group”, Tokai Tokyo is focused on meeting consumer needs by deploying leading technologies from FinTech and the cryptocurrency space, according to the company’s press release at the time.
Further in the press release it was stated:
Also, in March Tokai Tokyo became a member of Japan Security Token Offering Association, a self-regulatory organization for STOs.
The intent from the Japanese financial giant is clear and it looks like the company is making it a priority to have a strong foothold in the digital securitization industry.
Overall, it’s a natural and likely necessary progression that financial institutions have to consider, seeing that in the next decade digital securities may become the prevalent financial products that investors look for.
Thai Government to Use Blockchain in Bond Issuance
Another minor, but significant development in digital securitization is unfolding in Thailand, where the public debt management office (PDMO) is set to issue government saving bonds that will be distributed with the help of blockchain.
This is an initial trial done by PDMO, which is part of the country’s finance ministry, to leverage the blockchain technology in issuing and distributing government bonds to the public.
According to local reports, the office is issuing bonds in total value of around $6.5 million (200 million baht). One particular feature of the blockchain technology is already clearly visible, as the bonds are being sold at a face value of 1 baht – the lowest ever amount for government bonds, which are usually priced at 1,000 baht.
Why is Bond Tokenization Important
The bond market is one of the oldest and most relied-upon asset classes, providing key financing for governments, corporations, and investors. Despite the market’s popularity with both institutional and retail investors, digitization has been incredibly slow.
Bond issuance is generally a long process that involves multiple intermediaries, incurring high costs and the risk of human error. These are common pain points in the financial securities market that technological innovations are hoping to solve.
This is where bond tokenization comes into play with the aim to lower the various costs associated with bond issuance. The application of blockchain technology can benefit the bond market as a whole by enhancing data visibility, reducing counterparty risk, and improving operational efficiency.
When buying and selling bonds, buyers can instantly verify that the sellers own the bond by looking at the blockchain. This also immediately eliminates the need of having intermediaries since the bond lives on a trustless and immutable ledger.
Blockchain also eases the process of bond issuance with the terms and conditions including the principal amount, coupon rate, and maturity date, being ingrained into code. As a result, the payment process can be automated: issuers can distribute interest payments directly to the bondholder’s wallet address.
With the novel technology, issuers of securities have the possibility to represent financial assets as granular as necessary. Since verifications, transactions and settlements take place on a blockchain ledger, there is no additional hassle or paperwork to go through, compared to traditional methods of asset securitization and distribution.
This is a huge advantage technology provides and general director of the PDMO Patricia Mongkhonvanit, recognizes that this will also open up new opportunities for everyone to buy government bonds:
“This should enable more people at the grassroots level to buy the government’s saving bonds,”
Thailand Pressing Forward with Digital Securitization
The government savings bonds will be available for purchase through the Krung Thai Bank’s (KTB) blockchain platform, which is wholly state-owned and the distribution will take place through an e-wallet. While this is an entirely novel way of conducting a government bond issuance, it is not an unfamiliar experience for many.
If the smallest bond partition is 1 baht, the minimum acquiring limit is set at 100 bonds per purchaser, with investment capped at 500,000 baht – according to PDMO.
The initial rollout will take place through digital channels, but PDMO also plans to broaden savings bond distribution channels to bank branches, ATMs and mobile banking.
In order to gauge public interest and spread the message, the government had beforehand let people subscribe through the blockchain-based e-wallet. The 200-million-baht savings bond offering is an initial test and those who are interested in participating must have accounts at KTB and apply through the bank’s e-wallet.
Thailand’s PDMO had recently closed the sales of savings bonds worth 50 billion baht, which was part of the government’s 1-trillion-baht plan to mitigate the economic damage following the COVID-19 pandemic.
The rising interest on the side of the Thai government to pursue more efficient ways for issuing bonds is further confirmation that the role of blockchain technology for digital asset securitization is broadening. Should the trial issuance on the blockchain be viewed as a success, there is a chance to see more government bonds being distributed this way.
