Advisors ‘wary’ of bitcoin ETFs are on a slow adoption journey, says BlackRock exec

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The long-awaited bitcoin exchange traded funds launched in January, and financial advisors are on their way – though gradually – toward adopting them, according to BlackRock’s Samara Cohen.

For now, about 80% of bitcoin ETF purchases have likely been coming from “self-directed investors who have made their own allocation, often through an online brokerage account,” she said, speaking at the Coinbase State of Crypto Summit in New York City on Thursday. The iShares Bitcoin Trust (IBIT) was among the funds to debut earlier this year.

Cohen, BlackRock’s chief investment officer of ETF and index investments, noted that hedge funds and brokerages have also been buyers, based on last quarter’s 13-F filings, but registered investment advisors have been a little more “wary.”

CNBC recently polled its Advisor Council about why they and their colleagues are so cautious about the new products, which represent a regulated and familiar investment product for a new asset class that has garnered significant interest in recent years. Responses ranged from bitcoin’s notorious price volatility to the flagship cryptocurrency being too nascent to have established a significant track record. Regulatory compliance and the crypto’s reputation for fraud and scandal were also on advisors’ minds.

“I would call them wary … that’s their job,” Cohen said of the skeptical financial advisors.

“An investment advisor is a fiduciary to their clients,” she added. “This is an asset class that has had 90% price volatility at times in history, and their job is really to construct portfolios and do the risk analysis and due diligence. They’re doing that right now.”

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The iShares Bitcoin Trust (IBIT) in 2024

“This is a moment, in terms of really putting forward important data, risk analytics [and determining] the role bitcoin can play in a portfolio, what sort of allocation is appropriate given an investor’s risk tolerance, their liquidity needs,” she added. “That’s what an advisor is supposed to do, so I think this journey that we’re on is exactly the right one and they’re doing their jobs.”

Cohen said she sees bitcoin ETFs as a bridge between crypto and traditional finance – particularly for investors who may be interested in making an allocation to bitcoin without having to manage their risk across two different ecosystems. Before the ETFs, the existing onramps into crypto were insufficient for what some investors wanted to do, she said.

Coinbase chief financial officer Alesia Haas said bitcoin is “on a slow journey of adoption” – a theme echoed across the conference sessions.

Blue Macellari, head of digital assets strategy for T. Rowe Price, pointed to the 1% allocation that some investors deem to be a safe, comfortable amount. She said she sees portfolio allocations into bitcoin as binary events, where they should be greater than 1% or zero, but she also acknowledged the cautious approach toward adoption.

“There’s a psychological component where people need to test the waters and get comfortable,” Macellari said. “It’s a paradigm shift … it takes time for people to ease their way into it.”

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