Demand for virtual currency services, including custody services, has soared in the past several years. Like their counterparts in traditional finance, these custodians are stewards of retail and institutional customer funds and serve an important and valuable function. However, as evidenced by a number of headline-grabbing failures during the lingering crypto winter, inadequate disclosures and poor custodial practices can seriously harm retail and institutional customers alike. For many virtual currency customers, this recognition – in an industry built on the pillars of trust and transparency – was realized too late. Recent disclosures emerging from notable bankruptcies involving crypto companies have led to allegations of fraud and mismanagement in connection with custodial services. These allegations strike at the very core of the custodial relationship, and have had repercussions throughout the crypto industry.
Seemingly in direct response to these developments, on January 23, 2023, the New York Department of Financial Services (“NYDFS”) issued industry guidance to Virtual Currency Entities (“VCEs”) who act as custodians (“VCE Custodians”). Entitled “Guidance on Custodial Structures for Customer Protection in the Event of Insolvency” (the “Guidance”), the Department emphasized the “paramount importance of equitable and beneficial interests always remaining with the customer” and reminded covered institutions of their obligations in connection with “sound custody and disclosure practices in the event of an insolvency” or similar proceeding.