The Risks of Rehypothecation with Bitcoin Assets: A Fundamental Shift is Needed

Rehypothecation, a well-established practice in traditional finance, poses significant challenges in the Bitcoin space, given the irreplaceable nature of digitally scarce assets.  

Rosa Shores
December 10, 2023
The Risks of Rehypothecation with Bitcoin Assets: A Fundamental Shift is Needed

In both the recent “crypto-collapse” of 2022 and the financial crisis of 2008-2009, a familiar culprit emerged - the practice of rehypothecation. This financial maneuver, deeply embedded in the fabric of traditional banking, has been a source of concern and contention for years. Rehypothecation involves the reusing of deposited assets to bolster a platform's access to credit, a practice that has, time and again, sown the seeds of financial instability.

The traditional finance practice of rehypothecation enabled crypto firms to experience rapid growth but ultimately led to their downfall as the weight of these risks became unbearable. As the industry expands, it's evident that many individuals from traditional finance have carried over these norms. Scratch the surface of numerous crypto firms, and you'll discover the use of customer deposits to advance their business objectives, despite emphasizing the importance of cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin, as "sovereign" money.

Indeed, Bitcoin stands apart from traditional assets, and other cryptocurrencies, due to its provable digital scarcity—only 21 million bitcoins will ever exist. This scarcity introduces a distinct risk profile for collateral that differs significantly from assets that can be continuously created or reproduced at will. Therefore, applying the same rehypothecation approach to Bitcoin is fundamentally flawed.

Unlike traditional collateralized assets and other cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin cannot be replaced if lost, making its custody and risk pricing unique. When someone loses their Bitcoin, there is no way to recover or recreate them. They are irrevocably gone. This fundamental difference necessitates a different approach to Bitcoin's custody and risk management, distinct from traditional assets backed by seemingly limitless supplies of fiat currencies, and other cryptocurrencies which have no hard coded, provable digital scarcity.

Traditional lenders often prefer rehypothecation, arguing that it is more efficient and yields higher returns. However, borrowers often lack the necessary information to understand the risks associated with posting collateral to lenders who solely offer this model, which has become a prevalent practice among centralized crypto lenders.

To bridge the gap between the status quo in traditional finance and the advantages of Bitcoin's digital scarcity, education and transparency are crucial. Borrowers need to comprehend what will happen to their collateral before repaying their loans. For borrowers, understanding the risk involved is paramount. Non-rehypothecated lending, which avoids reusing borrowers' collateral, emerges as a superior and objectively lower-risk method for obtaining loans.

In a financial landscape involving Bitcoin, borrowers can play a pivotal role in setting new standards for the industry. They should have clear and easily accessible Bitcoin-native mechanisms to verify that their funds are not subject to rehypothecation, leading to greater transparency. This transparency empowers borrowers to make well-informed decisions based on their risk tolerance and preferences. By doing so, borrowers can drive the adoption of Bitcoin-native solutions, encouraging lenders and institutions to embrace practices tailored to these new digital assets. This shift ensures that borrowers' assets are treated as intended, reducing the risk of becoming creditors should a platform face insolvency and safeguarding their Bitcoin holdings for the long term.

During the last bull cycle, excessive risk-taking with customers' assets became apparent. To prevent a repetition of highly leveraged scenarios and subsequent asset losses, the market must offer more information and tangible solutions about how customers' assets are utilized on platforms. Recognizing that Bitcoin and digital scarcity require a fundamentally different approach than traditional finance is essential for building a sustainable path forward.

BlockSpaces is a Bitcoin-native financial and collateral risk management platform, designed to address the unique challenges and characteristics of digitally scarce assets. With our core ARC engine, we utilize bi-lateral, non-custodial channels for collateral safeguarding, eliminating the risks associated with rehypothecation—a fundamental feature that sets us apart in the market. Discover more about how we're reshaping Bitcoin's treatment in financial markets on our website.