Why You Should Care That Hedge Funds Are Joining The Crypto Boom
The market for cryptocurrency is booming, with bitcoin and ether tokens turning early buyers into millionaires. Now hedge funds are getting in on the blockchain game. Forbes reported there are now well over 15 hedge funds managing digital assets and cryptocurrency investments, including Polychain Capital, which manages assets worth $200 million and was founded by former Coinbase employee Olaf Carlson-Wee.
That’s great for uber-rich people who were already making tons of money. But will it have any impact for the rest of us? Yes, actually. It is a big deal, especially for young people trying to figure out how to make their future financially secure. This trend could push up bitcoin prices and other tokens of its ilk in the short term, making it harder for average Joes to get involved with blockchain tender.
However, in the long run, this shift could push cryptocurrency to be more reliable and accessible for everybody, boosting the digital newcomer to become a real alternative to banks and paper money.
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Brian Kelly, of Brian Kelly Capital Management in New York, told International Business Times he’s seen a surge in investor demand for cryptocurrency options. His fund now offers options to buy a variety of tokens, like Zcash, XRP and Litecoin, plus initial coin offering opportunities, aka fundraising campaigns by tech companies. According to Nick Tomaino's The Control, ICOs have already raised more than $1.2 billion worth of capital since May 1.
“Over the next year or two, there’s going to be a wall of investor money coming into the space,” Kelly said. “That will absolutely have an impact on [currencies’] price.” In his opinion, this move represents a “stamp of approval” from established financial power players.
This could make it easier to imagine a broader cultural shift to mainstream cryptocurrency adoption. Instead of a savings account in a bank, maybe within the next few decades millennials will rely on bitcoin retirement funds or college savings for their kids.
“The demand for that [tokenized assets] is coming from the millennial generation,” Kelly said. “Everybody talks about emerging markets being the unbanked, the African continent, a lot of people are doing work on the unbanked there. But you have a whole group of millennials, even here in the US, that are becoming voluntarily unbanked. They don’t want traditional banking services. They want this new type of financial system.”
The world of blockchain currency, from bitcoin the Ethereum, is fueled by an ideology that fits well with millennial values: Decentralized control instead of corporate power and digital identities with extra privacy plus mobile access. Kelly likened the crypto boom to the rise of internet companies in the 1990s. He said the next global tech leader, like Google or Facebook, will soon emerge from the cryptocurrency ecosystem.
Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin Photo: John Phillips/Getty
This industry push isn’t limited to American and European investors. Roberto Ponce Romay, the former Bain senior manager who recently founded Crypto Assets Fund in Latin America, told IBT that investors in countries like Colombia, Peru and Mexico are also taking note of cryptocurrency opportunities.
Read: Initial Coin Offerings Go Mainstream: Omise and Kik Announce Cryptocurrency Sales
“I will say it’s growing, but especially in Argentina, because they had a problem in the past when it was hard to take out US dollars,” Romay said. “They are looking at cryptocurrency more because they want to make an investment, to protect their wealth. It’s booming.”
So Crypto Assets Fund is starting out with a simple strategy, helping investors make a diverse portfolio with bitcoin, ether, Zcash, Litecoin, XRP and a few others. “The idea is to buy and hold,” he said. Later on this year, the hedge fund will expand to include more ICO and trading opportunities too.
Emma Channing, ICO expert and general counsel at Argon Group investment bank, told IBT this trend could help make ICOs more reliable because hedge funds are much bigger sticklers about disclosure. It’s important for wealthy investors to understand the products and currencies they are investing in, or they could risk losing a lot of money.
“At least half of the white papers I’m seeing, I wouldn’t consider good quality disclosure,” Channing said. “Generally speaking, hedge funds tend to be the most active in terms of demanding appropriate corporate governance and risk management.”
Some might argue this flood of involvement from hedge funds could jeopardize the democratizing principle of tokenized fundraising. For some bitcoin enthusiasts, the whole point of an ICO is startups can quickly raise money from the blockchain community, not just accredited investors. But in practice, so far we haven’t seen the majority of ICOs completely and democratically open to the public.
“Generally speaking, ICOs tend to have a pre-funding stage, which tend to have a high minimum investment. Usually something in the region of $20,000 to $50,000, whether in fiat or crypto. The aim is to get somewhere between 70 to 80 percent presold during this prefunding period,” Channing said, clarifying anything up to a million dollars is still considered an average investment at this stage. “Historically, the prefunds have almost exclusively been high networth individuals and cryptocurrency whales. So people who can drop, conservatively, 100 bitcoins in one day.”
There are ICOs looking to challenge this status quo, but not everybody feels gung-ho about the theory of trickle down bitcoin economics. “I don’t see it [cryptocurrency] over the long term as democratizing the world,” Crypto Lotus hedge fund co-founder Joshua Goldbard told IBT. “Financial tech doesn’t really trickle down, there’s [just] a narrative that it does.”
Goldbard said there is definitely potential for crypto retirement funds and other types of financial products for the masses, as long as people understand blockchain tender is a high risk investment. In terms of services, say a future blockchain version of Venmo, maybe future users won’t even know or care how the technology works. “The customer won’t really know they’re dealing with cryptocurrency,” he said. “They’ll just know it [a money transfer] moves really, really fast.”
Crypto Lotus plans to garner $40 million in assets and start trading on July 31. Its investment options will include both well-established currencies with long-term sustainability, like bitcoin and ether, as well as more experimental coins. “The responsible thing to do as a hedge fund manager is to have some exposure to that excitement, the question is how much,” Goldbard said.
Different cryptocurrencies sometimes offer unique philosophical perspectives on how money could work. For example, the digital currency Tezos, which Wired described as a “working democracy,” actually gives its users voting rights to decide the future of its network. Yet it’s still impossible to say which form of crypto governance will outlast the gold rush to offer sustainable alternatives to dollars and bonds. Today, digital tokens are still considered a young and risky technology.
The biggest reason why average people should care about hedge funds investing in blockchain is it represents a big step towards normalizing this technology. “They are coming in, in very significant numbers.” Channing said of hedge funds and venture capital firms entering the cryptocurrency space. “I think it’s a fantastic sign of the maturing market. A sign that ICOs, as an asset class, are here to stay."