Measuring Trends in Institutional Interest in Crypto

Jun 20, 2024

Originally published in CoinDesk's Crypto for Advisors newsletter on June 20, 2024.

Since 2019, the crypto-focused subset of Fidelity’s institutional business has published a survey called the “Institutional Investor Digital Assets Study,” measuring trends in sentiment and adoption of crypto investing among institutional investors globally.

Overall, the 2023 survey depicts a generally sturdy but still mixed institutional outlook toward crypto on the back of a turbulent 2022.

Trends Reflecting Positive Sentiment
  • Half of high-net-worth investors maintained a positive perception of digital assets, and nearly a third have been invested in them for more than two years.

  • Positive perception and investment in digital assets are inversely correlated with age: 76% of institutional investors under 35 currently invest in digital assets compared to 18% of investors 65 and older.

Trends Reflecting Negative Sentiment
  • Overall familiarity, perception and investment in digital assets fell for the first time since the survey began in 2019.

  • Price volatility and regulatory concerns were the two largest obstacles to investing in digital assets, as reported by U.S. survey participants.

  • “Fraud/scandals” and “bad press/news” were the two biggest drivers of worsened views toward digital assets. The survey didn’t elaborate on these categories, but institutions likely have the FTX saga in mind.

It’s important to note the latest survey only spans May 30, 2023, to Oct. 6, 2023, missing a critical year-end period during which bitcoin rose from approximately $28,000 to $42,300, driven largely by anticipation of the SEC’s approval of spot bitcoin ETFs which occurred later, in January of 2024. Perceptions have likely evolved meaningfully since the start of 2024 following crypto’s market capitalization climbing above $2.5 trillion, Bitcoin surging to nearly $74,000, and the SEC’s approval of bitcoin and soon Ether spot ETFs.

What to look for in 2024

Arguably the biggest market moments in the history of digital assets occurred after this survey was conducted, namely actions that reduce regulatory uncertainty, which may, in turn, reduce price volatility and improve investment options for investors.

Will the surprise SEC approval of spot Ether ETFs diminish regulatory concerns among institutions?

The digital asset market has begun transitioning from early adoption to mass adoption. A sea change in industry leadership, product development, and fiduciary commitment swept crypto in 2023 and early into 2024, enabling a new suite of increasingly institutional-grade on-ramps into the asset class. This change may take time to permeate through to institutional allocations more foundationally, but the rapid adoption of spot bitcoin ETFs following the SEC’s approval (aggregate ETF AUM doubled from approximately $30 billion in January to nearly $60 billion as of mid-June) may provide early indications of stronger institutional interest in crypto.

Will concerns about price volatility persist?

Volatility for the digital asset class remains elevated compared to other asset classes, but it has trended down over time and may continue to do so as improving regulatory conditions and institution-friendly product offerings potentially stabilize markets. Investors should also consider not just crypto volatility but the risk-adjusted return profile of various blockchain assets.

Will institutional investments flow primarily into spot BTC and ETH ETFs, or will they be spread across investment structures (SMAs, private funds, VC) offering diversified exposure to blockchain assets beyond the two mega caps?

Supported by major advances in industry infrastructure in 2023 spanning custody, trading, and asset management, investors now have a better – but still nascent – array of product options and investment platforms to not only help avoid the pitfalls of early-adopter risk but also to exploit early-adopter premia. These options, in addition to ETFs, include the increasingly prevalent SMA direct-index vehicle.

With the combined surge in blockchain data providers and the growing presence of systematic digital asset managers, will institutions become more familiar with crypto fundamentals and methods of digital asset valuation?

Some 37% of 2023 respondents cited a “lack of fundamentals to gauge appropriate value” as a barrier to investing. This large number reflects the asset class's emerging nature and the learning curve associated with measuring blockchain value. However, this number is down from 44% in 2021. It may continue to fall as investors become increasingly familiar with blockchain technology and the unique ways to analyze a protocol’s value to users.

Connor Farley