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A Little Bit of Bitcoin for Your Retirement Fund?

Last week, I took screenshots to show my retirement funds for a seminar, and a pop-up appeared on the online tool of my pension provider:

"Attention Bitcoin fans. You now have the following Bitcoin ETFs to choose from in your own strategy... The ETF falls under the investment class 'Alternative Investments' and can be weighted up to a maximum of 5%. This is not to be taken as investment advice. An investment in cryptocurrencies is associated with high risks."

Interesting. I have not yet used it for my retirement fund, but it has raised some thoughts and also questions.

Woman holding a bitcoin

Since the approval of the Bitcoin Spot ETFs in the USA earlier this year, there has been more movement in the crypto market. Shortly after their introduction in January, the trading volumes of the new Bitcoin Spot ETFs have literally exploded: 2-3 billion US dollars per day in January, and then in early March, trading hit the 10 billion US dollar mark.

The new solutions make the addition of crypto to more traditional and heavily regulated portfolios, such as your retirement funds, easier and more cost-effective. Is investing in crypto becoming more mainstream? Should you hop on the waggon if you have not already? And what are these Bitcoin Spot ETFs all about? 

How can you invest in crypto?

If you want to invest in crypto, there are quite different possibilities, the most common are: •

  • Direct: You buy your cryptos through a broker, a specialized app, or have your own hard wallet. It is also possible to obtain them via credit cards or in some places cash machines (not recommended due to high fees)
     
  • Indirect: You buy shares of so-called ETPs, Exchange Traded Products, which, like many other funds, can be listed on the stock exchange and generally include various, selected cryptos. Some examples are Signum or 21 Shares
     

Now, with Bitcoin Spot ETFs and new Exchange Traded Products (ETPs), there are further opportunities to participate in the development of crypto.

What are Bitcoin Spot ETFs?

In January 2024, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the US stock market supervisory authority, approved so-called Bitcoin Spot ETFs for trading.

Even before this approval, there were already Bitcoin ETFs, but only so-called Bitcoin Future ETFs were allowed. These invest in derivatives that speculate on the future price development of Bitcoin (Futures). The new products have the advantage that they replicate the market price of Bitcoin to the second, but you don't need a complicated infrastructure, instead you can invest simply and cost-effectively through the exchange, just like with most other funds.

Some examples of the new spot ETFs are Bitewise Bitcoin ETF (0.2% TER), ARK 21 Shares Bitcoin ETF (0.21% TER), Fidelity Wise Origin Bitcoin Fund (0.25% TER), iShares Bitcoin Trust (0.25% TER). Please note that these products are not legally permitted in the EU, but in Switzerland or the US, you can trade these ETFs easily through a trading platform or an online broker just like stocks or other funds.

However there are a number of advantages and disadvantages to consider.

Advantages

  • Easy investment through conventional banking tools and online brokers possible
  • Stronger regulation, which is intended to increase trustworthiness
  • Opportunity to participate in the potential value development of Bitcoin
  • Elimination of technological risks and infrastructure requirements associated with Bitcoin trading
  • Cost-effective compared to the crypto Exchange Traded Products available on the market so far
  • Additional diversification option for your investments
  • Tradable at any time during exchange hours

Risks

  • Volatility: The ETFs reflect the price development of Bitcoin with all corresponding risks and very strong price fluctuations
  • You get only one thing: The product itself, has no diversification, as it follows the price development of Bitcoin only
  • You do not own the Bitcoin, but follow its price development with this instrument, for example, you cannot pay with Bitcoin
  • In choosing your Bitcoin Spot ETF, you should also consider the following criteria: trading volume, market capitalization, and costs. Since the ETFs are approved in the USA, you should  pay attention to transaction fees, stamp duties, the spread (trading margin), and custody fees when transacting, as fees usually apply as for US stocks

Should you invest?

There is a lot of movement in the development of crypto products. For some, this is a positive trend:

"The new developments represent the belief in the future of decentralized finance and democratization by allowing individuals to be part of a global financial revolution. For over 5 years, crypto ETPs have offered the opportunity to realize this vision," says Sina Meier, Managing Director - Head of Switzerland & Middle East at 21Shares.

Others, such as the financial provider Vanguard, which consistently does not offer crypto products, see it differently: "In Vanguard's view, crypto is more of a speculation than an investment," writes Janel Jackson, Global Head of ETF Capital Markets Vanguard in an article.

Ultimately, there is no definitive right or wrong answer. The suitability of a Bitcoin Spot ETF for you depends on various factors, including your appetite for risk. The crucial decision lies in determining why you wish to invest in Bitcoin and if you are willing to incorporate such a product—with its inherent volatility—into your portfolio or pension plan, as well as deciding on the extent of your investment.

What do you think? Would you add one of the new Bitcoin Spot ETFs to your retirement fund?

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