Newsletter: May - Addressing Concerns and Unlocking Institutional Adoption of Crypto
In the rapidly evolving sphere of digital assets, a key shift in the attitudes and perceptions of investors has emerged. Decentralization, a lack of correlation with traditional asset classes, and the broader macroeconomic context are central factors driving this growing fascination with digital assets.
The recent data indicates an increasing inclination toward treating digital assets as a distinct investment class, with the proliferation of sophisticated entities and institutions participating in the ecosystem as one of the clearest signals.
Institutional Investment at a Tipping Point
For years, the question that plagued the crypto investment sphere was, "When will institutional investors enter the market?" While crypto enthusiasts eagerly anticipate a future where capital market infrastructure seamlessly merges with interoperable blockchain, the traditional institutional investor community has remained skeptical until recently. However, more and more, traditional investors have begun to envisage a world where digital assets cement a place in their portfolios. As of 2023, we may finally have our answer.
Fidelity, a stalwart of the financial services industry, has provided data that the institutional investment landscape has grown year-over-year (YoY). Drawing from their own Fidelity Digital Assets' Institutional Investor Digital Assets Study (2022), it finds that nearly 58% of the surveyed investors confirmed their ownership of digital assets in the first half of 2022. This represents a noteworthy year-over-year increase of 6%. The comprehensive survey incorporated responses from 1,052 institutional investors spanning Asia, Europe, and the US.
A significant portion (40%) of institutions buy digital assets directly, with bitcoin and ether taking the lead. In addition to direct purchases, 35% of respondents buy investment products that hold crypto. A further 30% buy products holding digital asset companies, and 20% gain exposure via futures contracts. These varying strategies underscore the diverse ways institutions engage with the digital asset landscape, further establishing the growing importance of this emerging industry.
Regional Adoption Patterns
According to Fidelity, Asia took the lead in institutional digital asset ownership, with a staggering 70%+ of institutions in the region investing in the sector led by Singapore and Hong Kong. Europe followed closely, also with a ~50% adoption rate, while the US lagged slightly at 49%. However, these figures still represent significant YoY growth of 11 points and 9 points, respectively.
Elements Holding Back Institutional Adoption
Lack of Trusted Names in Infrastructure and Custody
The driving force behind this upward trend in the US and Europe has primarily been high-net-worth investors. Additionally, in Europe, financial advisers played a vital role in this investment surge.
The highest usage of digital assets globally is seen among venture capital funds (87%), with high-net-worth individuals (82%) and advisers (73%) following suit. Advisers play a pivotal role in achieving widespread crypto adoption. Several companies, including Ark, Franklin Templeton, and Valkyrie Investments, have introduced crypto-focused separately managed accounts (SMAs) catering to investment professionals. Infrastructure development and the increasing availability of investment products to institutions are likely factors accelerating higher adoption rates.
However, institutional investors still prefer traditional custodians for crypto compared to new or industry-native solutions. A recent survey of institutional investors found that 63% are only comfortable trading tokenized assets with highly rated traditional institutions. The survey also found that the top pain points for institutional investors who are already investing in crypto are the product/feature set, the legal and regulatory framework, and having a consolidated view and management of traditional and digital assets.
The survey also found that ~70% of institutional investors say that they would increase their crypto trading if they could execute and custody of their assets with a recognized, highly-rated institution. This suggests that there is a significant demand for integrated providers who can meet the needs of institutional investors.
The crypto industry needs to address the concerns of institutional investors if it wants to attract more investment. This means providing a secure and reliable custody solution, offering a seamless trading and management experience, and addressing the legal and regulatory concerns of institutional investors.
Crypto custody has become an increasingly competitive area. Crypto fintechs such as Copper and Anchorage are now up against traditional firms such as BNY Mellon and Fidelity. However, traditional and crypto firms have also been working together, such as Coinbase's recent partnership with Blackrock to make crypto trading available through the latter's widely used Aladdin platform.
Institutional Giants Embrace Crypto
The influx of traditional tech and financial institutions into the crypto sphere is evident in the launch of their own crypto products. One of the recent headlines includes Fidelity Crypto, which is now live for approximately 37 million consumers. NASDAQ, the world's second-largest stock exchange, has hinted at a crypto custody launch slated for the end of Q2. Tech behemoth Amazon has also shown its hand, with rumors of its in-house non-fungible token (NFT) initiative gaining traction. Finally, VanEck, a global investment manager boasting over $75bn in assets under management (AUM), along with Felipe Montealegre of Theia Capital and Sam Andrews of FRNT Financial, have begun deploying traditional investment frameworks in analyzing cryptocurrencies. VanEck, known for offering a suite of financial products including exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, and institutional funds, has recently issued an investment memorandum, applying fundamental investment frameworks to evaluate the potential future value of the Ethereum token.
TradFi Banks Enter Digital Space
Incumbent custody banks, often spurred by client demand, are (slowly but finally) scaling up their services to support the digital space. Despite their relatively late entry compared to digital-native custodians, one study found that 35% of survey respondents are employing traditional asset servicing and custody banks for digital asset services. Hence, TradFi custody banks are now optimally positioned to continue gaining traction. Household names like Citi Group, JP Morgan, BlackRock, Wells Fargo, and more now offer some sort of digital asset service.
Two traditional banking firms have taken significant steps in their journeys towards digital asset innovation. Societe Generale-Forge (SG-Forge), a subsidiary of French banking corporation Societe Generale, has introduced a euro-pegged stablecoin, while Laser Digital, a crypto subsidiary of Japanese bank Nomura, has made a strategic investment in a decentralized finance (DeFi) protocol.
