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Crypto Wallet Insurance: Do You Actually Need It?

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By Laura Knight on Oct 20, 2022
5 min read
Closeup of a person looking at a crypto chart on their phone.

If you follow cryptocurrency news, you may have seen that Boost released the first crypto insurance available to individual wallet holders earlier this year. While institutions like exchanges already had access to commercial insurance, Boost’s crypto wallet insurance is the first opportunity for most individual crypto owners to buy insurance protection for their digital assets.

For many crypto holders, however, this raised a new question: since most exchanges do have commercial insurance to protect against theft and other potential losses from cybercrime, what exactly is the role of individual insurance? If your crypto custodian is attacked and your assets are stolen, won’t their insurance policy cover it? 

The short answer is: it’s complicated. The long answer is that there are three big reasons that individual crypto wallet insurance is a good investment.

Reason #1: There’s no cryptocurrency safety net

When you deposit fiat currency into a traditional bank account, you get more than just the bank’s assurance that your money will be safe. Thousands of banks across the US are insured by the government through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which was established in 1933 to stabilize the US financial system after a series of catastrophic bank failures.  

The FDIC’s role is to make sure that even if a bank completely runs out of money (whether through theft or just mismanagement), the people who hold deposits at that bank don’t lose their savings. If the bank that holds your fiat currency were to fail, the FDIC would provide you with an insurance payment that covered the value of your deposit at the failed bank, up to $250,000. 

This provides a vital safety net for fiat currency deposits in financial institutions…but there’s no similar protection for cryptocurrency. If your digital assets are stolen from a crypto exchange or custodian, there’s no fallback recovery like the FDIC. Whether or not you get your money back is wholly dependent on the institution’s insurance - or your own. 

Unfortunately, this kind of loss isn’t an abstract concern, which brings us to the next reason why individual crypto wallet insurance is a smart investment.

Reason #2: Cryptocurrency theft is a significant risk

Over the past several years, cryptocurrency has become an increasingly popular target for cybercriminals. Since 2014, a number of crypto institutions have been hit by high profile hacks:

  • Ronin Network (2022) $614M

  • PolyNetwork (2021) $611M

  • Coincheck (2018) $547M

  • Mt. Gox (2014) $480M

  • KuCoin (2020) $285M

  • Nomad (2022) $190M

The increasing threat puts crypto exchanges and custodians in a constant arms race against cybercriminals. While reputable exchanges make security their top priority, the past decade of cybercrime has proven that it’s virtually impossible to guarantee that any web-facing system is 100% impenetrable. 

Adding to the challenge, many significant crypto hacks are believed to be backed by nation-state actors or large organized crime groups. Faced with determined, extremely well-resourced attackers, even the most state-of-the-art cyber security can fail. 

If your crypto custodian is breached, the contents of your wallet risk being stolen. As we saw with reason #1, if that should happen, there’s no safety net for your assets. The only way to get your money back is through insurance, but relying on your custodian’s policy carries risks of its own.

Reason #3: Commercial Insurance Limitations

Your custodian likely carries a commercial insurance policy to protect against loss from hacking and theft, which in turn provides some protection to crypto wallet holders (after all, it’s your assets that would be taken in a hack). However, there are two big limits to how much that protection can help:

Reimbursement Speed

Commercial insurance claims tend to be much more complex than claims for personal policies and take much longer to resolve. Particularly for claims involving crimes like a hack, the insurance company may require an investigation or inspection before proceeding with a settlement. While commercial claims can be resolved quickly, it’s not unusual for the process to take several months between incident and payout - or longer if there’s a dispute over the settlement amount. 

When your custodian does receive their settlement money, that is only the first step toward you recovering your losses. The custodian will need to decide how to reimburse their cryptocurrency wallet holders, then arrange to disburse the funds. This adds even more time before you see relief in your wallet.

If you hold a personal policy insuring your crypto wallet, however, it’s a whole different story. Rather than waiting for your exchange to work through its own process, you would file a claim directly with your insurance company for the value of the assets lost in the hack. With the comparatively straightforward personal line claims process, you would likely get your money back much faster than waiting for funds from your custodian’s policy to trickle down to individual wallet holders.

Policy Limits

Even the most comprehensive insurance policies have a limit on how much they’ll reimburse their policyholder. This is simply a reality of the business - insurance is all about managing risk, and unlimited payouts are a risk no carrier would be willing to take. Whether it’s $1000 or $1M,  all policies have a ceiling for their settlements - and any loss that exceeds that ceiling is the responsibility of the policyholder.

For custodians that hold a high volume of cryptocurrency, this means that the total value of their holdings may exceed the limit of their insurance - even if their insurance policy is the best that money can buy. This is a particular risk when the value of crypto is volatile, and might sharply increase from one day to the next. 

If a custodian is hacked and the losses are more than their commercial policy will cover, it can compromise their ability to reimburse their wallet holders. When that happens, individual crypto wallet holders might end up taking a “haircut” (i.e., permanently losing some of the value of their assets).

For example, in 2016, cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex lost $72 million to hackersand their customers lost over 36% of their assets. They tried to make amends with tokens of credit, but 36% is a significant loss. Similarly, Cryptopia suffered a $16M hack in 2019 and its clients took a 12-15% haircut.   

This is another advantage of holding your own retail wallet insurance. Even if your custodian suffers a hack severe enough that it’s forced to give haircuts to its crypto wallet holders, you can ensure that you at least recover the full value of your stolen assets.

Crypto wallet insurance is one of the best ways individuals can protect their digital assets against the risk of theft. It’s available to buy from specialty insurers, and some exchanges also offer it directly to their customers (with more adding it every day). 

Interested in offering crypto wallet insurance to your customers? A Boost expert can help you get started today.

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