Sygnum Signals a New Approach to Crypto Banking

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Euromoney, November 26 2020

A new Swiss-Singaporean enterprise styles itself as the world’s first digital asset bank. It is regulated, resembles the structure of a mainstream bank and has some high-visibility advisers and investors, among them Peter Wuffli. Will it work?

Several years ago, two investment professionals were working in different family offices in Asia and each found himself facing the same challenge.

One, a Swiss Bain & Co alumnus called Mathias Imbach, was general manager at RNT Associates, the personal investment platform of Indian industrialist and philanthropist Ratan Tata.

The other, Gerald Goh, a Singaporean former investment consultant at Cambridge Associates with a focus on private investments, was the head of alternative assets for CrimsoNox Capital, a family office representing the interests of Thailand’s Yoovidhya family, which co-founded Red Bull.

Each of them had developed an interest in blockchain and cryptocurrencies, Imbach from something of a philosophical perspective and Goh from a more pragmatic one.

Both understood that to do their jobs properly for the family offices they represented they needed to look at investing in this space, either directly in cryptocurrencies or in using the blockchain as a more efficient method of conducting private investment.

It didn’t take either of them long to realize that the infrastructure required to invest with confidence simply didn’t exist in a way that one could trust family-office wealth to engage with.

The two had bumped into one another when Imbach was about two years into his study of the space and found common ground.

“He [Imbach] made a very impassioned plea for me to consider, on our family office side, finding a systemic, structured way to invest,” says Goh, “to support the growth of this emerging ecosystem.”

That was the genesis of Sygnum, whose website home page proudly calls it “the world’s first digital asset bank”, followed by the mission statement: ‘Founded on Swiss and Singapore heritage, Sygnum empowers its clients to invest in the digital asset economy with complete trust.’

It booked its first customers in Switzerland in September 2019, 20 days after being licensed as a bank and securities dealer there. It secured a capital markets services (CMS) licence – broadly a fund management licence – from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) the following month.

Ideas around crypto and blockchain come and go; Euromoney receives dozens of pitches every day, ranging from the visionary to the disreputable to the barking mad. But Sygnum stands out for three reasons.

The first is how much it looks like a mainstream bank: brokerage, custody and asset management. The second is the cast of characters who have invested in it and support it with the use of their names. These include former UBS group chief executive and Partners Group chairman Peter Wuffli, who is a director, along with a host of alumni of Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC), the sovereign wealth fund.

And the third is that, in a space where most players run from the big regulators to more frontier-spirited jurisdictions, Sygnum insisted it would only get underway when regulated under existing financial codes by the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (Finma) and the MAS – two of the most highly regarded regulators in the world.

It was doing it the hard way. But that was the whole pitch.

Read the whole article here

Chris Wright
Chris Wright
Chris is a journalist specialising in business and financial journalism across Asia, Australia and the Middle East. He is Asia editor for Euromoney magazine and has written for publications including the Financial Times, Institutional Investor, Forbes, Asiamoney, the Australian Financial Review, Discovery Channel Magazine, Qantas: The Australian Way and BRW. He is the author of No More Worlds to Conquer, published by HarperCollins.

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