For $16.99, you can buy a T-shirt on Amazon that boastfully declares “My Retirement Plan Is Crypto Currency.” For many, it’s beyond vanity. It’s a declaration of a new financial plan.
If you’re skeptical, you should be. After all, you have trusted your retirement funds to advisors precisely because they are qualified to manage your traditional 401(k), Roth IRA or an IRA so you can retire comfortably.
Why should you even entertain the cryptocurrency? Is it a scam?
The answer is that Bitcoin and its underlying blockchain technology are disruptive digital tools forging a new future and way of thinking about money. Bitcoin is a decentralized currency, traded on open market exchanges.
Recently, prominent companies and finance industry leaders have bought hundreds of millions in bitcoin, all but signaling that it’s as good as cash for their treasuries.
Even reticent financial gurus are starting to believe that Bitcoin is akin to ‘digital gold.’ The reason? It’s shown the ability to generate higher returns than the stock market and it serves as a hedge - or safe haven asset, like gold - against inflation and economic uncertainty.
As I’ll explain later, it appears the $28 trillion retirement market is ripe for a shake-up, due to asset diversification and generational change in investment preferences.
Institutional investors getting involved
Institutional investors have been cautious about cryptocurrency, and Bitcoin in particular.
Bitcoin, the currently leading name-brand crypto, dates back to 2009, when it was introduced under mysterious circumstances in a world coping with the fallout of the 2007 global financial crisis that saw nearly $7 trillion evaporate from the global economy as the U.S. housing bubble burst.
If the stock market is considered volatile, then Bitcoin could be viewed as heart attack-inducing. Bitcoin-to-dollar value sank to as low as $3,000 and shot up to $20,000 during the past three years.
In July, Bitcoin was trading at $10,400-ish, but in mid-August, amid a global economy ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic, it broke over $12,000 before sliding down to mid-$11,000 overnight.
Why the sudden jump?
There are a multitude of reasons.
One, the trading exchanges where crypto are bought and sold are open marketplaces, subject to trade winds.
Two, the number of bitcoins isn’t infinite -- there will be a total of 21 million of them ever mined (“mining” refers to computer processing that mints bitcoins, which can be done on a high-powered, specific hardware-rigged computer system anywhere in the world).
Many investors are coming around to viewing bitcoin as a digital commodity, on par with gold as a safe haven that’ll grow in value. Some even dub it “digital gold.”
And yet, bitcoin and all cryptocurrencies are still in the infancy of their development. As such, some financially literate people are hesitant to label them a new asset class. Even blockchain technology - a decentralized, digital ledger that enables bitcoin transactions and stores them - is very new, even if some are heralding it potentially being as disruptive as the Internet itself.
A number of prominent leaders in the finance industry are coming around to bitcoin.
Publicly traded business intelligence company MicroStrategy in August invested nearly half of its reserves, to buy $250 million worth of bitcoin. The transaction all but makes the case that bitcoin and cash are comparable to the NASDAQ-listed billion dollar company backed by financial behemoths Vanguard and BlackRock.
Bitcoin is both an attractive investment opportunity and a shield from economic winds to MicroStrategy’s CEO Michael Saylor, who described bitcoin as a “reasonable hedge against inflation” that offers “the prospect of earning a higher return than other investments.”
Will Bitcoin and crypto become mainstream currency?
Digital currencies such as Bitcoin may not be mainstream currency yet. However, it’s a concrete concept, and not a fictional one. “Cold wallets” containing stored bitcoin can in fact be used to purchase everyday items.
The steps may not be as simple as PayPal or debit card or credit card transactions, but they’re nearly the same execution -- with the key difference being the back-end technology and privacy.
Surely the anonymity of the digital currency transactions is one of its best features, it’s also one of its worst.
Shadowy, terrorist and criminal enterprises have their share of tech-savvy individuals. These hackers are criminals who have run scams and even asked for bitcoin donations to fund terrorist activities.
However, cybersecurity authorities in the U.S. and in foreign governments are keeping a vigilant eye on these culprits and have had success in breaking up their schemes, issuing indictments and punishing criminals.
Crypto creeping into retirement portfolios
As crypto currencies, led by Bitcoin, are more firmly established as a form of digital payment, more capital is expected to flow into crypto from the retirement market.
So, how do you go about investing into Bitcoin or other crypto currencies as part of your Roth, standard IRA or 401(k)?
It’s not that difficult, but a little tricky because traditional retirement portfolios have eschewed digital currencies such as Bitcoin across the board.
There are a number of new firms that offer a new, crypto-friendly variety of IRAs.
As unproven as a new asset class and form of payment as it seems -- right now, the IRS considers “virtual currencies” as property -- some pioneers in the field predict that a great change is on the horizon.
The $28 trillion retirement market is poised for disruption in the form of investment into bitcoin and other cryptos, according to Ryan Radloff, the CEO of Kingdom Trust, a custodian of nearly $13 billion in assets.
The asset shake-up will be driven by a generational shift in the market, as more millennials, Gen Z and even Gen Alpha will become comfortable in buying, selling and using Bitcoin and other digital currencies as money.
“Right now, the single largest addressable market for Bitcoin is the 28 trillion dollars in the U.S. retirement market ... all of that money is about to go through this generational change, and there has been hardly any penetration of Bitcoin into that market today,” Radloff told Cointelegraph.com.
Interestingly enough, of the 7.1 million Americans who own Bitcoin, many may not realize they’re invested in it through their retirement accounts. This happened when the IRS classified Bitcoin as a taxable property. Although the holdings may be of small quantities, they could be present alongside bonds, stocks, and funds in diversified portfolios.