2021 has been a big year for cryptocurrency. But what’s next?
We’ve seen Bitcoin hit a new all-time high price, regulatory talks with potential to have big impact on the industry, and more institutional buy-in from major companies. All the while, people’s interest in crypto has skyrocketed this year: it’s a hot topic not only among investors but in popular culture too, thanks to everyone from long-standing investors like Elon Musk to that kid from your high school on Facebook.
In many ways, the first half of 2021 has been a “breakthrough,” says Dave Abner, head of global development at Gemini, a popular cryptocurrency exchange. “There’s tremendous focus and attention being paid to [the crypto industry].”
But the industry is only in its infancy and constantly evolving. It’s difficult to predict where things are headed long-term, but in the coming months, experts are following themes from regulation to institutional adoption of crypto payments to try and get a better sense of the market.
While exact predictions are impossible, we asked five experts about what they’re paying attention to in the crypto space for the rest of 2021:
Expect continued conversations about cryptocurrency regulation. Lawmakers in Washington D.C. and across the world are trying to figure out how to establish laws and guidelines to make cryptocurrency safer for investors and less appealing to cybercriminals.
China reaffirmed its efforts to crack down on digital currencies this year, primarily through crypto mining regulations, while U.S. Senators have considered new regulation to bolster cryptocurrency tax reporting measures.
“Regulation is probably one of the biggest overhangs in the crypto industry globally,” says Jeffrey Wang, head of the Americas at Amber Group, a Canada-based crypto finance firm. “We would very much welcome clear regulation.”
Like most things with cryptocurrency, regulation comes with hurdles. “There are different agencies that may or may not have jurisdiction to oversee everything,” says Wang. “And it differs state by state.”
Both Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen have expressed their agencies’ interests in regulation, while Security and Exchange Commission Chairman Gary Gensler has commented on both his own agency’s and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s role in policing the industry. Plus, the IRS has an obvious interest in making sure investors know how to report virtual currency when they file their taxes.
Clear regulation would mean the removal of a “significant roadblock for cryptocurrency,” says Wang, since U.S. firms and investors are operating without clear guidelines at the moment.
What new regulation could mean for investors
Recent proposed legislation could make it easier for the IRS to find cases of tax evasion when it comes to crypto, though investors should already keep records of any capital gains or losses on their crypto assets. But the new rules may also make it easier for investors to properly report crypto transactions.
“This is because if the bill passes, exchanges will have to issue 1099-B tax forms with cost basis information to investors,” Shehan Chandrasekera, CPA, head of tax strategy at CoinTracker.io, a crypto tax software company, recently told NextAdvisor. “This will significantly reduce the crypto tax filing burden.”
Regulatory announcements can also affect the price of cryptocurrency in already volatile markets. Market volatility is why investing experts recommend keeping any cryptocurrency investments to less than 5% of your total portfolio and never invest anything you’re not OK with losing.
Ultimately, many experts believe regulation is a good thing for the industry. “Sensible regulation is a win for everyone,” says Ben Weiss, CEO and cofounder of CoinFlip, a cryptocurrency buying platform and crypto ATM network. “It gives people more confidence in crypto, but I think it’s something we have to take our time on and we have to get it right.”
Possible Crypto ETF Approval
SEC Chairman Gensler recently hinted that investors may soon have access to a cryptocurrency ETF, which would represent a new and more conventional way to invest in crypto. A cryptocurrency ETF would allow investors to buy cryptocurrency directly from traditional investment brokerages they may already have accounts with, like Fidelity or Vanguard.
“We do it in the equity market, we do it in the bond markets, people might want it here,” Gensler said at the Aspen Security Forum earlier this month, while also acknowledging there have already been filings for crypto ETFs with his agency.
ETF approval has been in consideration by the SEC multiple times over the past few years, but none have yet been greenlighted as in other regions, like Canada and the EU.
“I was anticipating that approval would happen before the end of 2021. I’m still hopeful for that,” says Abner. “There’s obviously a lot of people looking at it with the other regulation that is being introduced. That could potentially slow things down, but I think there’s still a possibility you could see some approval, either at the end of this year, or at least early in 2022.”
What a crypto ETF would mean for investors
Crypto ETFs are not yet available in the U.S., but approval could mean more Americans buying in and influencing the crypto market. Instead of learning to navigate a cryptocurrency exchange to trade your digital assets, you could add crypto to your portfolio directly from the same brokerage with which you already have a retirement or other traditional investment account.
