Breaking the Seal: Why Medallion Signature Guarantees are Obsolete in Web3

04 Sep 2023 9:00 By John Wooten

You're about to transfer some shares online, a process that should be as simple as a few clicks, right? Not so fast! You get hit with a curveball called a "medallion signature guarantee." It sounds like something out of a medieval knighthood ceremony, but it's actually a stamp—yes, a physical stamp—required by legacy transfer agents to authenticate your identity for electronic registered stock transfers🏣


If you're scratching your head thinking, "Isn't this the digital age?", you're not alone. It's a system that feels not just outdated, but downright unreasonable in today's world of digital transactions. In this post, we'll explore why medallion signature guarantees have overstayed their welcome and how blockchain technology is ready to take the stage as a far more reasonable, secure, and efficient alternative. 🔏

What is a Medallion Signature Guarantee? 🤔

Despite its grandiose name, medallions are essentially a specialized stamp to authenticate financial transactions. Traditionally, you needed this seal as a measure of fraud protection when you wanted to transfer stock on the books of an issuer (think direct share purchase plans or employee stock options). The stamp is not just any ordinary stamp, it's backed by a monetary guarantee from the issuing bank that you are, in fact, you. 👥


Basically, a banker reviews your documents and government IDs (yes, you need two at most banks). First, they must approve your documents as financial statements and legal representations related specifically to you. Some banks won't stamp if you're withdrawing from an affiliate (think brokerage to DRS). If all is good, they watch you sign the physical document, and they rubber stamp it. 👩‍💼


The idea is to provide an extra layer of security in financial transactions. But in a world that's rapidly digitizing, the question arises: Is this old-school method of security still effective, or even reasonable? Forcing this antiquated system onto modern financial transactions is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Sure, it might fit with enough force, but there's a better shape out there that makes the whole process easier. 

The Drawbacks of Medallion Signature Guarantees 🐢

Now that we've got a handle on what medallions are and why they've been a staple in financial transactions for so long, let's talk about why they're no longer the golden standard. If you've ever gone through the process of getting a medallion, you know it's anything but convenient. From the need to physically visit a financial institution to the pile of documentation you have to carry, the process is, simply put, a hassle. But the inconvenience is just the tip of the iceberg. Let's dig into the deeper issues that make medallions a not-so-great fit for our fast-paced, digital world. 🗃️

Time and Inconvenience 

We live in a world where you can transfer money to someone halfway across the globe in a matter of seconds, thanks to digital platforms. So why does transferring shares still require a detour to a financial institution and a potential wait of several days just for a stamp? 📆


First off, you'll likely need to make an appointment with your financial institution, adding another to-do on your already busy schedule. Once you get there, you'll have to present multiple forms of identification, financial statements, and possibly account statements for both the sending and receiving parties involved in the transaction. This additional paperwork adds another layer of complexity to an already cumbersome process. 📑


After all the documents have been presented and reviewed, which can take anywhere from an hour to a week, only then will your paperwork be stamped with a medallion.


And don't forget: this is for each transaction. Planning on making multiple stock transfers? Brace yourself for the tedious process each and every time. 😩


The reality is that medallions are a roadblock in the fast lane of digital transactions. They slow down processes that could otherwise be quick and seamless, adding unnecessary layers of complexity and time delays. In today's fast-paced world, where efficiency is everything, the cumbersome process of acquiring a medallion is a glaring bottleneck. 💲

Limited Accessibility 

The inconvenience of getting a medallion doesn't stop at the time-consuming process and piles of paperwork. There's also the matter of accessibility. Not every financial institution offers medallion services, and even among those that do, some only offer it to their existing customers. This creates a barrier to entry for those who are either not near a participating institution or are not existing account holders. 🚫

Lack of Global Access 🚧

We've talked about how inconvenient it is to get a medallion, but what if you're not even in the United States? Then, you're really in for a wild ride. Medallions are predominantly a U.S. practice, meaning there are extremely few institutions that offer them outside the country. So if you're an international investor or just find yourself overseas, your options are pretty limited. 🌎


"But what about online alternatives?" you might ask. Sure, there are some digital platforms that offer medallion guarantees, but brace yourself for a shocker: these services often charge exorbitant fees, sometimes running into hundreds of dollars per transaction. That's not just an inconvenience; it's a financial burden. 💔


The lack of accessibility further exacerbates the issue, making medallions not just a hassle, but often an impossibility for people who aren't conveniently located near a guaranteeing institution. In an increasingly globalized world where financial transactions should be borderless, the limitations of medallions present a significant drawback. 🏦

Investor Demographics 😕

Additionally, let's not forget about the groups that are often overlooked: the elderly, the disabled, and those without easy access to transportation. For these individuals, the need to physically go to a financial institution presents an added challenge that makes the entire process even more inaccessible. 


