Cryptocurrency markets have definitely transcended their obscure origins as a single currency with a small following to become a world-altering ecosystem with hundreds of currencies and multi-billion dollar market cap.
The crypto movement has many idiosyncrasies, but one of its most notable features is its popularity among individual investors. Throughout crypto’s rise in 2017, individual investors poured money into the emerging market, often turning significant profits in a short period of time.
In fact, as The New York Times proclaimed in a January headline about the cryptocurrency movement:
“Everyone is getting hilariously rich and you’re not.”
The headline perfectly captures the insider/outside sentiment that surrounds cryptocurrencies. When it comes to actual investment, individuals are undoubtedly on the inside, while institutional investors sit outside.
Some, like J.P. Morgan Chase CEO, Jamie Dimon, were openly antagonistic to the movement, while others remained indifferent or incredulous, certain that the crypto movement was an aberration or, even worse, a bubble.
Of course, that’s not for lack of effort. For instance, in December, Cboe and CME, two Chicago-based commodities exchanges, issued the first regulated Bitcoin futures contracts. Many people expected that a regulated financial product offered on a reputable exchange would attract institutional investment.
It didn’t work.
After initially crashing Cboe’s servers with high demand, the market is, as CNBC observes, “still relatively small.” Although Bitcoin futures contracts receive enough attention to stay relevant, it’s evident that they are not the transformative product that many people predicted or expected, and they did not usher in an era of institutional investment in cryptocurrencies.
Whatever the enticement, institutional investors are not entering crypto markets in a meaningful way, but that doesn’t mean that they never will.
One uniquely crypto product, crypto hedge funds, perfectly blends a hallmark of the traditional financial system with crypto’s future vision for money. Reuters estimates that crypto hedge funds have about $5 billion on their books, and nearly 250 such companies have opened shop. These hybrid institutions have been so prolific that, reporting on the industry in January, The Wall Street Journal opined that:
“Reports that one of the largest, a bitcoin hedge fund operated by Pantera Capital, was counting its returns in tens of thousands of percentage points hardly hurt their popularity.”
Some crypto hedge funds attract high-profile traditional investors like Michael Novogratz and others, but they are generally populated by wealthy individuals looking to capitalize on the moment.
To be sure, other institutional efforts are underway as well. Goldman Sachs has countered Chase’s incredulity with optimism and a crypto trading desk. Moreover, the Intercontinental Exchange, the parent company of the New York Stock Exchange, is launching Bakkt, a federally regulated Bitcoin exchange. The goal, according to the company’s new CEO, Kelly Loeffler, is to reach institutional investors.
In recent comments to Fortune, Loeffler explains:
“Bakkt is designed to serve as a scalable on-ramp for institutional, merchant, and consumer participation in digital assets by promoting greater efficiency, security, and utility.”
The company has the backing of several prominent companies including Microsoft, Starbucks, and Boston Consulting Group, which could provide both the financial backbone and the name-brand notoriety that can assuage the fears of uninitiated institutions.
In many ways, the exchange, which plans to open in November, feels like the next big opportunity to integrate institutional investment into the crypto economy. Their opening is as symbolic as it is practical, sending a clear signal to Wall Street traditionalists that crypto might soon become a viable component of the investment portfolios.
Another product that institutional investors are clamoring for, but have so far been denied, is the ominous Bitcoin ETF. Last month, the SEC rejected another batch of applications, citing familiar concerns about fraud and market manipulation that prevented previous attempts from being accepted.
An ETF typically consists of a collection of different currencies sold as a single investment product, but a Bitcoin ETF would likely include just a single digital currency. Even so, the ETF is intriguing to many institutional investors because it would be traded on traditional exchanges rather than crypto exchanges, which have an unhappy history of theft and other conflicts. Most people believe that a Bitcoin ETF is inevitable, even if it’s taking companies longer to create a product that can withstand the SEC’s scrutiny.
In total, several forthcoming on-ramps serve as a viable opportunity for institutional investors to enter the markets. It seems unlikely that their entrance could start as a trickle before becoming a storm, as some forward-thinking investors will test the waters first, demonstrating to others that it’s safe to jump in.
When the deluge does arrive, that could be the next big price boom for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Insiders often refer to this moment as “moon,” nomenclature indicating that prices have soared to extraordinary heights.
In 2017, markets soared, propelled by individual investors who believed in the crypto movement, suffered from a fear of missing out or felt inspired by its sudden rise. This brought cryptocurrency into the mainstream, and now institutional investors will usher in the next phase of its proliferation, and several outlets on the immediate horizon that could make this idea a reality.
Crypto enthusiasts are asking “When moon?” Soon.
About The Author
Jehan Chu is Caspian’s Chief Strategy Officer and Co-founder and Managing Partner at Kenetic. A former frontend developer with over 10 years’ experience in web and enterprise application development. Jehan founded the Ethereum HK community (2014), and co-Founded the Bitcoin Association of Hong Kong (2014). Jehan holds a B.A. from John Hopkins University.
Caspian is a full-stack crypto asset management platform tying together the biggest crypto exchanges in a single interface, so as to facilitate investments in crypto instruments for newcomers and veterans alike. The joint venture between heavyweights Tora and Kenetic brings to the table a wealth of experience in asset management, accumulated over decades of building and operating trading platforms and technologies.