What Is Safekeeping? 

Safekeeping is the storage of assets or other items of value in a protected area. Many individuals choose to place financial assets in safekeeping. To do so, individuals may use self-directed methods of safekeeping or the services of a bank or brokerage firm. Financial institutions are custodians and are therefore legally responsible for any items in safekeeping.

Safekeeping is also known as safekeep.

Understanding Safekeeping

Individuals who place an asset in safekeeping – often with a bank trust department – generally receive a safekeeping receipt. These receipts indicate that the asset of the individual does not become an asset of the institution and that the institution must return the asset to the individual upon request. An institution will often require a fee for these services.

Many who invest with brokerage firms have their stock or bond securities held in safekeeping. In addition, firms may hold other valuables (gold, jewelry, rare paintings) or documents, including the actual, physical securities certificates. In this capacity, a brokerage firm acts as an agent for a customer. On the other hand, if the investor wishes to keep their own securities certificates separately, they may rent a safe-deposit box. In both cases, the firm will often provide an overview of the value of the asset(s) over time and can present options for buying and selling the assets.

Safekeeping and the Roles of Custodians and Depositories

While many use the terms interchangeably, custodians usually simply hold securities and other valuables for investors, while a depository can assume additional control, liability, and responsibility for the items. Depositories may delegate custodian tasks (selling, repurchasing, issuing) to third parties, provide additional financial services, and facilitate the key function of transferring the ownership of shares from one investor's account to another when a trade is executed. Depository services can also entail offering checking and savings accounts, and transferring funds and electronic payments in these accounts through online banking or debit cards.

Some custodians do also offer a range of other services, such as account administration, transaction settlements, collection of dividends and interest payments, tax support, and foreign exchange.

Using a depository or custodian can also eliminate the risk of holding securities in physical form (e.g. from theft, loss, fraud, damage or delay in deliveries).

Some of the largest custodians globally include the Bank of New York Mellon (BNY), State Street Bank and Trust Company, JPMorgan Chase, and Citigroup.