Evaluating Interest-Bearing Crypto Accounts

-Written by SALT Team Members

The latest offering in crypto custody is an interest-bearing crypto account. Although marketed similar to cash deposit savings accounts offered by traditional banks, the structure of this type of interest-bearing crypto product is more closely analogous to securities lending and should be viewed as such when assessing the risks associated with placing crypto in an interest-bearing account.

There are certainly benefits to interest-bearing crypto accounts — namely the ability to earn a return on a custodied asset beyond its possible appreciation value. However, those interest benefits arent without their own risks. Here are some important considerations when assessing if an interest-bearing crypto account might be suitable for your risk appetite*:

Commingling and Rehypothecation

When opting for an interest-bearing product, your crypto assets may be commingled (where funds belonging to one party are mixed with those of a second party), and rehypothecated (practice whereby a broker or lending agent uses assets in their possession, but owned by their customer, to invest with or lend to a third party). In this structure, your funds may be taken by your custodian (acting as a lending agent), pooled with other assets owned by other customers of your custodian, and lent to a third-party. As a result, and in return for interest payments, you may forfeit several rights associated with your crypto assets. For example, you may be unable to quickly withdraw your crypto in whole or in part and you may lose, due to the commingling of your assets with assets owned by other customers, the ability to independently verify the security of your assets on-chain. Instead you may be supplied with a percentage statement or value statement regarding your interest in the crypto collateral you deposited into your account.

Enabling of Short Selling

With a traditional bank savings account, your cash deposits may be lent to other financial institutions and vetted borrowers who have a multitude of options for generating wealth with the borrowed funds. In many cases, these traditional bank accounts are also insured and operate within strict regulatory guidelines and limitations on the collateral percentage, number of parties, among other restrictions for and to which the deposited assets can be lent, distributed, and relevered. These regulatory guidelines and restrictions prevent traditional financial intermediaries of this type from participating in some high-risk lending behaviors when it comes to their customer assets, but do not, generally, prohibit the rehypothecation of deposited assets under certain conditions. These intermediaries then cover their costs, not by the fees charged on the interest-bearing customer accounts, but through the income generated by lending and investing those assets during the rehypothecation process. While this process seems straight forward and analogous to what might happen with the crypto you deposit in an interest-bearing account, some additional crypto market specific comparison will help to highlight the difference in rehypothecated use between cash denominated and crypto denominated accounts.

While there are certainly financial institutions which take short and long positions on various currencies, the typical use case for rehypothecation in cash accounts is the lending or investme ...

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Tags: Interest, account, Commingling, short