How to Buy a Bitcoin ETF

Now that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission approved the first crypto exchange-traded funds to hold digital assets, the actual buying may be the easy part.

AccessTimeIconJan 10, 2024 at 7:04 p.m. UTC
Updated May 16, 2024 at 4:07 p.m. UTC

Crypto is complicated. The assets are difficult to explain and challenging to manage. But the sector has eagerly awaited a move from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that could change all of that for those hoping to buy cryptocurrencies without much fuss. The SEC finally signed off on a spot bitcoin exchange-traded fund, opening the easiest possible path for a regular, retail investor to dabble in crypto.

An ETF is a basket of assets that trades on a stock exchange. You may be familiar with the big ones for the stock market like SPY and IVY that mirror the S&P 500, a stock index tracking 500 of the largest companies trading in the U.S.

In the case of a spot bitcoin (BTC) ETF (the "spot" meaning it's actually holding the assets we're talking about, and not some artificial version or derivatives contract), each will gather a big stack of bitcoin, and the investor would buy a little piece of that pile.

Unlike a mutual fund, you can buy and sell ETFs as much as you like during the trading day, as long as anybody else is also buying and selling. If you see some big bitcoin headlines, you can get in or out whenever you like.

Online brokers

And the way to buy, for the vast majority of people, will be through brokerages. Do you have Robinhood or Charles Schwab apps on your phone? You should be all set.

Any of the brokerage services are in a position to give access to the new ETFs as they hit the exchanges. If you don't already have an account, you can submit some basic forms to open one at such companies as Morgan Stanley's E-Trade, Fidelity Investments or any number of smaller, scrappier players. Because of the recent online-broker revolution sparked by Robinhood, the upfront cost to buy and sell ETFs should generally be zero.

For crypto veterans, this is where your account at Coinbase isn't going to be much help. Since many of the major digital assets platforms are currently fighting SEC accusations they've improperly traded in crypto securities, they're not in the business of handling customers' securities needs. ETFs are securities, so those wanting to invest at this point are likely to go through old-school financial channels.

The draw of most ETFs – especially those tracking stock indexes – is that they offer a diversified array of assets in one purchase. A fund focused only on bitcoin obviously will see the volatile swings bitcoin investors have long been accustomed to. However, a bitcoin ETF could open the door to similar products featuring other cryptocurrencies, so there may come a time when an investor can buy a single ETF share that represents a wide swath of crypto names.

Bitcoin ETF applications from Fidelity, BlackRock, Grayscale

The SEC approved about a dozen applications from companies to list spot bitcoin ETFs, including Fidelity, BlackRock and crypto native Grayscale. The competitive surge had already seen some of them cutting their expected fees for managing these products, even before they launched. So, investors may see an initial field of low-cost funds to choose from.

Companies had been seeking the SEC's OK since Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss proposed creating a bitcoin ETF in 2013. But while the SEC approved a similar product – a bitcoin futures ETF – those had generally been seen as pro-level investments.

The spot ETF is meant to be the basic, vanilla crypto fund that anybody with a smartphone can test drive.

UPDATE (January 10, 2024, 21:26 UTC): Adds SEC approval of spot bitcoin ETF applications.

Editor's Note: This article does not constitute investment advice and is not intended to invite or induce investment in Bitcoin ETFs or any other cryptocurrency. It is meant for factual and educational purposes, with respect to certain aspects of Bitcoin ETFs, for those who might be interested. Cryptocurrency is a high-risk investment and you should not expect to be protected if something goes wrong.

Edited by Nick Baker.

This article was originally published on Jan 10, 2024 at 7:04 p.m. UTC


Please note that our privacy policy, terms of use, cookies, and do not sell my personal information has been updated.

CoinDesk is an award-winning media outlet that covers the cryptocurrency industry. Its journalists abide by a strict set of editorial policies. In November 2023, CoinDesk was acquired by the Bullish group, owner of Bullish, a regulated, digital assets exchange. The Bullish group is majority-owned by; both companies have interests in a variety of blockchain and digital asset businesses and significant holdings of digital assets, including bitcoin. CoinDesk operates as an independent subsidiary with an editorial committee to protect journalistic independence. CoinDesk employees, including journalists, may receive options in the Bullish group as part of their compensation.

Jesse Hamilton

Jesse Hamilton is CoinDesk's deputy managing editor for global policy and regulation. He doesn't hold any crypto.

Learn more about Consensus 2024, CoinDesk's longest-running and most influential event that brings together all sides of crypto, blockchain and Web3. Head to to register and buy your pass now.

Read more about