Importantly, a considerable number of investors fall into the elderly category. These aren't just random people struggling with the system; they're stakeholders in the investment world who are being inconvenienced by an outdated process. 🕰️


So, while medallions might offer a layer of security, they also inadvertently act as a gatekeeper, limiting who can easily engage in stock transfers. This flies in the face of the inclusivity and ease of access that the digital age should be offering to everyone, regardless of location or circumstance. 🤝

Human Error 🤦‍♂️

When it comes to financial transactions, especially something as important as transferring shares, the margin for error should be as minimal as possible. However, the process of acquiring a medallion introduces multiple opportunities for human error, which can result in costly mistakes or delays. 


For instance, the financial institution reviewing your application could misinterpret a document, incorrectly record information, or simply stamp the wrong section of a form. Each of these errors, while seemingly minor, can have significant repercussions, such as transaction delays or even the invalidation of the entire transfer. 


Furthermore, with the numerous identification and financial documents required, the possibility of submitting incorrect or outdated paperwork is also heightened. Given the time-sensitive nature of many stock transfers, these delays can be more than just a nuisance; they can be financially detrimental. 🔻


Lastly, let's not forget that medallions are physical stamps. They can smudge, fade, or otherwise become illegible, adding yet another layer of potential error that can compromise the integrity of the transaction. 🤷

Our Own Experience 🛤️

In the (very) early days of Block Transfer, we joined the major medallion stamp programs, thinking that this would be an essential step in becoming a trusted player in the financial sector. What we found was enlightening—and not in a good way. ⚠️


One significant issue that quickly came to light was the startling frequency with which medallion stamps are lost or stolen. Yes, these stamps—supposed symbols of security and authenticity—are routinely pilfered or misplaced. And when that happens, every financial institution verifying medallions has to cross-reference each and every stamp against a constantly-updated registry of stolen stamps. 🚨


You'd be surprised how common these incidents are. It's like constantly checking a "Most Wanted" list before making any transaction. This cumbersome process not only introduced another layer of complexity but also made us question the effectiveness of the very system we were supposed to trust. 👁️‍🗨️


It was an eye-opener for us, and it played a part in shaping our current direction: seeking a more secure, streamlined, and modern solution to replace the dated and problematic medallion system. And we found that blockchain offers exactly what the traditional medallion system lacks. 💡

The Web3 Revolution ⛓

So we've talked at length about the archaic and problematic nature of medallions in the world of financial transactions. But it's not all doom and gloom; in fact, far from it. Enter the Blockchain Revolution—a paradigm shift that promises to change the landscape of financial transactions and security measures, making many of the problems we've discussed virtually obsolete. 🌅


What if we told you that there's a way to conduct share transfers that is secure, transparent, and doesn't require you to step foot in a financial institution? What if you could eliminate the multiple checks against stolen stamps, the endless documentation, and, most importantly, the incessant waiting? 🚀


Blockchain technology offers all this and more. It's not just a digital ledger; it's a disruptive force that promises to reshape how we think about and conduct financial transactions. And the best part? It aligns perfectly with the fast-paced, digital world we live in today. 🎉

Speed 🏃‍♀️💨

In a world where everything from messaging to grocery delivery is instant, the snail's pace of traditional share transfers feels like a relic of a bygone era. The inefficiencies we've explored earlier—document collection, appointment scheduling, correspondence mailings—all contribute to unnecessary delays that can cost both time and money. 🐌


The remarkable speed of blockchain transactions doesn't happen in a vacuum; it's empowered by advancements in cryptographic techniques, most notably digital signatures. When you electronically authorize a transaction, these tamper-proof cryptographic methods quickly and securely go to work. 🔐


In traditional systems like the medallion stamp, security relies on centralized verification—essentially, one entity giving the nod. But blockchain flips this on its head. It relies on distributed networks and sophisticated cryptographic algorithms to confirm transactions. This negates the need for centralized authorities and time-consuming verification steps, such as checking stamps against a list of stolen or misplaced ones. 👍


Here's the real magic: thanks to blockchain technology, your digital signature can be verified in just a matter of seconds. You can visit this class to get into the nitty-gritty of how it all works. Just know that blockchain makes the process both quick and secure, allowing you to make transactions at any time, without the hassle. 📲


