Bitcoin has had a wild ride. And millennials have decided to go along for it.
Bitcoin peaked near $20,000 per coin in 2017 but is notoriously volatile: Its prices fell below $7,000 in the past few days, losing more than $100 billion in valuation since last week. Other cryptocurrencies are not faring well, either: The overall cryptocurrency market cap has fallen more than 50% since early January, according to CoinDesk, plunging from $830 billion to $366 billion.
But despite the unpredictable nature of cryptocurrencies, many millennials find investing in it less intimidating than putting money in the stock market or other traditional investments.
Ironically, the willingness to invest in cryptocurrency, which is notoriously volatile, comes with a disillusionment in the stock market after the 2008 financial crisis, said Julia-Carolin Zeng, a spokeswoman for BitcoinSportsbook.com. Over 82% of millennials say their investment decisions were influenced by the Great Recession when $14 trillion in wealth was lost. Many saw 50% or more wiped off their parents’ or older siblings’ wealth.
Sam, a New York-based wine and spirits sales representative and engineering student, said the crisis was a huge factor in his decision to eschew stock markets for crypto. He invested $3,800 in savings into cryptocurrencies in 2016, the first time he has even made an investment (he owns no stocks). He since has redistributed the money to Tether, a coin that is tied to the U.S. dollar.
He watches the markets closely. While his choice to buy coins was a financial investment, he did so largely because he believes in other functions of cryptocurrency. “These have the potential to replace bank lending, financial litigation, and a lot of things that make life incredibly complicated for ordinary people,” he said.
Millennials regard the stock market with skepticism
People between the ages the ages of 18 and 39 are less likely to invest money in the stock market than other generations, studies show. Only one in three millennials are investing in the stock market, compared to 51% of people of the following generation (36-51) and 48% of baby boomers (52-70), a 2016 study from personal-finance site Bankrate found.
And millennials appear much more willing to invest their money in cryptocurrencies than other generations, a recent poll from Swell Investing, a California-based investment company that focuses on social justice oriented portfolios, concluded.
It asked consumers what they would do if they were given $5,000 to invest all in one place. Some 12% of millennials aged 18 to 34 said they’d invest it in cryptocurrency over any other type of investment versus 3% of those aged 45 to 54 and 55 to 64. One explanation: Bitcoin was created after the 2008 financial crisis as a means to exchange money without relying on big banks, Zeng said.
“Bitcoin’s anti-establishment roots and decentralized system brings with it the hope for a new economy that puts people over corporations,” she said. “This is an extremely appealing message to millennials who watched their job outlooks dwindle as the financial crisis unfolded in tandem with their first-ever entry into the job market.”
Some crypto fans may be too reckless
But just because bitcoin is hot right now does not make it the most ideal investment choice — for millennials or anybody else, said Andrea Coombes, retirement and investing specialist at personal finance resource Nerdwallet. “This is pretty concerning,” she said of the trend. “If you want to spend money to play with cryptocurrency, by all means go ahead, but make sure it’s money you are willing to lose.”
The temptation to hop on the bitcoin train as prices jumped more than 400% in 2017 is indicative of millennials’ stereotypical desire for instant gratification, notes Coombes: they’ve heard tales of people who get rich quickly with the currency.
But they’d be better off putting their money in traditional investments like a stable mutual fund or exchange traded fund and waiting for it to grow over years. Consumers can open an account with Vanguard for as little as $1,000 or consider apps like Acorns, which target millennials who want to enter the investment world with small amounts of money.
“It sounds boring and is not as sexy as bitcoin, but if you have long term goals those vehicles are going to get you there,” Coombes said.
Still, cryptocurrency allows millennials to test their stamina for a volatile market, something many investors have been dealing with in the last few days as the Dow has tumbled more than 1,000 points.
New York-based public relations associate Carissa Hilliard, 28, has never invested a single dollar in the stock market, but spent weeks researching cryptocurrencies. She invested $100. “I’ve always wanted to invest but it seemed like you needed to have an extensive background in it to do well,” she said. “With crypto I felt it evened the playing field more because it was new.”