Hong Kong Firm to Launch Crypto Custody Services to Meet Institutional Investor Demand

Omar Faridi
  • Hong Kong and Singapore-licensed Fusang Investment Office will soon offer crypto custodial services.
  • Fusang Investment CEO Henry Chong stated that “the way we keep digital assets secure is of paramount importance.”

Fusang Investment Office, an asset management firm serving private Asian family businesses, will reportedly launch cryptocurrency custodial services for in Hong Kong. The service will be called Fusang Vault, and it’s expected to be introduced in Q4 2018.

Fusang Investment CEO Henry Chong stated that partnering with an independent third party specializing in the crypto sector was required in order to offer the crypto-custody services, as it will need to hold and periodically audit clients’ digital assets.

The University of Oxford graduate noted that his company was planning on providing insurance services for its customers’ crypto assets. Speaking to the South China Morning Post, Chong said:

Digital assets are akin to bearer bonds, whereby whoever that is holding the security is presumed to be the owner and there is no registration of ownership information of the security. Hence, the way we keep digital asset secured is of paramount importance.

Henry Chong

Meanwhile, Jolyon Ellwood-Russell, partner at law firm Simmons & Simmons, said that crypto-custody services were not yet regulated. This means that if a user’s crypto funds are lost or stolen, then they will have to rely on only the terms and conditions of their custodian services contract.

He also stated that there were several issues not addressed in the custodial services contract:

For example, in what capacity are the custodians holding the assets? Are they holding them as a bailment, that is, a trust, so the assets are outside the estate of the custodian on an insolvency. Just having segregated accounts does not automatically mean that on an insolvency the investors assets will be protected or recoverable from a receiver or liquidator.”

Jolyon Ellwood-Russell

Institutional Investor Demand

Despite Jolyon’s skepticism regarding custodial services for digital assets, several crypto companies already offer them. Notably, institutional investors have been “waiting on the sidelines” when it comes to cryptos, partly because of a lack of custodial services.

San Francisco-based cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase recently launched custodial services for cryptocurrencies in an attempt to tackle the problem. The company revealed their new service helps safeguard their clients’ assets by requiring multiple signers for all transactions.

The exchange’s crypto custody services also help customers keep their digital funds safe by setting withdrawal limits and providing audit trails. As recently covered, billionaire investor Mike Novogratz believes a “herd of institutional investors” is starting to move into crypto.

How Bakkt Can Bring the Crypto Space an Institutional Investor Influx

Cryptocurrency enthusiasts have for years been waiting for institutional investors to enter the space. While the introduction of bitcoin futures contracts on regulated exchanges in late 2017 didn’t gain a lot of traction, but Bakkt may.

Bakkt is a long-awaited bitcoin futures exchange and on-boarding platform from the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) - the parent company of the New York Stock Exchange – and it’s set to launch this year. Bakkt itself has remained tight-lipped over the precise launch date after delaying its launch last year, with ICE CEO Jeff Sprecher in February simply saying “later this year.”

It’s possible that this quarter may see the launch or at least more news about when the exchange is finally coming. At the end of March, Bakkt CEO Kelly Loeffler explained:

While we’re not yet able to provide a launch date, we’re making solid progress in bringing the first physical delivery price discovery contracts for bitcoin to the U.S.

Bakkt’s launch could be a major milestone for the cryptoasset industry. A venture backed by Microsoft and Starbucks, its institutional pedigree alone will switch many cautious investors on. Specifically, the firm is set to help consumers pay for goods and services with cryptocurrencies, with Starbucks being the flagship retailer in its arsenal.

Bakkt’s Bitcoin futures contracts will be the first physically-settled derivatives on a regulated trading platform. This means investors will receive the contract’s underlying asset, bitcoin, when it expires.

Currently the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) offers cash-settled bitcoin futures contracts, meaning investors get the equivalent of BTC’s value in fiat when the contracts expire. This is seen by some as a major development in the cryptocurrency space, as it shows traditional finance is willing to interact with the nascent cryptoasset industry.

It’s worth noting that earlier this year the ICE’s CEO called Bakkt a “bit of a moonshot bet,”  as it was organized in a way “very different than the way ICE typically does business.” The firm has its own offices and management team, and could undergo more rounds of financing in the future.

Bakkt And a Potential Bitcoin ETF

What’s significant about Bakkt’s launch beyond this, is that it may bolster the chances of a Bitcoin Exchange-Traded fund (ETF) being approved. Such a product would make it easier for institutional investors to gain exposure to cryptocurrencies.

In August, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rejected nine other ETF applications, in particular highlighting how those applying hadn’t provided evidence that “bitcoin futures markets are of significant size’” for an ETF to be launched.

Once Bakkt is launched its trading volumes may very well help quell the SEC’s concerns over the bitcoin futures markets’ small size as institutions and other investors may feel comfortable entering it. Larger futures contracts trading volume, increased liquidity and a well-established company involved may prove enough to convince the SEC that the time is right for a Bitcoin ETF.

Bakkt therefore represents a very significant milestone for a maturing cryptoasset industry and may well herald the “institutional influx” that many have been anticipating since 2017. Despite the markets remaining relatively flat throughout 2019 these looming decisions in the U.S. have the power to move the entire industry forward, for better or worse.