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FinTech crypto flip-flops and experiments

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by Efi Pylarinou Advisory
| 30/05/2024 18:00:00

The world of cryptocurrencies continues to evolve, with a mix of regulatory scrutiny, institutional adoption, and new offerings. Incoherence reigns. The direction of travel is clear, but the way we get there is uncertain.

My article this week was inspired by the Revolut X announcement, which led me to look into Block’s Bitcoin Conversions and some additional ecosystem facts.

Stand for crypto
The US non-profit organisation Stand for Crypto aims to mobilise the 52 million American crypto owners, with support from industry players like Coinbase, Gemini, Paxos, and Paradigm. This movement highlights the increasingly political nature of money in the digital age. The current dominant broad-media Bitcoin narrative is a store of value and a medium of exchange (not money in the traditional 3-factor definition).

At the same time, the regulatory landscape remains uncertain, with the SEC issuing Wells notices to entities like Robinhood Crypto, Uniswap, and MetaMask for potential securities violations. This incoherence in the US regulatory approach creates challenges for the entire industry.

Block’s Bitcoin conversions and institutional adoption
Despite the regulatory uncertainty, new crypto services are launched in the US. Block (formerly Square) has introduced a new feature called Bitcoin Conversions, allowing its Seller ecosystem to automatically convert a percentage of their daily sales to Bitcoin. This daily dollar cost averaging approach helps merchants accumulate Bitcoin, although the extent of adoption and usage remains to be seen. I see it as an expansion of Square`s Bitcoin Round Ups feature available to Cash App Card users to convert their spare change from everyday transactions into Bitcoin.

Square Sellers will be able to choose between 1–10% of their daily sales which will be automatically transferred to their personal Cash App account to purchase Bitcoin at the end of each day. This daily dollar cost averaging will help merchants accumulate Bitcoins (at a 1% flat fee), which can be held, sent, or sold at their discretion. The question is the extent to which Square Sellers will use this feature, and if they DCA Bitcoins, will they use them as a debasement hedge and mainly hold them?

Institutional adoption is also on the rise, with wealth management firm Hightower purchasing US$68 million worth of Bitcoin ETFs. Their 13F filing shows they have chosen a portfolio of six different Spot Bitcoin ETFs (from Grayscale, Fidelity, Blackrock, ARKinvest, Bitwise, and Franklin Templeton). Fidelity Digital Assets says Defined benefit plans and other pension funds “are only starting to talk to their investment committees”.

The approval of the 11 Spot Bitcoin ETFs in early January, has led to a total of US$63 Billion in different wrappers (ETFs, trackers, ETPs etc,). The tokenisation of Money Market funds has led to US$1.28 Billion in Assets under management.

Bitcoin and crypto as an alternative asset class
I suggest considering Bitcoin and Cryptocurrencies as part of the Alternative Asset class allocation in an investment portfolio, alongside commodities, private equity, hedge funds, and real estate. Bitcoin's and Crypto’s price volatility and asymmetric payoff, due to their 24/7 global trading on decentralised exchanges, make them qualify as an alternative investment despite being largely liquid, unlike traditional financial assets in the alternative asset class.

A reasonable allocation for Bitcoin or cryptocurrencies within a 20% Alternative Asset class allocation could be around 5%. However, this is not financial advice but rather a model framework for investors to consider.

Revolut X — a comeback
Revolut’s launch of a separate crypto platform, Revolut X, is a controversial move in my opinion. While it may not improve the view of UK regulators who consider crypto a risky business, it showcases Revolut’s ambition to compete with laser-focused Cryptocurrency exchanges (e.g. Kraken, Coinbase, etc.) and low-cost established brokers involved in crypto for a while (e.g. EToro, Plus500, etc.).

Revolut X will offer competitive trading fees and access to over 100 tokens, despite the company’s decision in early 2024 to halt crypto trading for its UK business customers.

Revolut X traders will be able to trade the 100+ tokens already on Revolut with fixed 0% maker and 0.09% taker fees, regardless of their trading volume. Seamlessly switching between fiat to crypto and between Revolut X and your Revolut account. Retail Revolut traders will be able to access the Revolut X platform on their desktops.

Let's not forget the incoherence here, too. Revolut halted crypto trading for its UK business customers starting this January (not retail). In 2024, Revolut business users could no longer buy crypto and were limited to holding or selling their assets. Now, Revolut X comes back with a vengeance (let us hope that Elon Musk does not get upset with the Revolut X naming).

I wonder how many Revolut UK business customers are crypto-related startups that were unbanked and stayed as customers after the crypto halting earlier this year.

Will Revolut mirror Robinhood in its crypto investment and trading activities? Recently, Robinhood Connect has integrated with MetaMask and with Uniswap.

Will Revolut X and Robinhood Connect add Crypto index products similar to eToro’s collaboration with Index Coop?

Revolut has been one of the FinTechs that offered Cryptocurrencies early as a Customer Acquisition strategy, starting in December 2017! They reaped the benefits of providing convenience for an asset with high commissions and custody fees.

Currently, commissions remain at c. 100bps, as you see from Revolut`s site (not Revolut X) and from the fee structure of Square`s Bitcoin Conversions offering.

Premium and Metal users will be charged a ‘percentage-based fee’ of 0.99% of the value of their cryptocurrency transaction unless they reside in a country where Tiered Fees apply, in which case your fees are those set out further below. Source: Revolut

The question now becomes:
When will crypto become a low-commission or zero-commission asset class? Everything gets commoditised, and cryptocurrencies will not escape; it is just a question of when and who will be the ‘Betterment’ and ‘Robinhood’ for cryptocurrencies.

For Stocks and ETFs, it took more than 40 years. Before 1975, in the US, commissions on stock trades were fixed. The brokerage commission market was allowed to compete with the Securities Act Amendments of 1975, signed by President Gerald Ford.

The final act that led to broad cuts in stock commissions is recent, when, in February 2017, Fidelity Investments and Charles Schwab cut commissions. Many of us remember the reduction of equity commissions to US$4.95 from US$7.95 a trade. Robo-advisors and Robinhood gave the final push to zero-commission trading.

We are witnessing the interplay between regulation, institutional adoption, and ‘traditional’ strategies and services for a new asset class. It is normal to expect flip-flops, experiments, and tug-a-war in this new asset class. However, keep in mind that everything will be commoditised. Crypto trading cannot escape. and it will not take several decades to drive crypto commissions to zero.

Read the original article here.