Many cryptocurrency companies claimed that their deposits were insured by the United States Federal Reserve (FDIC), and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Although no crypto company has yet been able offer this type of insurance to depositors, there are rumors that it might be the key to widespread adoption.
Voyager Digital is the most prominent case. It was indicted by regulators to stop making “false statements and misleading statements about FDIC insurance.” FTX, a crypto exchange that has helped to prevent contagion in cryptocurrency markets, received a cease and desist letter from FDIC to end the suggestion that user funds were insured.
Even major players in cryptocurrency are not FDIC-insured. Coinbase, for instance, explains on its website that it has insurance against theft losses but is not an FDIC insured bank. It also states that the cryptocurrency is “not insured, guaranteed, or subject to protection by the FDIC” or Securities Investor Protection Corporation.
However, the exchange points out that U.S. customer money is not held in cash. They are kept in pooled custodial account at one or more banks insured under the FDIC.
What is FDIC insurance? Why is it so popular in the cryptocurrency industry, and why is it still so difficult to find?
What is FDIC insurance?
The FDIC was established in 1933 during the Great Depression to stabilize the financial system after a series of bank failures in the 1920s. It has been protecting depositors eversince.
FDIC insurance is the insurance that protects customers’ deposits in the case of bank failure. Cal Evans, managing partner at Gresham International’s blockchain legal services company Gresham International, spoke to Cointelegraph.
FDIC insurance is basically a protection layer that covers one person for up to $250,000, and it’s backed by the United States government. It states that if a company goes bankrupt, FDIC insurance will guarantee the account up to $250,000 per person and per company.
FDIC insurance covers financial institutions that are insured by FDIC. If they fail to fulfill their obligations to customers, FDIC will pay these amounts to depositors up until the assured amount. The FDIC also assumes the bank and sells its assets to repay owed debt. FDIC insurance doesn’t cover mutual funds.
Similar schemes are available in other countries, such as deposits in the European Union, which can be guaranteed up to $98,000 (100,000.00 euros) to protect against bankruptcies. These schemes increase confidence in the financial sector.
Noah Buxton, a partner at Armanino and practice leader in blockchain and digital assets, spoke to Cointelegraph. He said that “No customer’s crypto holdings today are FDIC insured” but that customers’ dollars are often held by crypto platforms in FDIC-insured financial institutions.
It is important to understand the difference between users having funds insured and users having FDIC insurance. Even for US dollar deposits, it is difficult to assess the impact of cryptocurrency firms having FDIC coverage.
The possible impact on crypto
The FDIC would likely be able to insure deposits on a cryptocurrency platform if it were to do so. This would give it an edge over other U.S.-based platforms because it would be perceived as a sign of security.
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Evans stated that FDIC insurance would increase confidence in the retail market. “If FDIC insurance happens and applies to these companies, then that means that it’s going massively, massively encouraging people in the United States who have crypto to invest their dollars because it’s as safe as putting dollars in a bank,” Evans added.
“It will massively assist adoption because it’s encouraging the retail market to view companies like this as a parallel, in terms of safety, to banks that people know.”
Mila Wild, ChangeHero’s marketing manager, said to Cointelegraph that the biggest problem facing the cryptocurrency industry is a lack regulation and supervision. This was especially true after the collapse in Terra, which “undermined confidence for many investors.”
Wild explains that the FDIC does more than insure customer deposits. It also monitors financial institutions to ensure compliance with consumer protection regulations.
Global head of communication and PR at crypto exchange Gate.io Dion Guillaume told Cointelegraph that a friendly crypto regulatory environment is crucial for adoption. “Blind regulatory sanctions” are not helpful. Guillaume said that digital asset insurance can be complex and requires careful consideration of many factors.
Is it difficult to become FDIC insured?
As the FDIC could significantly boost confidence in the industry and several large exchanges have shown interest in getting it, it’s important to look at how hard it is for a cryptocurrency-native firm to actually become FDIC-insured.
Evans stated to Cointelegraph that it is “really quite simple to get” if the criteria for the organization seeking it are met. The organization will need to submit the necessary paperwork and demonstrate liquidity. It may also have to describe its management structure.
Evans stated that FDIC insurance would give American companies a massive, huge advantage over foreign firms. As U.S. residents who have accounts with insured firms will be incentivised to not use peer-to-peer exchanges or decentralized exchanges, Evans believes this would make it difficult for them to open new accounts.
Wild took a negative position, stating that FDIC insurance is not possible because it covers only deposits in insured banks and savings organizations and protects against losses due to bankruptcy.
“Even though we can imagine crypto projects being able to have FDIC Insurance someday, it would mean sacrificing decentralization which is one of the core crypto value.”
Wild claimed that FDIC statements regarding crypto-firm dealings are “trying infringe” on crypto companies and highlight their perceived negative impact on society. Wild also stated that FDIC telling crypto project not to say they’re insured “could further lower trust in cryptocurrencies.”
Wild says that cryptocurrencies will be a more risky asset than fiat for the time being because users won’t have any government protection. Crypto users need to “stay vigilant about what they have.” However, this does not mean that fiat savings are more secure as rising inflation is consuming them.
Noah Buxton, a partner in consulting firm Armanino, explained more about the process to Cointelegraph, saying that platforms would need to obtain FDIC insurance “require a modified Underwriting Regime, which is difficult to create.
He stated that the FDIC would have to determine how to acquire crypto assets, value them, and distribute them to customers of failed cryptocurrency platforms.
While this is possible, it is not likely. However, private insurance and reinsurance will fill the gap for the foreseeable future. Crypto holders will be able to benefit from the increased coverage and more diverse insurance options.
Is insurance worth the effort?
It is worth asking whether FDIC insurance will be worth the effort if users can get insurance from other sources in the future — such as private companies solutions or decentralized protocols. FDIC insurance could serve as a centralizing factor. Most people would move to a platform with its backing.
Evans stated that FDIC insurance is not necessary or desired. However, Evans believes that where there’s more protection, there happens to be more regulation and oversight. This would mean that insured companies are “very secure” and “very regulated.”
These regulations may further limit the ability of individuals to open accounts with these companies. This would increase the centralization problem that crypto insurance already faces.
Brock Pierce, chairman of the Bitcoin Foundation, told Cointelegraph that the industry will still “see more companies trying to get it” following the collapse of several crypto lenders. This will make it “even more difficult for them now.”
Pierce didn’t expect FDIC insurance would “be a big deal” or be of much importance to overall cryptocurrency adoption. It will only become clear if the FDIC insures cryptocurrency deposits.
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FDIC insurance can give you a false sense security. Although no bank depositors have lost their money since the FDIC was established, the reserve fund of FDIC is not fully funded. According to Investopedia the FDIC is “normally less than its total insurance exposure by more then 99%.”
Sometimes, the FDIC borrowed money from the U.S. Treasury as short-term loans. For experienced crypto investors, self-custody can still be an option even if the crypto firm is FDIC insured.