As investors become increasingly exposed to cryptocurrencies, risks associated with digital assets are more likely to be “creeping” into their portfolios, MSCI Inc., a global provider of equity indexes, warned in its latest research.

The companies covered by the MSCI ESG Research have a combined market capitalization of $7.1 trillion, according to a Bloomberg report.

Among them are firms directly involved in crypto trading activities, such as digital asset exchange Coinbase, as well as companies that have Bitcoin on their balance sheet. The latter include the likes of business intelligence services provider Microstrategy and electric car manufacturer Tesla.

Other names include chipmaker manufacturer Nvidia and investment bank JP Morgan, which earlier this year approved banking accounts for Coinbase and Gemini, another U.S.-based crypto exchange.

"While most cryptocurrencies are speculative investments with little evident utility, some have seen limited success as genuine currencies, and many have posted eye-popping returns," said MSCI in a blog post.

According to the research, this growth has contributed both to the rise of companies exposed to cryptocurrencies and efforts by established companies to gain such exposure.

Traditional indexes develop crypto exposure either when newly-listed cryptocurrency companies are added, or when companies in which investors own stock announce strategies that include Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies, said MSCI.

Lack of crypto expertise

The growing exposure to cryptocurrencies also means new challenges for companies, ranging from environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues to accounting and security aspects.

Some questions may seem easy at first glance, but prove to become “really tricky” when it comes to crypto, Harlan Tufford of MSCI said in a podcast.

“Like, who in the company knows the passkey to access your private anonymous wallet that stores, you know, a billion dollars in Bitcoin? And how do you monitor that?” asked Tufford.

A lack of crypto expertise among C-level executives is another challenge for the companies.

Out of about 6,500 biographies of corporate board members searched by MSCI only 79 individuals at 64 companies included references to cryptocurrencies or blockchain, with slightly higher figures—1,114 people—for references to expertise in cybersecurity.

This could represent a good opportunity for crypto specialists as “people with advanced cryptocurrency-specific skills and experience are likely to be rare,” concluded the report.