High Asset

ASIC Chairman Alludes to Holes in Digital Assets Custody Solutions

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Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) Chairman Joe Longo, speaking at the AFR’s Super & Wealth Summit, made news Monday when he noted that crypto “investors are on their own.” The rest of his quote speaks to the country’s regulatory situation, saying that “ASIC has already provided some guidance on exchange-traded funds linked to crypto-assets — they at least are financial products, and traded on a licensed exchange, so there will be some protections there. But for the most part, for now at least, investors are on their own.” In combination with other parts of his speech, many wondered if it was a critique of the industry’s custody solutions.

“Mr. Longo walks an interesting tight rope, acknowledging the current regulatory components associated with exchange-traded funds linked to digital assets, while other officials speak of the power of blockchain technology. But then he juxtaposes that with the innate risk which investors are taking when dealing directly with crypto. It is an interesting position, but not one which is surprising, given the current state of custody solutions,” said Richard Gardner, CEO of Modulus, a US-based developer of ultra-high-performance trading and surveillance technology that powers global equities, derivatives, and digital asset exchanges.

“While investors are protected in Australia when buying defined ‘financial products,’ many digital assets are not considered a ‘financial product’ and, thus, investors are not protected in the event of malfeasance. At the same time, Australian Financial Services Minister Jane Hume noted that digital assets weren’t a ‘fad’ and that citizens shouldn’t be ‘fearful of the unknown.’ Taken together, those can be complex messages to parse,” said Gardner.

Longo’s comments, in part, included the following:

“ASIC is [not] here to eliminate risk… But where industry has neglected to take its share of responsibility, ASIC will not hesitate to deploy the powers in our regulatory toolkit – to deter misconduct that causes harm, hold to account individuals and corporations that treat their responsibilities as optional, and drive a culture of better corporate behaviour… By enforcing the law against those who break the rules, we support those who want to do the right thing.”

“From the commentary, we can assume that the ASIC is looking at ways to create compliance measures while not indemnifying investors when exchanges falter. Therein lies the industry opportunity. Custody providers are supposed to fill that role, safeguarding assets in between the time that an investor purchases and is ready to sell. However, custody providers, as well as exchanges’ appropriate use of such providers, have turned out to be woefully inadequate. The market yearns for a secure solution which allows investors to purchase digital assets with confidence. Better custody solutions, used appropriately, would significantly reduce the number of headlines made by hackers,” noted Gardner.

Modulus is known throughout the financial technology segment as a leader in the development of ultra-high frequency trading systems and blockchain technologies. Modulus has provided its exchange solution to some of the industry’s most profitable digital asset exchanges, including a well-known multi-billion-dollar cryptocurrency exchange. Over the past twenty years, the company has built technology for the world’s most notable institutions, with a client list which includes NASA, NASDAQ, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Barclays, Siemens, Shell, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Cornell University, and the University of Chicago.

“Assets sitting in exchange accounts aren’t nearly as secure as assets sitting in cold storage. Custody solutions should be developed with institutional-grade security features, making hacks and other attacks impossible. However, a quick Google search of current top providers will show that they are riddled with security flaws. That’s not custody that investors can believe in. There must be a consequential shift in custody for crypto to flourish to its fullest potential,” opined Gardner.

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