VCL Vintners has observed the fascinating stir that NFTs have caused in the contemporary artworld. This new way of owning and investing in art presented an exciting opportunity for the whisky industry to revive its traditional methods for alternative asset investment.
They recently sold a rare Macallan 1991 cask at auction for a record-breaking $2.33 million dollars, with the cask represented by an abstract digital artwork created in collaboration with top NFT artist Trevor Jones. The artwork replaced what would traditionally have been a simple photo of the cask, which would have primarily served a functional representational purpose. By harnessing the innovative power of the NFT, they breathed fresh life into the antiquated traditions of whisky auctioning. The artwork added a dynamic extra layer to the purchasing process – one that will be crucial moving forward, if the industry is to sustain interest from young and diverse new audiences across different geographies.
The companies use of fintech is driven by this passion, alongside a desire to make this historic industry accessible to audiences who otherwise may not be introduced to it.
Stuart Thom, director at VCL Vintners, shares his thoughts on the advantages fintech brings to the company.
What has been the traditional company response to financial technology innovations nationally?:
VCL Vintners has always embraced the advances that fintech can bring to the company, in contrast to some other companies in our space, who have been very slow on the uptake of digital innovation. These innovations often pass the whisky industry by, with so many of its practices tending towards the world of pen, paper and telephones, let alone even the most basic forms of digitization. With an industry like whisky, it is possible for companies to be held back by the charms of tradition. After all, when a system has been built on hundreds of years of very particular procedure, the rapidity of technological change can seem daunting.
How has this changed over the past few years?:
At VCL Vintners we are leading industry change. We believe that these changes can be exciting, rather than threatening, for old and precious industries. Unlike many other companies, we sell whisky casks online. Features as simple as digital onboarding and access to one’s portfolio online have resulted in huge changes for the way our clients interact with their whisky investments. In a world where many major whisky names are advancing their online presence, processes are essential for continuing to engage with the younger generation, for whom internet literacy is instinctive. Digitization speeds up efficiency and ensures transparency throughout the investment process, all in service to the continued celebration of our industry’s essence: fine and luxurious whisky itself.
Is there anything that has created a culture of change inside the company?:
Company change is largely prompted by an attentiveness to outside forces: staying up to date with the constant fintech developments on the horizon. We are consciously in tune with digital trends, for example, the growing prominence of NFTs in contemporary art, and looking for ways in which these trends might intersect with our own industry. Our company culture thrives on a collective passion for the possibilities presented by the digital age.
What fintech ideas have been implemented?:
We are using technologies to enable a completely digital on-boarding and assessment of investors, the tokenization of casks, and the migration of an entire administrative system onto the blockchain. These are all inevitable for the industry. Utilising technologies such as the blockchain and DLT (distributed ledger technology) is a lifeline for the whisky industry, allowing it to find newer, more efficient ways to operate in the demands of our modern age.
What benefits have these brought?:
The integration of technology that enables digital currency payments has allowed us to expand the whisky industry into a truly global market. These technologies are more common in Eastern geographies, so have been invaluable for targeting an international audience.
Our future-focused approach to whisky investment has also seen a massive influx of interest from millennial investors, with over half of our clients being under the age of 44. We are seeing the rise of a smarter, innovation-focused investor in whisky, which bodes well for the sustainability of the industry as the Millenial and Gen-Z audiences graduate into market dominance.
Aside from ensuring a thriving future for the world of whisky, the transparency facilitated by digital innovation has created a more level playing ground, to the benefit of all participants. With smoother processes and increased transparency, whisky investment is no longer a shadowy and elite business and can instead be accessed by novices and aficionados alike.
Do you see any other industry challenges on the horizon?
The main challenge for the industry, as I have previously alluded to, will be persuading those who are familiar with the old ways of the industry of the benefits presented by new technologies. This is largely an issue of prejudice, perpetuated by an industry that has long been dominated by a historical understanding of itself.
Can these challenges be aided by fintech?
The benefits of fintech are self-evident. The record-breaking success of our Macallan 1991 auction is just one recent example of this; the appetite for new, dynamic technologies is undeniably sparking industry growth. The next stage will largely be a waiting game, as new technologies gradually become more accepted within old traditions. In this sense, the challenge will be aided by FinTech simply by virtue of its continued persistance. Finetch will aid itself against the challenge of industry prejudice.
VCL Vintners are proud to be leading the way in these vital steps for securing whisky’s place in the 21st century. From opening up the world of whisky to a diverse international market, to introducing a new generation of investors to the possibilities of this alternative asset, the overwhelming sense is one of progress. More than anything, we want to share our passion for good whisky as far as possible. We believe that the strength of our industry’s history can be harmoniously met with the possibilities of new technologies to ensure that the joy of fine whisky endures.