What a supercharged few months it’s been – since the beginning of 2019, Bitcoin has seen massive spikes and swings in value, peaking only a couple of months ago at a little over £10,000 ($13,000) per Bitcoin. Today, that peak was threatened with Bitcoin currently on the market for around $12,800 – an astounding price when you think that 6 months ago you were looking at getting around a quarter of that price.
If you’re frustrated by appalling savings rates that fail miserably to keep up with inflation, high profile investment funds suddenly being frozen and the overall increasingly difficulty of making your money work for you, it’s impossible not to be intrigued by the prospect of crypto currencies such as Bitcoin. Its almost unbelievable storming of the markets makes it hard not to question whether it could be a sensible next step for your savings.
As someone who has a moderate understanding of how stock markets work having dabbled a little with commodity trading and forex, I felt it was high time to give Bitcoin trading a go. It’s important to note here that I did actually make a modest return on my small investment in the space of around 5 days, so this isn’t just a moan about a soured investment, but don’t be fooled – it’s not as simple as you might think. Here are the steps I went through to reach that point and why Bitcoin isn’t everything you’ve been hoping for.
Before you begin trading with Bitcoin, you first need to organise yourself a cryptocurrency “wallet”. There are plenty of these available, but you need to get your head around the different types of wallets available and how secure they are. Without going into massive amounts of detail, you ideally want to be holding your cryptocurrency in a wallet that’s offline and not accessible from the internet. Offline, you say? Isn’t Bitcoin supposed to be the digital currency of the future? This is the first major caveat you have to consider: before you do anything with Bitcoin, you must understand that at this moment in time it’s almost entirely unregulated. So, if you store your Bitcoin wallet online, and your account gets hacked or your wallet provider mysteriously disappears, you have absolutely no protection. No bank you can complain to, no government that will defend (let alone guarantee) your financial interests, nothing. So there is a real prospect that, even if you make a reasonable return in trading, your funds might be lost in their entirety. And if they do, you have almost no recourse. You might think there’s a relatively remote sense of this happening – and in the grand scheme of things you’d probably be right, but it has happened. So I decided to use what’s called a “local” wallet which is solely accessed from my mobile using biometric security, and can only be recovered with a predetermined recovery key. You need to research the different types of wallet that are available and make up your own mind.
Once you’ve got your funds transferred into a Bitcoin wallet, you effectively have an open trade – in the sense that your fiat currency has now been used to purchase Bitcoin. You can now leave your cryptocurrency in this wallet until you wish to sell.
Great, you think. So some time passes, the price of Bitcoin rises (you hope!) and eventually you feel the time is right to cash in on your investment. How do you go about that? You have a few choices here. The first, and probably simplest, is to sell using your Bitcoin wallet – if this is possible with your provider. In my case, my wallet had a partnership with a trading platform. So I thought why not sell through them? The downside here is fees. The convenience of selling your Bitcoin from your wallet comes at the cost of a middleman who wants to take a, in many cases, pretty steep cut of your wallet value. At this point, you’re probably starting to think that this has a whiff of familiarity – haven’t we come across financial middlemen who want to take cuts wherever they get involved? Wasn’t Bitcoin and cryptocurrency in general supposed to be this utopia of decentralised, open currencies that aren’t bogged down by dodgy banks that make a small fortune on fees and then have a habit of going bust while causing medium to extra large financial disasters?
The other way to sell your cryptocurrency is to transfer is to a trading platform and sell it there. Mercifully, as this is now a very competitive market, there are various platforms available all offering different rates, so it’s relatively straightforward to find one you like and complete your trade. Sadly, however, this doesn’t escape you from the fees. In fact, I got hit twice. The first time hit was at the point I transferred the funds from my wallet to the trading platform – most wallet providers charge a fee for sending out cryptocurrency elsewhere. The second time was when the trading platform charged to transfer the fiat currency back to my bank account. OK, platforms have to make money, but my main argument is that Bitcoin is supposed to be simpler, with supposedly less hoops to jump through and more promise of a brighter future.
At the end of the trading day, you start to wonder whether this is actually any simpler, any more accessible or anywhere near as safe as regular trading. You still have all the same risks as trading commodities or fiat currencies, but also have to worry about the security of your wallet and the solvency and trustworthiness of your trading platform. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that you don’t run these risks to an extent with traditional trading, you just feel more vulnerable with Bitcoin.
I’m not going to argue that cryptocurrency isn’t a very powerful concept, especially given the 21st century computing power we have today. The truth is that, in one form or another, crypto currency is very likely to form a part of our financial futures. It’s just not ready to be traded by those without serious risk appetite and plenty of spare cash.
The investment that I made was very much a test and while I was glad I made a small return on it, I can’t help but feel the process was pretty painful and risky. It’s difficult to escape the thought that you’re in a digital version of a dodgy neighbourhood, wondering how long it would take you to get out if things went sour. In many ways, as much as regulation isn’t popular with the markets and lack of it is pretty much the principle of crypto currency, that’s what gives most people the confidence that the market you’re investing through is fundamentally sound and secure. Without it, you just can’t be sure that any of your money is safe, let alone the profit or loss you make. It’s a digital dark alley, and as exciting as it might feel to look at the skyrocketing markets, right now it just feels like you’re trading your savings for little more than magic beans.