‘You Can Tokenize a Building’ in State Street’s New Digital Push

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State Street Corp., one of the world’s largest money managers, is moving hundreds of its staff into a new digital unit to meet surging interest in everything from cryptocurrencies to transforming investments as traditional as real estate.

“This technology is revolutionary and it will change the world,” said Nadine Chakar, the newly appointed head of State Street Digital, in an interview Friday. Blockchain “has been a solution looking for a problem for years now -- but what you’re starting to see is it’s getting real. There’s real-use cases,” she said.

The group, which starts off with 400 to 450 staff, is gearing up a series of products and services, including cryptocurrency trading software and support for “tokenized” assets, Chakar said. Tokenization refers to establishing a digital share of ownership that can be more easily traded and opens up an asset potentially to a wider universe of investors.

“You can tokenize a building -- you can trade a fraction of it without selling a whole building,” Chakar said. There are “all new ways of unlocking liquidity,” she said, adding that State Street created the unit after the “intensity” of outreach from clients increased.

The move to expand digital offerings comes amid a period of volatility in cryptocurrencies and increasing concern among regulators about their use for illicit purposes.

Boston-based State Street, a designated global systemically important financial institution, won’t be investing in cryptocurrencies directly, Chakar said. The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision said on Thursday that banks will face the toughest capital requirements for holdings in Bitcoin and other crypto assets under global regulators’ plans to ward off threats to financial stability from the volatile market.

The group will instead offer support for clients investing in crypto. At some point, State Street, whose shares are up 15% in 2021, could serve as a sort of Coinbase for institutional investors, Chakar said. “We are evaluating and probably will -- but it’s still early days -- whether State Street itself will offer native wallet-management services.”

State Street serves as custodian or administrator for more than $40 trillion, and also had $3.6 trillion in assets under management at the end of March.

The digital unit is the latest in a series of moves by financial giants to adapt to the digitalization of markets. Fidelity Investments in 2018 jumped into the cryptocurrency arena with a new business to manage digital assets for hedge funds, family offices and trading firms.

BNY Mellon in February also announced a new unit, saying that enabling the use of digital assets was “critical to transforming the future of custody.”

With technology and client interest evolving, “our concern was if we don’t get ahead of it when it takes off it may be really hard to catch up,” Chakar said.

One key task for State Street will be working with regulators as they establish rules for the emerging industry, Chakar said. The Securities and Exchange Commission is currently reviewing an application for a VanEck Associates Corp. Bitcoin exchange-traded fund for which State Street would be the administrator.

There’s been a “proliferation” of ideas among clients, Chakar said. “The main mission” is to enable clients, and clients’ customers, to transition to the “digital ecosystem,” she said. That could include allowing a hedge fund and a pension fund to trade and offset each other, she said. State Street recently also released a platform for peer-to-peer repurchase agreements, she said.

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