In my previous articles for this newsletter, I’ve highlighted many of the conversations you will have to have with clients and prospects as you add crypto and digital assets to your practice.
This article is going to be a little more personal. I’ll be taking you down some of the roads I’ve traveled in my crypto journey, so that you can learn from some of my mistakes and successes and impart that knowledge and experience to your practice.
This article originally appeared in Crypto for Advisors, CoinDesk’s weekly newsletter defining crypto, digital assets and the future of finance. Sign up here to receive it every Thursday.
Where I’ve been
Let’s start with my personal journey into crypto. It all began in the fall of 2017, when my partner talked me into buying some crypto for the first time. I opened a Coinbase account, with all the frustrations that come with the know-your-customer (KYC)/anti-money-laundering (AML) process. I was then shocked to learn there was more than just bitcoin. In my naivete, I first purchased ether, with the rationale that bitcoin had already run to over $5,000, so surely this other cryptocurrency I knew nothing about would see the same growth.
Since crypto is a 24/7/365 market, I checked my Coinbase account approximately every 15 seconds. I’d wake up in the middle of the night and check. First thing in the morning, I’d check prices. Waiting at a red light, time to check prices. I had no idea what I invested in, or why the price was moving, but I liked that it was easy.
My next step was trading crypto on a few exchanges. In this scenario, I had to again go through KYC, but these exchanges weren’t based in the U.S. I was trading any number of cryptocurrencies, most of which I knew nothing about, against bitcoin, with the goal to accumulate more bitcoin.
Since I knew very little about all these cryptocurrencies, or about trading any sort of asset, I started joining Telegram groups – now commonly referred to as “pump-and-dump groups.” I actually wasn’t aware that I was part of something that nefarious. I would read the updates, again, at all times of day and night, and try to make the appropriate trades.
I was usually either late to the trade, and ended up buying near the top, or was too greedy to get out at the appropriate time, giving back all of my gains. Through this process, I did learn trading techniques like support and resistance, relative strength index (RSI), stop loss, take profit.
Seeing all those cryptocurrencies I was trading was the impetus to send me down the proverbial rabbit hole, learning all I could about Bitcoin, blockchain technology, custody, and many of the developments we would later refer to as decentralized finance (DeFi) and Web 3. This is when I really got hooked on this technology.
While my partner and I tried to determine how we could make money consulting, we found that I was better at educating people about crypto, blockchain and digital assets, and we started our YouTube channel in mid-2019. We focused on helping people more easily understand the technology and the new systems that were being built, with a bent on how crypto, DeFi, and blockchain would affect finances, businesses and lives.
Since that time, I have tried several different wallets, investing in at least 100 different tokens, yield farming and NFTs. Some I have done as a matter of better understanding the process, protocol or opportunity. Some I have researched and really liked the mid- to long-term growth possibilities. And some I have just “aped in” to try to make some quick money.
I have bought too late and sold too early … and then sold too late. I’ve definitely been a victim of a “fear of missing out” (FOMO), and continue to struggle with that. I’ve been scammed, nearly scammed and hacked.
I’ve also had some great successes in terms of gains from investments, and gains from knowledge and understanding, along with the growth of the network I’ve been able to grow and maintain.
From all that experience, good and bad, I’ve broken out a few items to keep in mind when investing in crypto and when advising others.
1. Don’t look for quick bucks.
I tried trading thinking I could make money quickly, exploiting others who weren’t as smart as I am. They’re smarter, and they are waiting for people like me.
Those who are good at trading crypto, or any other asset, have a different skill and a different motive than investors. Most of us are not going to be able to time any market and will get hurt in the process. Best to leave the trading – and the trading sites, social media feeds and YouTube channels – to those who are part of that profit motive.
2. Get educated.
The best way to invest, and to help others invest in a new technology and infrastructure, is to understand it. Once I better understood how bitcoin works and how a few other cryptocurrencies work, I was able to resist many of the temptations to ape into certain tokens or to sell prematurely because of what seemed like bad news.
3. Have an investing plan.
This is the crux of why advisors need to learn about crypto – so that they can help clients develop a plan. Everyone is going to have a different risk tolerance, set of goals and needs and lifestyle.
I had to have some plans in place for the amount of money I would risk on a project I was researching, versus one I really saw a long-term benefit in. I also decided when I would feel like my investment theses had been overturned. This is based on my comfort level with the technology, my own risk appetite and the time I had to devote.
For example, I decided that I would put a few hundred dollars into a new project that had a good team, but hadn’t had the smart contracts audited. I wouldn’t rush to pull my money out if the value went down quickly if I believed in the team. I will sell part when I’ve doubled my money and let the rest ride.
For more established protocols, I’m willing to invest more, but expect a lower return. I also have an idea what should affect the value and know what can cause that value to drop.
4. I’m not going to catch everything.
When I started learning about crypto, it was all crypto. Then crypto branched into DeFi as well. Then we added non-fungible tokens and now decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs).
Each new strain has added more multimillionaires, seemingly overnight, and from inauspicious beginnings. The proverbial DoorDash delivery person into an eight-figure crypto venture capitalist within weeks.
I have to be comfortable with the fact that each of these subgroups of crypto is actually an entire investing ecosystem unto itself, with experts, value drivers, scammers and profit motives. I can’t possibly be an excellent investor in all these areas, and so I shouldn’t try to invest in them all. This is such a hard lesson, watching so many others become instantly set for life.
5. Security and safety are key.
The nature of cryptocurrency, with its self-custody, makes the security of my assets a priority for me. I’ve chosen to keep more of my assets in some digital form – crypto or stablecoins – so that I can earn more.
I have had to really work to create a security and safety plan, along with an estate plan. Since so much of our wealth is tied to crypto, I’ve had to also educate my wife about how to access our assets and how to keep them safe.
This is going to be an incredibly important conversation and a source of value you’re going to be able to offer clients.
6. Conviction is also important.
So many times in the past few years, I wish I had the conviction to stay with certain tokens and investments through a downturn. I’ve realized that all those people who turn into millionaires seemingly overnight due to a meteoric rise in the value of their crypto assets usually had to suffer through some time when it seemed their investment was worthless.
I did the research and found projects I liked investing in, but too often, I decided to bail when it seemed it wouldn’t take off. Often I was also following my FOMO, and moving those funds to the hot crypto investment. Many times I would lose on both sides.
As part of my investment theses, I’ve marked the few projects I have conviction in, whether they are going up or down. The only way I’ll sell those early is if something materially changes my thesis or the valuation I see of the investment.
I realize that this article sounds like one long cautionary tale, but the point is to really to look at crypto, DeFi and digital asset investments as you would just about any other investment you choose to make. Do your research. Form a plan. Stick to your plan. Trust yourself.
As the advisor, you’ll have to help clients with their education and research. You’ll also have to create and follow plans best suited for both your clients’ crypto and overall portfolios.