Liquid staking tokens have rallied after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) put the technology in its crosshairs by targeting Kraken’s staking service. But even as the category pushes toward the $15 billion mark in total value locked, institutions in Asia are giving it a pass, according to crypto custodian Hex Trust.
Liquid staking allows users to retain the liquidity of their crypto while delegating it to network validators. Liquid staking is not decentralized, but it is protocol-based leading some to believe that it won’t attract the same regulatory scrutiny as centralized staking services.
“Institutional clients have not really been interested in liquid staking of assets. The only interest we have seen in such assets is when clients or the public cannot have access to the native staking of a particular token,” David Cicoria, Head of Markets Technology, at the Asia-focused Hex Trust.
Cicoria points to some of the risks associated with liquid staking like depegging, risk of hacks, centralization concerns, and lack of regulatory clarity.
“Liquid staking protocols belong to decentralized finance (DeFi), and from a protocol or assets perspective are not considered as “securities” and the regulatory aspect seems far to warrant serious legal attention,” he said, pointing to guidance from the Securities and Futures Commission that these may constitute a “collective investment scheme”.
Native staking, which is also known as direct staking, is the form of staking that has garnered interest from institutional investors, according to Cicoria. But only as long as there’s actually technical staking going on behind the scenes, Cicoria added.
SEC Chair Gary Gensler has said that he is suspicious of intermediary-based staking platforms, telling the Wall Street Journal it “looks very similar – with some changes of labeling – to lending.” That may be reason why the SEC went after Kraken, and not Coinbase, which on-chain data shows operates the larger staking pool.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong is firming out its crypto policy and looking to create a licensing regime for institutional and then retail investors, which may involve a framework around staking.
Read more: Hex Trust Raises $88M for Crypto Custody Focused on the Gaming Sector