Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have captured Britons’ attention, but new research shows an increasing number are making speculative investments without a clear understanding of the risks involved and may be borrowing to do so.
With bitcoin teetering around $40,000 a coin and other cryptocurrencies rising to new heights, crypto has, for some, become a genuine alternative to traditional investments.
The Financial Conduct Authority’s latest consultation paper estimates that around 2.3million Britons now own cryptocurrencies, up from 1.9million.
It represents a leap of 3.9 per cent to 4.4 per cent of the adult population now holding crypto.
Bitcoin bonanza: More than 2million Brits now own a form of cryptocurrency
The research was conducted in January, when the price was round $30,000 a coin.
Just three months later, it had more than doubled to $60,000 meaning more speculative punters may have got involved since.
While the majority of users pay for crypto using disposable income, 14 per cent have borrowed to invest, which would suggest around 320,000 people have got involved this way.
Laith Khalaf, financial analyst at DIY investment platform AJ Bell described that as ‘simply terrifying’.
He adds: ‘There is a dark underbelly lurking in the figures, which suggests there is still potential for widespread consumer harm.’
Elsewhere, the FCA data showed 78 per cent of Britons have now heard of crypto assets, up from 73 per cent last year.
Recognition of bitcoin – up 4 per cent to 82 per cent – far outranks any other cryptocurrency.
There is a dark underbelly lurking in the figures, which suggests there is still potential for widespread consumer harm.
While awareness has risen, understanding of cryptocurrencies has declined slightly, with 71 per cent of those who had heard of crypto correctly defining it from a list of statements.
After the volatility seen in recent weeks, experts have warned investors who don’t understand the risks attached may be left out of pocket.
Two thirds of crypto users hold bitcoin, a 3 per cent rise on the previous year. The next most popular currencies showed little change, including ethereum (35 per cent), litecoin (21 per cent) and XRP/ripple (18 per cent).
The average crypto punter is largely unchanged from the previous year and tends to be male and over 35.
‘The worry is that the new generation of investors, who didn’t witness the dotcom boom and crash at the turn of the millennia or remember the financial crisis of 2007/08, are participating in the latest market craze without truly assessing the risks,’ Myron Jobson, from Interactive Investor said.
Median investment is up from £260 to £300, but given an average crypto punter tends to be further up the income scale they have a greater capacity to sustain losses.
The FCA’s research shows crypto buyers are more than twice as likely to have an income over £100,000 compared to all adults who have heard of crypto.
‘The extreme volatility and uncertain long-term outlook for crypto means holdings can be wiped out, leaving borrowers with nothing but their debt as a memento,’ he added.
While a growing number of consumers are simply adding crypto to their existing portfolios, some are opting for bitcoin and other alt-coins over traditional assets.
Just under a third of users are investing as part of a wider portfolio, up 5 per cent on the previous year.
It confirms research by consumer finance and research site Boring Money which shows investors are dabbling in riskier assets with nearly one in ten holding a ‘side hustle’ in crypto.
Elsewhere the number of people buying crypto instead of shares and other investments has jumped 4 per cent to 19 per cent.
‘Rather than people seeing crypto as a gamble, the research suggests they see it as an investment. To me, the rise of crypto is nothing more than a bubble fed by ignorance’ Rick Eling, investment director at Quilter said.
‘It is understandable that people have read the many headlines surrounding bitcoin’s meteoric rise over the past year and decided that they don’t want to miss out, but if this is the main reason for investing then people need to re-evaluate their investment strategy.’
Jobson added: ‘Whatever your approach to risk, crypto currency should only be a tiny proportion of a portfolio, and the merits of a diversified investment portfolio and avoiding trying to market-time should not be forgotten.’
US heading for a ‘crypto takeover’?
While the UK is starting to pick up on cryptocurrencies it still lags behind a number of countries on uptake.
Around 46million Americans now own at least a share of Bitcoin – around 17 per cent of the adult population – according to a recent study by the New York Digital Investment Group.
A new study by Small Business Prices suggests the US is the country most at risk of a ‘crypto takeover’ while the UK is ranked 17th.
The US has already made headway in making crypto a part of the standard financial offerings. Is already equipped with the most crypto ATMs per person worldwide and has an above-average rating on uptake.
Hong Kong has seen a moderate increase in interest in the past year, and with a good broader level of tech adoption there are opportunities for the market to grow over time.