We’ve heard a lot about how the coronavirus has made an impact across the fintech realm, but what about in the crypto space? With an unstable stock market, why weren’t investors fleeing to alternative, blockchain-based assets?
To get an inside view on these questions and more, Finovate’s Adela Knox spoke with Max Lautenschläger, managing partner and co-founder of Iconic Holding, a Germany-based company that manages and sells crypto asset investment vehicles and invests in blockchain and crypto-focused companies via its in-house accelerator.
How has the coronavirus pandemic disrupted traditional investments?
Max Lautenschläger: Personally, as a supervisory member of the biggest independent financial advisory company in Germany, I am monitoring the German financial market closely. I was surprised how good the day-to-day business is going in this very special time, which is forecasted to be one of the biggest economical depressions in modern history. Moreover, it’s positively surprising how much this pandemic is pushing us towards a more digital financial ecosystem. Consumers are adapting to the “new normal” and are suddenly forced, but also willing to make decisions online. Investment advisors and financial consultants on the other hand are realizing the potential of using online tools for signing documents, online identifications or video calls for customer acquisition and retention. Financial institutions seem to finally understand how important digitization is for the daily operations with millennials, which have a very different expectation of financial services. Even though the whole financial industry is suffering, it will also have a positive impact long-term.
By looking at the best performing stocks since corona started, you can also see that more and more money is getting invested into themes like data, remote working, online education, and sustainability. In this pandemic people are realizing the shift the world has already made and want to be exposed to the increasingly important topics.
How has this impacted the appetite for digital currency?
Lautenschläger: It’s very important to understand what was going on when corona hit us out of the sudden. We’re not in an economic crisis yet, but the initial shock led to a so-called liquidity crisis, which makes investors liquidate their holdings -if possible- to cash. All asset classes suffered severely, even “safe havens” like gold decreased by more than 10 percent. Cryptoassets crashed in those extraordinary times, as well, even though they’re said to be non-correlating to other asset classes. Nonetheless, this crisis just confirms what we already know: central banks can print money and are increasing the circulating supply constantly. The beauty about crypto is that code is law, which means that the supply-demand-relationship is predefined. Over the last couple of weeks more and more institutional money has been invested into crypto assets which also led to a new peak in commitments to traditional financial vehicles like the Grayscale Bitcoin Trust.
Secondly, the discussion of introducing a blockchain-based Euro or US Dollar is again one of the top priorities for central banks all over the globe.Libra, despite its weaknesses, seems to be a solid backbone infrastructure for those digitized currencies and could help to accelerate this development.
What is the biggest myth about cryptocurrency?
Lautenschläger: Most people I talk to think that crypto assets don’t have any intrinsic value and research from big financial institutions are trying to support this hypothesis. But this is entirely wrong! Let’s take Bitcoin as an example. Digital gold, safe haven, store of value — a lot of phrases have been used to describe Bitcoin, and to a certain extent, I agree with all of them. For me, Bitcoin is a commodity like gold, other rare metals or rare earth, which can be modeled by the stock-to-flow ratio. On the other hand, there are blockchain protocols which are the infrastructure for decentralized applications. The value of those protocols and their native tokens is derived from the number of deployed applications and the level of engagement. Users will use the infrastructure that offers them the applications they need and developers will go where the users are.
How is cryptocurrency performing in the current pandemic climate?
Lautenschläger: First it crashed like all the other asset classes. The reason for this is that corona -at first- didn’t cause an economic crisis, but primarily a liquidity crisis. Studies in behavioral finance suggest that people tend to convert all liquid assets to cash to be prepared for an upcoming crisis. But even though crypto
tanked even more than the stock and commodity markets it is still the best-performing asset class of 2020. With the monetary policy of the ECB, FED, and BoJ you can clearly see the vulnerability of our system, which makes more and more people lose trust in central bank policies and money in its current design. This is why crypto was born in 2009 as a reaction to the financial crisis.
What are the biggest benefits and reward of investing in digital cryptocurrency?
Lautenschläger: First of all, crypto has a low correlation to traditional and alternative asset classes, which makes it a perfect portfolio diversifier. Recently, we conducted a study in collaboration with the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, which clearly shows that an allocation of 1% to 5% of crypto to a traditional portfolio not only generated additional returns, but also increased the sharpe-ratio severely, which is the most well-known risk-to-return measure.
Is the demand for crypto assets limited to professional investors or is it something that everyday investors are looking into as well?
Lautenschläger: Crypto assets were originally completely retail driven by individuals who believed in the potential and the idea of an intermediary-free world, in which everyone is financially included. Nowadays, we see more and more high net worth individuals and family offices investing into the space. The lack of professional, enterprise-grade financial vehicles is still an issue and makes it hard for institutions to enter the space. But recent developments like the European AML directive and the German crypto custody license are first indicators that crypto assets are becoming “bankable.” This is also what we have been working on for years at Iconic Funds: make crypto accessible through traditional, regulated vehicles.