The result? Transactions that can happen 24/7, without the delays imposed by "business hours" or manual verification steps. It's as though the technology has torn down the tollbooths on the freeway, allowing for a free flow of secure, immediate transactions. ⏱️

Transparency 🔎📖

Transparency isn't just a buzzword; it's a crucial feature that many traditional financial systems lack. With medallions, once the stamp is applied, the transaction largely disappears into the bureaucratic labyrinth, leaving you to simply trust the process. 😣


In contrast, blockchain offers unparalleled transparency. Each transaction is recorded on a public ledger, accessible to anyone who wants to see it. You can actually track the journey of your transaction from start to finish, witnessing in real time as it gets verified and added to the blockchain. 🔗


This level of transparency doesn't just offer peace of mind; it also reduces the risk of fraud and errors. If something doesn't look right, you'll know immediately, not days or weeks later when you finally decipher your account statement. 🧯


Transparency is more than just a feature; in the blockchain world, it's a standard. It eliminates the 'black box' nature of traditional financial transactions and replaces it with a clear, traceable path that anyone can follow. 🌐

Error Trails 🐞

In traditional systems, the risks associated with reconciliation and verifying share counts are considerable. Centralized databases and physical document storage can make it difficult to track down the paper trail during an audit, increasing the risk of legal repercussions from share count discrepancies. ⚖️


Blockchain minimizes this risk substantially. A transparent, publicly accessible ledger ensures all transactions and share counts are open for inspection. Auditors can more easily validate records, thereby reducing the risk of audit errors and subsequent legal complications. 

Security 🛡️

In the realm of financial transactions, security is often the first line of defense against various types of risks, and this is an area where blockchain technology shines. Unlike traditional financial systems that are prone to hacking, data manipulation, and identity theft, blockchain offers a fortified wall of protection. 🏰


Firstly, the decentralized nature of blockchain eliminates a central point of failure, inherently reducing the risk of cyber attacks. Each transaction is verified by multiple nodes on the network before it's added to the blockchain, making it extremely difficult for unauthorized alterations. This makes blockchain one of the most secure financial environments out there. 🔐


Beyond cyber threats, blockchain also mitigates the risk of identity theft through its multi-layered authentication protocols. This is a significant upgrade over traditional systems that often rely just on usernames and passwords. 📵


One of our early advisors was the CISO of Intercontinental Exchange for two decades, building the organization's whole cyber program from scratch, based on experience founding an ISP in the '90s. He mentioned that people usually have a relatively weak password, but a relatively strong second-factor method (think Google Authenticator). Naturally, authenticating users based solely on that second-factor would be equally secure, and much more efficient. 🧠


Without going into the weeds, you secure your Block Transfer account using a completely random string of words written down during onboarding. This "backup phrase," "account certificate", "seed phrase"—whatever you want to call it, we think it's the most secure way to authenticate yourself based on mathematical secrets. Your words never change, which means you can store the credentials in a safe for a lifetime. (Don't worry, we have fallback systems in case of robberies.)

Last but not least, blockchain also addresses the very real risk of data manipulation. Once a transaction is verified and added to the public ledger, it becomes immutable. This feature drastically reduces the chance of data tampering, adding another layer of security and peace of mind to each transaction. 🐱‍💻

The Takeaway

As we've journeyed through the limitations of traditional financial systems and the medallion signature guarantees, it's evident that there's plenty of room for improvement. The cumbersome processes, the exorbitant wait times, and the potential for human error are not just inconvenient but also riddled with various risks.


Enter blockchain: the revolution we didn't know we needed but can no longer ignore. With its unparalleled speed, transparency, and most importantly, its robust security features, blockchain is setting new benchmarks for how financial transactions should be conducted. It's not just making things faster; it's making them safer, more transparent, and more equitable for everyone involved.


And that's where we come in. Block Transfer isn’t just another company intrigued by blockchain technology; we are a transfer agent specializing in implementing these blockchain solutions. If you're a CFO of a public American company, understanding and leveraging the potential of blockchain technology should be at the top of your to-do list. And at Block Transfer, we're making it easier than ever to bring this transformative technology into your financial operations. And if you're interested in making your financial operations more secure, efficient, and transparent, it's time to learn more about what we have to offer. Schedule a free brief consultation.

John Wooten

Chief Compliance Officer

John, host of the Stock Market Secrets podcast, wrote his first book on asset management in high school. He closed down his hedge fund after its best year ever out of frustration with inefficient markets to bootstrap Block Transfer. John graduated from Georgia Tech with a BS in Computer Engineering.