With banks providing loans as far back as in Babylon in 1800 BC, and ‘modern’ banking coming about in the 1470s, banks have not been the fastest innovators.
However, the past 10 years has seen more advanced products and more adoption of disruptive technology than in the previous 100 years, where traditional bricks and mortar, large branch network, limited product financial institutions have given way to mobile, agile, multi-currency, e-banking, global, internet driven service providers.
And it is not only the service delivery method that has changed so dramatically, but the pace of change, sparked by the inclusive nature and tech-savvy social media generation demanding faster, more diverse, secure services.
The demand for data, information and financial services, and the technology to support vast data consumption now, has only been made possible by the advent of high-speed networks, smart phones and technology companies, translating those needs, enabling anyone, anywhere to trade international equities, bonds and derivatives, arrange a mortgage, make deposits, trade crypto currency, electronically sign and send vital documents, at the click of a button.
Whilst the past 20 years may be the era of Internet Banking, 2020 onwards has launched the decade of crypto.
As of January 2022, there were approximately 10,000 cryptocurrencies in existence, many created for specific purposes with solid use cases, and others as speculative investment tools with spectacular volatility, few investors and even less volume.
Always a case of buyer beware, some earlier coin offerings experienced bad press through hacking, loss of consumer confidence, no activity, price collapse and where the mere mention of blockchain sent the investment community into a frenzy.
And how times have changed, with much more consumer demand, as, like bond and equity offerings, new coins are coming to market via initial exchange and security token offerings following extended due diligence by the trading platform.
Much has been written about crypto coin volatility, with a prime example being Bitcoin with value over USD 67,000 in November 2021 and currently trading around USD 36,000. However, in the past, the equities markets have also produced spectacular returns and losses, albeit across different timelines and remain considered a safer haven than crypto markets
Whilst the 1929 wall street crash witnessed significant falls such as RCA common stock from $505 to $26 and DuPont from $217 to $80), black swan events have also elevated stock markets. For example, Alcoa experienced 12 month returns of 217%, and risk averse long term portfolio holders have borne fruit with Monster, with shares at 2$ in 2005, hitting $140 in 2015, and the darling of the equities market Amazon, with canny investors buying at USD 2 in the 1990s, where today they trade at USD3,500. Whilst equities still represent a more stable investment platform, crypto has captured a new imagination with a new demographic.
With an almost baffling choice of cryptocurrencies, the key issue will be the ability to seamlessly cash out of low volatility, low value stock and move in and out of fiat currency in deciding which type of coin best suits a long-term strategy.
So, with a requirement for a more stable, digital crypto instrument, the latest area of investor interest and some may say hype, is asset tokenisation. Blockchain technology remains the vital component, the mechanism and enabler to underpin crypto transactions.
Asset tokenization is where digital tokens are used to fractionalize ownership of assets. Physical items are reflected on the blockchain which manages ownership rights – and anything from property to university degrees and from gold to stocks can be tokenised, with over 500M USD already tokenized in real estate.
These tokens are created during a so-called STO (Security Token Offering), in which the real estate is essentially split up into digital, tradable assets stored on a blockchain.
The idea of fractional real estate ownership is nothing new. Since 1960, REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts) were introduced in the United States and by pooling investors’ capital, the real estate market suddenly became much more accessible and makes it possible to invest in the underlying asset without having to buy or manage the entire property.
Fast forward to 2022 and a the advent of tokenisation, where real estate is fractionized into small pieces, namely called tokens.
What are the benefits? Global increases in property prices, expensive bank rates, less monetization opportunities, languishing assets earning low interest, high costs of ownership with less people able to afford current and future prices all of these can be managed, by fractionising and tokenization.
And as digital tokens on a blockchain can be securely and efficiently transferred without a middleman, trading of these asset-backed tokens suddenly becomes much easier and cheaper, leading to increased liquidity.
It’s easy to see why investors of all sizes are enthusiastic about this development. With a much lower market entry point with less initial investment, the global real estate market is valued at around $280 trillion, making it one of the largest, most illiquid, and non-transparent markets on earth. And post pandemic, in an era of rising costs, there are many distressed assets where such an investment approach may provide an economic lifeline to owners, and competitive opportunities for smaller investors.
One can almost imagine the scenario where an investor might be able to purchase two tokens in a block or apartments in Chennai, ten tokens of a factory in Malaysia, and three tokens of a flat in Hong Kong- all payable in coins, through a single platform.
Recognising this opportunity, Euro Exim Bank are investigating the tokenization of such assets and looking at offering several unique coins, asset backed by investment grade instruments in an easy to trade blockchain-based token.
Whilst the industry is always on the lookout for the next best thing, we believe the tokenisation projects will position the bank as a crypto provider of choice, with provenance, security, assurance, and value.
In addition to our strategy on coins and tokens, our journey towards full digitisation of documents and digitalisation of processes across the extensive trade ecosystem continues apace.
Our lofty ambitions and aspirations are to be the premier provider of trade and crypto currency services through coins and tokens, contributing to better customer experience with fast cross border payments, low transaction fees, efficient settlement, and management of platforms, will facilitate access to distributed financial services for the unbanked, ultimately enabling digital financial inclusion.
By Dr. Graham Bright, Head – Compliance and Operations, Euro Exim Bank