Few would challenge the assertion that insurance companies are boring, that virtually everything about them is mind-numbingly, soul-crushingly tedious. On Thursday, however, one of them suddenly decided to loosen its necktie, throw caution to the wind and do something a bit wild, something that was until recently considered downright reckless. Stupid even.
Did it issue a policy to a customer without conducting a comprehensive risk assessment? No, no, much more extreme. It decided to take a chance on a thing that a lot of smart people – from gold bug Peter Schiff and economist Nouriel Roubini to JPMorgan boss Jamie Dimon and celebrity investor Warren Buffet – have for years warned people to stay away from as if it was “rat poison squared,” comparing it to the Dutch Tulip mania or calling it a Ponzi scheme or darknet money.
That thing, of course, is bitcoin. Yes, despite its notorious volatility and its lingering associations with things that are decidedly alien to the world of insurance – like cypherpunk and buying psychedelic drugs online – it decided to venture into unfamiliar fiscal territory. It didn’t just dip its toe into the bath either. It put some serious cash on the table.
Why would such a boring institution suddenly do something so interesting? Well, it was probably a combination of greed and corporate peer pressure, as well as the realization that its treasury is, as MiicroStrategy CEO Michael Saylor would put it, “a melting ice cube” due to fiat currency depreciation, a problem analysts expect to be exacerbated by excessive money printing.
Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co has been watching on the sidelines as the rapidly growing number of corporate players that have embraced bitcoin – such as MicroStrategy, a software company, Grayscale, an asset management firm, and the payment platform PayPal – have raked in gobsmacking profits. And now it wants to join the party.
In a Thursday press release, the 169-year-old insurance provider said it bought $100 million worth of bitcoin and secured a $5-million equity stake in NYDIG, one of the fastest-growing institutional crypto shops with $2.3 billion under management.
The firm said the twin plays will give it direct exposure to the crypto’s price swings and signal that it’s betting that similar firms will follow its lead.
It told the Wall Street Journal it was seeking “measured yet meaningful” exposure to an increasingly digital world.
Why does it matter?
The firm’s $100-million investment is just a tiny fraction of its cash reserve of $235 billion, but the fact that such an inherently conservative institution feels safe investing in an asset that is still vilified in some quarters could significantly influence risk perception.
It will provide “career cover” for managers at other firms that take the plunge, helping to usher in what prominent macro strategist Raoul Pal has called a “wall of money,” which he believes will enter the crypto space once the corporate FOMO gains sufficient momentum next year.
The news immediately generated a buzz on Twitter.
Crypto tycoon Mike Novogratz tweeted: “This might be the most important $BTC news of 2020. An insurance company buys bitcoin for its general account. This needs fed approval. It’s a HUGE deal.”