However, investing in a crypto ETF would still carry the same risk as any crypto investment — it’s a portfolio of assets, but would be diversified only by different cryptocurrencies, which are all speculative and volatile. If you’re not willing to lose the money you put into crypto by purchasing on an exchange or an eventual crypto fund, you should carefully consider if you’re willing to take on the risk of having cryptocurrency in your portfolio at all.
Broader Institutional Cryptocurrency Adoption
Mainstream companies across industries have taken interest — and in some cases themselves invested in — cryptocurrency and blockchain in 2021. AMC, for example, recently announced it will be able to accept Bitcoin payments by the end of this year. Fintech companies like PayPal and Square are also betting on crypto by allowing users to buy on their platforms. Tesla continues to go back and forth on its acceptance of Bitcoin payments, though the company holds billions in crypto assets. Experts predict more and more of this buy-in.
“We’ve seen a tremendous amount of inflow of attention, and that’s going to continue to drive the growth of the industry for a while now,” says Abner.
Some experts predict bigger, global corporations could jumpstart this adoption even more in the latter half of this year. “What we’re looking at is institutions getting involved in crypto, whether it’s Amazon or the big banks,” says Weiss. A huge retailer like Amazon could “create a chain reaction of others accepting it,” and would “add a lot of credibility.”
Indeed, Amazon has recently sparked rumors that it’s making moves to that end by sharing a job posting for a “digital currency and blockchain product lead.” Walmart is also recruiting a crypto expert to oversee its blockchain strategy.
What more institutional adoption means for investors
While paying for things in cryptocurrencies doesn’t make sense for most people right now, more retailers accepting payments might change that landscape in the future. It’ll likely be much longer before it’ll be a smart financial decision to spend Bitcoin on goods or services, but further institutional adoption could bring about more use-cases for everyday users, and in turn, have an impact on crypto prices. Nothing is guaranteed, but if you buy cryptocurrency as a long-term store of value, the more “real world” uses it has, the more likely demand and value will increase.
Bitcoin’s Future Outlook
Bitcoin is a good indicator of the crypto market in general, because it’s the largest cryptocurrency by market cap and the rest of the market tends to follow its trends.
Bitcoin’s price has taken a wild ride so far in 2021, from a high point of $60,000 in April to less than $30,000 as recently as July. More recently, Bitcoin has climbed back toward $50,000. This volatility is a big part of why experts recommend keeping your crypto investments to less than 5% of your portfolio to begin with.
But how high will Bitcoin go? Bitcoin’s past may provide some clues, according to Kiana Danial, author of “Cryptocurrency Investing for Dummies.”
Danial says there have been plenty of huge spikes followed by pullbacks in Bitcoin’s price since 2011. “What I expect from Bitcoin is volatility short-term and growth long-term.”
Others are more bullish on Bitcoin’s short-term growth.
Bill Noble, chief technical analyst at TokenMetrics, a cryptocurrency analytics platform, thinks the price of Bitcoin will climb throughout the rest of the year. “I think it’s more likely Bitcoin goes to $75,000 than $25,000,” he says.
What Bitcoin price volatility means for investors
Bitcoin’s volatility is more reason for investors to play a steady long game. If you’re buying for long-term growth potential, then don’t worry about short-term swings. The best thing you can do is not look at your cryptocurrency investment, or “set it and forget it.” As experts continue to tell us each time there’s a price swing — whether up or down — emotional reaction can cause investors to act rashly and make decisions that result in losses on their investment.
The Future of Cryptocurrency
We can speculate on what value cryptocurrency may have for investors in the coming months and years (and many will), but the reality is it’s still a new and speculative investment, without much history on which to base predictions. No matter what a given expert thinks or says, no one really knows. That’s why it’s important to only invest what you’re prepared to lose, and stick to more conventional investments for long-term wealth building.
“If you were to wake one morning to find that crypto has been banned by the developed nations and it became worthless, would you be OK?” Frederick Stanield, a CFP with Lifewater Wealth Management in Atlanta, Georgia, told NextAdvisor recently.
Keep your investments small, and never put crypto investments above any other financial goals like saving for retirement and paying off high interest debt.