An increasing number of companies worldwide are using bitcoin and other digital assets for a host of investment, operational, and transactional purposes. As with any frontier, there are unknown dangers, but also strong incentives. Explore the kinds of questions and insights enterprises should consider as they determine whether and how to use digital assets.
Why consider using crypto?
More than 2,300 US businesses accept bitcoin, according to one estimate from late 2020, and that doesn’t include bitcoin ATMs. An increasing number of companies worldwide are using bitcoin and other digital assets for a host of investment, operational, and transactional purposes.
The use of crypto for conducting business presents a host of opportunities and challenges. As with any frontier, there are both unknown dangers and strong incentives. That’s why companies venturing to use crypto in their businesses should have two things: a clear understanding of why they are undertaking that action and a list of the many questions they should consider.
This paper endeavors to provide you and your company with an overview of the kinds of questions and insights enterprises should consider as they determine whether and how to use crypto. So, if your company plans to participate in crypto, it’s important to think ahead, prepare, and engage in a thoughtful manner. (For considerations related to investing in crypto currencies and digital assets, please consult Deloitte’s complementary report
What can crypto do for your company? To spark your company’s thinking about crypto, here are some of the rationales behind why some companies are currently using crypto:
Crypto may provide access to new demographic groups. Users often represent a more cutting-edge clientele that values transparency in their transactions. One recent study found that up to 40% of customers who pay with crypto are new customers of the company, and their purchase amounts are twice those of credit card users.
Introducing crypto now may help spur internal awareness in your company about this new technology. It also may help position the company in this important emerging space for a future that could include central bank digital currencies.
Crypto could enable access to new capital and liquidity pools through traditional investments that have been tokenized, as well as to new asset classes.
Crypto furnishes certain options that are simply not available with fiat currency. For example, programmable money can enable real-time and accurate revenue-sharing while enhancing transparency to facilitate back-office reconciliation.
More companies are finding that important clients and vendors want to engage by using crypto. Consequently, your business may need to be positioned to receive and disburse crypto to assure smooth exchanges with key stakeholders.
Crypto provides a new avenue for enhancing a host of more traditional Treasury activities, such as:
Enabling simple, real-time, and secure money transfers
Helping strengthen control over the capital of the enterprise
Managing the risks and opportunities of engaging in digital investments
Crypto may serve as an effective alternative or balancing asset to cash, which may depreciate over time due to inflation. Crypto is an investable asset, and some, such as bitcoin, have performed exceedingly well over the past five years. There are, of course, clear volatility risks that need to be thoughtfully considered.
Two primary paths for using crypto The first question to ask when considering using crypto in your company’s operations is: Do we hold crypto on our balance sheet or simply adopt crypto-enabled payments? To determine the right path for your business, you need to make a careful determination of the best fit for your business objectives. Consider the potential benefits, drawbacks, costs, risks, system requirements, and more. The following sections will provide some broad considerations around two different paths as your company embarks on its crypto journey.
Enabling payments: “Hands-off” Some companies use crypto just to facilitate payments. One avenue to facilitate payments is to simply convert in and out of crypto to fiat currency to receive or make payments without actually touching it. In other words, the company is taking a “hands-off” approach that keeps crypto off the books. Enabling crypto payments, such as bitcoin, without bringing it onto the company’s balance sheet may be the easiest and fastest entry point into the use of digital assets. It may require the fewest adjustments across the spectrum of corporate functions and may serve immediate goals, such as reaching a new clientele and growing the volume of each sales transaction. Enterprises adopting this limited use of crypto typically rely on third-party vendors. The third-party vendor, acting as an agent for the company, accepts or makes payments in crypto through conversion into and out of fiat currency. This may be the simplest option to pursue. And, in all likelihood, it may cause relatively few disruptions to a company’s internal functions, since the “hands-off” approach keeps crypto off the corporate balance sheet. The third-party vendor, which will charge a fee for this service, handles the bulk of the technical questions and manages a number of risk, compliance, and controls issues on behalf of the company. That does not mean, however, that the company is necessarily absolved from all responsibility for risk, compliance, and internal controls issues. Companies still need to pay careful attention to issues such as anti-money laundering and know your customer (AML and KYC) requirements. And, of course, they also need to abide by any restrictions set by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the agency that administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions set by the US government.
Enabling payments: “Hands-on”
If a company is ready to go beyond simply enabling crypto payments and intends to broaden crypto adoption within operations and the treasury function—in other words, to go the “hands-on” route—it may potentially find a significant increase in benefits, as well as in the number of technical matters to address.
To ready itself, the corporate treasury might consider several preliminary issues, including:
What does the company want to achieve by adopting the use of crypto?
What steps has treasury taken to acquire the necessary know-how to receive, monitor, and manage a crypto payment?
Does Treasury think the company should maintain custody of the crypto itself or outsource that to a third party?
What measures are in place, or what thought has been given, to possibly investing in crypto as a new asset class?
What adjustments does Treasury foresee in anticipation of the eventual issuance of digital currencies by central banks?
Treasury will be inextricably involved in these decisions, and the changes they require, since:
Traditional treasury groups maintain the financing relationships for the company (e.g., banking groups, investment partners, third-party working capital providers).
Treasury determines which types of banking and financial services—now in a potentially broader and bolder digital asset ecosystem—corporates will need.
There are two paths a company can follow when embarking on a broader “hands-on” adoption of crypto:
Use a third-party vendor or custodian to maintain custody of the crypto on a blockchain and provide wallet management services that facilitate the tracking and valuation of the crypto assets.
Integrate crypto into the company’s own systems and manage its own private keys. (Consult your legal counsel to determine whether any license will be required to enable the transmission of crypto.)
Most companies currently using crypto in a “hands-on” fashion use a third-party custodian. Given that tendency, we will examine this path in greater detail.
The second approach, self-custody, presents more complexity and requires deeper experience. Moreover, if the company follows this route, it will likely have greater accountability for the work supporting its transactions. That said, much, if not most, of what follows will also be applicable to companies that self-custody.
Identify your company’s path and develop a road map
Crypto is viewed by some as a critical part of the evolution of finance. When your company chooses to engage with crypto, that triggers changes across the organization, as well as changes in mindset.
As with any technology change or upgrade, there is a need for an implementation plan. That plan should include, but is not limited to, these types of questions:
What is the overall strategy?
What are the short-term and long-term objectives?
What partners, internal and external, does the company need to involve? Can leaders identify effective champions for the effort across the enterprise, in all relevant departments?
Will the decisions and actions the company takes now allow for flexibility and scaling of efforts later?
How can the company integrate the security needs of operating in the digital asset ecosystem with existing security and cyber efforts in the company?
How does the company implement the introduction of crypto? Does it begin with a payments-only, “hands-off” approach? Or does it engage “hands-on”?
What resources will the company need above and beyond those it currently has? What new expertise might it need?
What will the implementation road map look like?
How will the company evaluate progress as it implements? Does the company have the necessary processes in place to monitor the execution of transactions and vendor performance?
What does the final state before launch look like?
This can be a complex endeavor. That’s why, before engaging in a more robust launch, some companies have chosen to pilot the use of crypto just as they would pilot a new technology. One type of pilot a number have chosen is an internal intradepartmental pilot. It’s based in Treasury, since Treasury is typically responsible for internal funding of the company and its departments and subsidiaries. The pilot can begin with the purchase of some crypto, after which Treasury uses it for several peripheral payments and follows the thread as the crypto is paid out, received, and revalued.