As interest in cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) grows, financial services institutions of all sizes are looking to move into the digital assets space.
Despite the recent volatility of the cryptocurrency markets, digital assets as an investment class have grown rapidly — cryptocurrencies’ global market capitalization currently stands at $1 trillion.
As the market becomes increasingly mainstream, financial institutions are entering the space to maintain a share of their clients’ “wallet,” rather than risk losing business to digital asset platforms and fintechs that offer a broad range of banking and digital asset-related services.
This pressure to enter new markets isn’t limited to the largest players. Small and mid-sized banks are eager to serve their customers’ digital assets needs as well, either as custodians of customers’ digital assets or through investing.
But these opportunities come with crucial decisions about how financial institutions can best serve and protect their clients’ digital assets within a regulatory framework.
“Traditional banks and financial institutions are trying to stay in front of their customer base’s expectations,” says Joel Sulkes, managing director and global financial institutions industry leader at Aon. “There is a real threat of disintermediation. All the classic banks, one way or the other, are considering how to provide their customers with digital asset exposure in a way that will comport with their risk frameworks and regulatory requirements. It’s really a race to stay relevant.”
As they increase their work with digital assets, financial institutions face a variety of risks, including traditional asset and regulatory risks. These challenges vary according to the financial institution’s role in digital assets and whether they’re acting in a custodial role or outsourcing custody, operating in a fiduciary capacity or serving another function.
“They really have to understand the hat they’re wearing,” says Sulkes. “They need to understand the different operational risks those offerings create for themselves, and then they have to manage it. And in some cases, insurance can be a tool to manage some of those risks.”