The Bitcoin ETF backers have provided a whole host of reasons why the SEC’s refusal to approve spot crypto funds is bad for the markets: it stifles innovation; it keeps the United States behind other countries; it restricts investor access to an important asset class; it forces investors into more costly and less efficient vehicles.
But a new white paper from one of the major digital asset lobbying groups has another point: it keeps investors away from their advisors.
More specifically, investors who are committed to crypto but can’t buy it in an ETF or other registered fund are likely to sidestep their advisor or a traditional brokerage provider and head to any number of fintech platforms designed for direct investments in Bitcoin, Etherium or any of the other lesser digital assets, according to the Chamber of Digital Commerce.
“Because bitcoin is not a ‘security,’ an investor seeking to invest directly in Bitcoin does so without the umbrella of federal regulatory protection that has developed over the past 80 years,” the paper, titled The Crypto Conundrum, states. Crypto platforms are not regulated by the Advisers Act of 1940 and individuals providing advice on cryptocurrencies are not subject to suitability and other standards under which traditional advisors operate. Similarly, crypto exchanges are not subject to the Exchange Act or Securities Act, the paper notes.
“Ultimately, this means that the financial adviser, broker-dealer or exchange with whom a retail investor interacts for their traditional investments largely does not provide cryptocurrency-related services, and thus investors must parse through an ever-expanding roster of entities seeking to provide these advisory, brokerage, trading and custodial services,” the paper argues.
Crypto ETFs, the group states, if allowed to register, would mitigate many of these risks and allow investors “to a large degree, to outsource the role of due diligence to the issuer of the Bitcoin ETF trust.”
There are some holes in this argument. For one, some brokers have started to give access to Bitcoin to wealthy clients through private investment vehicles. Fidelity, for its part, started to introduce Bitcoin access to 401(k) accounts, while one ETF sponsor, WisdomTree, has piloted a digital wallet for cryptocurrencies and, it hopes eventually, tokenized versions of assets like bonds or gold.
It’s also not always the case that advised clients who also have outside accounts do so without the knowledge of their advisor. In the 529 college savings plan market, for example, it’s not unheard-of for an advisor to recommend clients use a direct investment account (rather than advised one) in order to save clients money or give them added flexibility. Advisors could be helping their clients with the due diligence aspects of crypto as a value-add without overseeing the account itself.
But the lobbyist’s take does underscore some reasons advisors would want access to an ETF that invests in another digital currency. It provides clients the access they want in an investment wrapper that they and their clients understand, and fits neatly into the advice model and accounts they already run for clients.
Whether that helps regulators to overcome their other crypto-access concerns remains to be seen. Until then, advisors will have to either explore non-fund options or get comfortable with clients going outside for their crypto needs.