Societe Generale-Forge's EUR CoinVertible: Bridging Fiat and Crypto
SG-Forge has launched EUR CoinVertible, a stablecoin tied to the value of the euro, designed for the use of institutional clients. The stablecoin, running on the Ethereum blockchain, will be traded under the ticker symbol EURCV.
In response to increasing demand for a new asset for on-chain transactions, this digital asset will only be accessible to investors who have undergone Societe Generale's established Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) protocols.
The EUR CoinVertible stablecoin aligns with major market standards, including the open-source interoperability and securitization framework, known as Compliant Architecture for Security Token (CAST), as stated by SG-Forge. The firm emphasizes its commitment to "complete segregation" of the collateral assets underpinning the stablecoin's value from the issuer, and promises to deliver daily transparency reports and collateral positions.
Laser Digital's Strategic Investment in Infinity: Accelerating Institutional DeFi
Laser Digital has announced its strategic investment in Infinity, a DeFi protocol oriented towards institutions. Infinity, established by former Morgan Stanley Head of Structuring Kevin Lepsoe, is a lending and borrowing platform focused on institutional use.
Infinity intends to leverage the investment to expedite the development of critical infrastructure aimed at "Institutional DeFi," also referred to as Hybrid Finance. Hybrid Finance offers the benefits of blockchain technology through an interoperable protocol for benchmark rates, credit, and counterparty management.
These developments by Societe Generale-Forge and Laser Digital mark a significant push by traditional financial institutions towards a more comprehensive embrace of digital assets, aligning their traditional banking practices with the innovative and rapidly growing world of blockchain technology.
Venture Capital Firms
Galaxy Research's 2022 report provides an insightful overview of the crypto VC funding landscape. From their data, several significant conclusions can be drawn:
$30 billion flowed into crypto and blockchain startups in 2022, predominantly in the earlier and more buoyant part of the year.
Deal sizes and valuations experienced a drastic decline from Q4 2021 to Q4 2022.
The "Web3" sector, as defined by Galaxy to include NFTs, DAOs, metaverse, gaming, and other web3 platforms, led in deal count.
Crypto trading startups attracted the most significant investment sums.
DeFi funding occupied a mid to high single-digit percentage of total investments.
Notably, over 40% of all deals involved startups based in the US, highlighting the profound influence of US regulations on the overall crypto landscape.
VC funding in crypto saw a 70% increase in 2022, amassing $33 billion, mainly in the first half of the year.
What Does This Reveal?
The trends align with general expectations. Even though VCs' purpose is to take calculated risks on ventures, they are not impervious to market-driven fear and risk created by 2022’s crypto collapse. As the market conditions deteriorated, VCs found it necessary to shift their focus towards bolstering their existing portfolio companies and investing in less risky, later-stage deals.
While revenue and user metrics may not have been critical factors in 2021, their significance has re-emerged in the current climate. As we continue to navigate the dynamics of the crypto market, these shifts in VC investments offer valuable insight into how investor confidence and strategic decisions adapt to market fluctuations.
Other Crypto Hedge Funds
Crypto hedge funds, akin to traditional hedge funds in the late 1990s and early 2000s, have been able to capitalize on the superabundance of alpha opportunities present in the crypto markets. However, despite the rapid growth and potential of the crypto hedge fund industry, it remains a complex and often risky sector.
Crypto funds, which offer investors exposure to digital assets, can be categorized into three broad classes: hedge funds, venture capital funds, and passive funds. Each of these categories are generally characterized by their liquidity profiles and whether they follow an active or passive approach. Liquid crypto hedge funds are generally what people think of when envisioning a hedge fund, which can also be further divided into four main sub-strategies: Arbitrage, Liquidity Provision, Trading, and Fundamental.
Similarities with Traditional Hedge Funds
Since 2018, the crypto hedge fund landscape has witnessed rapid evolution, with the fund universe expanding to encompass a broad array of uncorrelated, alpha-centric strategies employed by teams worldwide. This proliferation is similar to the TradFi hedge fund space maturing and growing in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Crypto hedge funds are also experiencing a similar trend in investor adoption. Early adopters were typically high net worth individuals (HNWI) and family offices, but more recently, dedicated crypto funds of funds have started to emerge.
Investor interest in crypto funds has surged. There are now over 800 active funds, with liquid crypto hedge funds accounting for nearly half of this total.
As the industry has expanded, so has the complexity of crypto markets. The emergence of new trading venues, both regulated and unregulated, along with the rise of derivatives, has facilitated the development and implementation of a broader range of investment strategies. The proportion of "alpha-centric" strategies, including Arbitrage, Liquidity Provision, and Trading, has seen a substantial increase since 2017.
This newsletter from Event Horizon Capital is intended for informational and illustrative purposes only and has been prepared to provide insights on the market. It should not be construed as an offer, solicitation, or recommendation to buy or sell any security or financial instrument, nor participate in any investment strategy. The opinions and information expressed in this newsletter are as of the date it was written and are subject to change without notice due to various factors, including changing market conditions and regulations. This newsletter is not intended as investment advice and should not be considered as such. Third-party data presented in this newsletter is sourced and deemed reliable, but no guarantee is made as to its accuracy or completeness. All investments carry risk, and there is no assurance that any specific investment, strategy, or product referenced directly or indirectly in this publication will be profitable or suitable for your portfolio.