Year-end Considerations

Letter to customers, investors, colleagues and collaborators

23 December 2022

Dear all:

2022 was a difficult year for bitcoin and crypto, and it had a significant impact on all of us. Facing many challenges, we have been confronted with nervous markets, misunderstandings, and hostility. We have been discussing this with some of you, but I would like to share what we have learned and how we can use it to prepare for 2023.

Untrustworthy intermediaries and the market price crash

The Terra/Luna, Celsius, and FTX scandals have exposed an ecosystem that is still immature. It is now clear that:

  • the exorbitant returns offered by some were actually Ponzi schemes
  • the counterparty risks in yielding/farming/staking are frequently underestimated
  • non-transparent actors and processes should be regarded as untrustworthy
  • the segregation between client assets and the company ones must be clear-cut.

The bitcoin and ether market prices have been significantly impacted: to repair the financial chasms caused by dishonest operators, selling pressure has increased, resulting in a price decline of more than 75% from the highs of 2021.

Those who are familiar with the crypto world have seen dramatic price retracements in the past, which were then offset by vigorous growth. It is a cyclicality I am used to, the third one since I began following bitcoin in 2014. But this time it is not just about my personal beliefs and investments; I feel obligated to all of you. This is why I believe it is important to emphasize that the 2022 crisis is not about bitcoin or CheckSig.

Bitcoin, Ethereum, and stablecoins

Bitcoin has continued to function flawlessly, confirming its role as the crypto world’s reference asset: the one used as collateral, the gold jewelry sold in times of crisis. None of the scams or scandals we witnessed involved bitcoin: its transparency and algorithmic determinism make it unsuitable for embezzlement schemes.

Certainly, the financialization of the crypto world evident in the first 2020 pandemic crisis has increased the correlation with North American equities and reduced the diversification provided by bitcoin to an investment portfolio. In any case, as we learned from Amazon’s -94% price decline at the time of the Internet bubble burst, the market requires adequate time to appreciate the value of innovation. Morevoer, consider the fact that three years ago bitcoin was worth “only” $7300, ten years ago it was $13: it is a risky investment, but one that has paid off spectacularly over the medium term.

Ethereum also worked fine. Taking a very different approach to bitcoin and with significant risks, we have seen the protocol evolve and remain reliable. We can discuss its contribution to the definition of an ethos in the crypto world (or its lack of), divide on technological, cultural and political judgment, but there is no doubt that Ethereum has confirmed itself as a relevant protagonist.

The confidence crisis has had an unexpectedly positive impact on stablecoins, favoring the growth of the more transparent ones, bringing the behavior and reserves of those historically less reliable into line, demonstrating that there is no room for naive algorithmic stablecoins that want to create wealth from nothing, such as Terra/Luna.

Regarding other crypto-assets, particularly the currently fashionable ones, we have always urged caution, expressed well-founded skepticism in many cases, and keep concerns about their long-term viability.

CheckSig and its clients

While not ideal, this difficult context is discriminating between will-of-the-wisps and realities like CheckSig. Our clients express their appreciation for our services: when they flee from untrustworthy companies, they come to us; indeed, November has been the month with the greatest growth for CheckSig in 2022, the second ever, going against the trend of the majority of intermediaries. In a year when all crypto operators lost clients and volumes, we doubled our client base and assets under custody.

This year, we launched the website’s private area and our mobile app (iOS and Android), expanded custody support for ether and stablecoins, added an emergency contact to handle cases where our client becomes untraceable, and obtained registration to operate as a crypto-asset service provider in Italy.

All this confirming the strengths that have always qualified us: the only Italian crypto company to have insurance coverage (extended in 2022 to all the crypto-assets with which we operate), the only Italian crypto company to have SOC1/SOC2 Type II attestations, i.e. independent third party audit reports. Internationally, we are among probably less than a dozen crypto companies that can boast these two credentials.

Morevoer, CheckSig stands out for having the world’s most secure bitcoin custody protocol, proposed as an open and transparent standard: a multisignature-multilevel configuration that provides monthly Proof-of-Reserves (PoR). We were the first worldwide to provide public PoR, beginning in October 2020, and we are still the only custodian to do so to this day.

In addition to our dependability, all of our clients value the direct and personal relationship we have with each of them. Financial operators and institutional investors regard us as a technology enabler, the premier crypto-as-a-service platform. We provide them with a full range of services, including optimal market order execution with integrated liquidity management, transparent custody, consulting, and training – also in white-label mode, as we did this year with Tinaba Banca Profilo.

CheckSig, a team effort

I thank the investors who continue to put their faith in us. CheckSig cannot, of course, control macroeconomic and systemic variables, but we are confident that a well done job will always pay off if it is patient and resilient. We may have been naive in underestimating the difficulties that awaited us this year, for which I accept responsibility. But we are certain we are building a valuable company and that the market will recognize it.

We have certainly built an excellent team indeed, highly motivated and with very rare – if not unique – skills. I thank each of my colleagues, collaborators and partners: I am proud to be part of the team.

CheckSig will inevitably be influenced by the overall health of the crypto ecosystem. But I am convinced that bitcoin is here to stay and will fundamentally alter our understanding of economic value, its transmission, and the future of money. CheckSig’s challenge is to be a strategic vision leader, to understand change, and to support our stakeholders.

The 2023 horizon

It is easy to predict that the actors and processes that passed the 2022 stress-test will consolidate their operations next year. This is why it is critical to have the clarity to understand and evaluate the signals that reality provides.

To begin with, the regulatory framework is taking shape. Many European countries have established registers for crypto-asset service providers, and the Italian financial law of 2023 clarifies the taxation of crypto-assets. In February, the European Union is expected to approve the MiCA (Markets in Crypto-Assets) regulation. These initiatives are not without flaws, but they do represent a legitimization of the crypto world (disregarding unsuitable comments), a bid to overcome the current Wild West and create a more secure environment for investors and savers.

The context will be aided further when regulators finally promote the role of supervised financial actors in the provision of crypto services and encourage accounting and auditing firms to deal professionally with crypto firms. It will take intellectual honesty to correct the unwise indications provided by Italian and European regulators in recent months, which have the paradoxical effect of leaving savers and investors at the mercy of untrustworthy operators. CheckSig, with its example, can point to a viable path and suggests the best practices to be adopted.

More than ever, investors and savers will be responsible for making informed decisions about intermediaries and service providers. Take care not to fall from the pan of shady operators into the fire of an improvised and dangerous “do-it-yourself”. “Be your own bank,” we all say, “if you can,” I add: do not underestimate the risks of technical inexperience, theft aggression, and the issue of how our digital assets can be inherited by our loved ones. CheckSig clients have already made their decision, and we will help others through training and information updates.

Bitcoin will continue to experience high volatility but, as in the past, and despite the failures of other untrustworthy players, its resilience and value will support the ecosystem’s overall growth.

We will work to expand our product and service offerings beyond trading, custody, training, and regulatory and tax support. CheckSig is considering new technological solutions and how to meet market needs that are still unsatisfied.

My wishes

Holidays have always been a time for family affection, friendship, and the exchange of gifts that demonstrate our mutual love. I hope we can all enjoy it, remembering and helping those who are suffering as a result of wars, pandemics, and economic downturns. It is also a good time to clear our minds of occupations and worries and take care of our need for meaning and happiness. Let us see if, and how, reality responds to that need, if we find traces of a good Mystery: this is the true provocation of Christmas. I wish it to everyone.

Ferdinando Ametrano
Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, CheckSig