According to reports, investing giant Fidelity Investments will begin allowing bitcoin investments in its 401(k)s by the middle of this year. Investors will have a separate account on Fidelity’s platform for Bitcoin investments. The account will also have money market investments to hold liquidity.
Dave Gray, Head of Workplace Retirement Product and Platforms at the company, told the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) that demand for their latest offering was ‘organic’ and that cryptocurrencies will shape the way future generations think about investing.
While employers can set their own limits on the investment amounts set aside for Bitcoin, Fidelity will allow them to put up to 20% of their retirement money into cryptocurrencies. That figure is four times as much as is allowed by ForUsAll, a San Francisco-based provider of retirement solutions that began offering a similar service last June.
Fidelity’s announcement comes a month after the Labor Department warned employers including cryptocurrencies in retirement accounts.
“These investments present significant risks and challenges to participants’ retirement accounts, including significant risks of fraud, theft, and loss,” the agency wrote in a compliance assistance release and outlined several problems with cryptocurrencies, including the difficulties in understanding them, their regulatory environment, and valuation metrics.
According to the agency, investors were “less likely” to make informed decisions about cryptocurrencies because they lacked the necessary technical skill and knowledge about its workings.
Fidelity’s Gray told the New York Times that the agency was substituting its own opinion on cryptocurrencies “for what rightly belongs to plan sponsor fiduciaries.” He said the account for holding bitcoin would have “institutional grade security” and would be custodied on the company’s own platform.
Will Fidelity Customers Bite the Bitcoin Bait?
The numbers associated with Fidelity are impressive. The Boston-based giant has 23,000 customers on its retirement platform, 20 million participants in its plans, and $2.7 trillion in assets.
But individual investors are likely to have second thoughts before holding bitcoin directly in their retirement accounts. Financial advisors are still hesitant to recommend cryptocurrencies to clients. And, as I have written before, the costs of such an investment are substantial. Fidelity plans to charge between 0.7% and 0.9% in annual fees to provide services on the platform including custody and administration. Thus, an investment of $10,000 into Bitcoin could incur as much as $90 in annual fees. The cryptocurrency’s volatility, which includes long stretches of double-digit price crashes, means that investors may hold Bitcoin for long stretches of time, multiplying associated fees, making cryptocurrencies an unattractive fit for individuals building a secure nest egg in their retirement account.
For what it is worth, despite the uncertainty plaguing the cryptocurrency ecosystem, the move makes business sense for Fidelity. The company launched a trading and custody platform for institutional investors in 2018. That business has been “incredibly successful”, according to CEO Abigail Johnson. A retail offering expands the market for its platform.