Thailand has also been one of the countries eager to step forward with their experimentation of blockchains for financial securitization. For instance, back in 2019 the Thailand Bond Market Association announced it would adopt blockchain for bond registration. The local Toyota Leasing in the country had issued a blockchain bond. In addition to that, the stock exchange also has plans to launch a blockchain-based digital asset platform.
Real-World Assets as Collateral for DeFi, Made Possible with MakerDAO
The cryptocurrency space was borne out of a desire to bring about a better financial system and infrastructure that is inclusive for anyone, anywhere.
The crypto industry has matured significantly since 2010 when Bitcoin kicked off a new wave that today spawned a whole new industry. The crypto community continually progressed with new tools and capabilities being gradually built up.
Nonetheless these capabilities that promise quicker settlement times, trustless global accessibility and granular asset control have mostly remained gated within the crypto realm.
Bringing Together Real-World and Crypto Assets
Now, the ambition is to bridge the gap between real-world assets and cryptocurrencies. Specifically in the DeFi space, that aims to provide a borderless financing infrastructure, the first steps are being made to bring real-world assets as collateral for loan issuance.
The community of MakerDAO, that is behind the DAI stablecoin, arguably one of the most popular DeFi projects, has confirmed the vote on whether to allow real-world assets to be included as collateral options.
This comes following the effort led by the startup Centrifuge, that developed a protocol that lets users turn real assets into securities against which ERC20 tokens can be issued. This enables real world asset securitization as these tokens are interest-bearing and will be issued as NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens).
DeFi applications built mostly on top of the Ethereum blockchain promise to give more people access to borrowing, lending, and other services because they eliminate the need to go and transact through a financial institution.
In the case of MakerDAO, the system built with Maker (MKR) and DAI lets users deposit cryptocurrency-denominated collateral to take out loans denominated in the U.S. dollar-pegged stablecoin DAI.
While recently the DeFi space celebrated a huge milestone with $1 billion locked in various applications across the board, participation in DeFi today is limited because it requires that users have purely crypto-native assets.
Getting real-world assets involved in the DeFi industry is what Centrifuge is pursuing with its Ethereum Dapp called Tinlake. The app allows for the securitization of real-world assets and have these represented on the blockchain as tokens, which can in turn be used to gain access to DeFi services.
What is Asset Tokentization?
Asset tokenization refers to the act of turning the ownership of a real-world asset into a digital token. This can be done in various ways, but all result in the legally-upheld bridge between the physical asset and its representative token.
Deeds, titles, and certificates are all traditional versions of a token. A deed to a house represents ownership of that house. The token refers to the digitally native asset which represents the real-world asset itself.
The first two types of assets that are available for tokenization are music streaming royalties enabled by PaperChain and ConsolFreight’s freight shipping invoices.
With the positive vote from the MakerDAO community, now anyone – be it individuals or companies – is able to utilize future cash flows from music streaming royalties or shipping invoices as collateral to take out loans for example.
Centrifuge’s Lucas Vogelsang notes the partnership could be the world’s first application of DeFi to a real-world business issue. Particularly, the solution helps ensure quick liquidity for artists and supply chain firms, without the hassles of going through traditional ways of financing.
MakerDAO’s Rune Christensen has also shared a highly optimistic vision as the two proposals represent the first step towards the expansion of DeFi’s field of application:
“These should be seen as the first two [RWAs] in the greatest portfolio of assets that’s ever been built. It’s just the first step. Thousands and thousands of assets will exist alongside them.”
There are still issues and restrictions when it comes to securitization of real-world assets and introduces new risks to the DeFi space.
For instance, Centrifuge’s tokenization process through its app still falls under the securities law. Since both Paperchain and ConsolFreight are based in the U.S. only accredited investors will have access to these assets.
Another compromise that was made in order to bring real-world assets to DeFi is Centrifuge setting up a special purpose vehicle (SPV) that will have the assets associated with, from a legal touchpoint. Lenders, in the event of default, would have to rely on the legal system to enforce their rights to the collateral, rather than an automated smart contract that can do so with on-chain assets.
While this is necessary to have a claim for the tokenized real-world assets, it represents a single-point of failure. But this is a trade-off that Centrifuge’s Lucas Vogelsang says is necessary in order to bring real world assets on-chain.