What is the next step when you have a speculative asset whose value may go to zero (or $250,000 ) in the near future? Why start writing insurance policies on it, of course! That's the line of logic employed in the world of cryptocurrencies, as the newly formed crypto insurance business is booming.
To be sure, there is ample demand and soaring interest in crypto insurance, according to Bloomberg. After all, with fat premiums and no insurer on record to date of ever paying out a claim, why wouldn’t there be?
Furthermore, one can rarely go a few weeks without a headline about a major crypto exchange getting hacked, sometimes with hundreds of millions of dollars being lost in the process. Such was the case with the hacks of Bitfinex and Mt. Gox. Remember this stud?
As a result of this "accident prone" asset class, major players in the insurance and finance industry believe that the future for crypto insurance is bright. As Bloomberg notes, a representative from Allianz said it "could be a big opportunity." Which is why Allianz is offering the product:
“Insurance for cryptocurrency storage will be a big opportunity,” said Christian Weishuber, a spokesman for Allianz, which began offering individual coverage for digital-coin theft in the past year and is one of the few insurers that agreed to talk about the issue. “Digital assets are becoming more relevant, important and prevalent on the real economy and we are exploring product and coverage options in this area.”
In addition, two other major crypto-insurance shops - Marsh & McLennan and Aon - said business has been booming over the last year.
While the cost is still beyond reach for many fledgling companies, Marsh & McLennan and Aon, the two leading insurance brokers that help companies shop for crypto policies, say business has been brisk this year. For the first time, Marsh formed a team of 10 dedicated to servicing blockchain startups.
Aon, which claims to have over 50 percent of the market for crypto insurance, recently streamlined its standard policy form to speed up the underwriting process. It has also seen some insurers tweak general company policies to include crypto-specific protections.
Whil Marsh and Aon declined to identify their partners, people familiar with the matter say over a dozen underwriters, including Chubb and XL, currently provide coverage to crypto-related businesses. And here is a blast from the past: none other than AIG has also been adding crypto coverage into standard policy forms, and said it’s met with cryptocurrency custodians and trading platforms about coverage, however, the firm "declined to say how much in crypto-related premiums it’s taken in."
There may be a simple explanation for the enthusiasm to sell insurance: Marsh and Aon said that, so far, they are not aware of any insurance companies that have had to actually pay out on any claims, even as 2018 is supposed to be the "busiest year for hacks on record". It's probably safe to say that it won't be long before claims are paid out. Big ones.
With 2018 on track to be the busiest year for hacks on record, the potential for a reputational black eye is perhaps one reason many insurers have declined to speak publicly about crypto. Lloyd’s of London, the world’s oldest insurance market, published a bulletin this month with guidance on crypto coverage and asked its agents to “proceed with a level of caution that recognizes the risks.”
Meanwhile, demand for insurance will only grow as it gives start-ups an air of credibility when try to raise capital, providing some modest cover for a business that has generally been speculative and regarded as somewhat dangerous.
It’s no small irony that the crypto industry, which originally sprung out of a techno-utopian desire to liberate its users from the traditional financial system, is embracing insurance as a way to go mainstream.
“I see it is a required step,” said Lucas Nuzzi, director of technology research at Digital Asset Research. Coverage can reduce investor concerns and make it easier to work with banks. “It definitely helps legitimize the industry.”
For example, Trustology, a London-based startup focused on crypto custody services, is in talks to obtain coverage that would insure its customer accounts up to 85,000 pounds -- the same standard as a U.K. bank account -- to help attract more clients. It’s also looking at self-insuring client funds.
And while even major crypto exchanges like Coinbase are starting to buy this type of insurance, in the case of the most popular US crypto exchange, it is only on a "fraction" of their holdings.
Coinbase, one of the most widely used crypto exchanges, buys insurance for a fraction of the digital coins it holds. Funds stored in so-called hot wallets, which may contain up to 2 percent of client assets and are used in active trading, are covered. Coinbase’s disclosures don’t provide details on how much coverage is provided for its remaining coin deposits, which are stored offline as a security measure.
Finally, selling crpto insurance for now remains a goldmine, with insurance companies able to charge a significant premiums, as underwriters can charge a crypto-related company upwards of five times or more than your average business for coverage against loss or theft, according to Bloomberg.
That said, like with any other other financial security boom, where derivatives of derivatives wind up in bloom during the first stage, many are skeptical about how long of a runway the field of crypto insurance will have, especially given the fact that the underlying asset value would will likely be for the determined by regulators in the future - and the decision will likely prove to be extremely volatile, leading to a painful bust for the insurance industry.