Eight percent of Americans own cryptocurrencies, according to a recent study from personal finance website Finder.com. While that's a huge increase from the 1% ownership rate at the end of 2016 and helps to explain the exploding prices of bitcoin (BTC-USD) and other major cryptocurrencies throughout 2017, it still leaves 92% of Americans who own no cryptocurrencies whatsoever.
Here's a rundown of why the majority of Americans are deciding to stay on the sidelines instead of creating and funding digital wallets of their own.
The current state of American cryptocurrency ownership
Finder.com's survey discovered that approximately 16.3 million Americans own some form of cryptocurrency, which translates to about 8% of the population.
Not surprisingly, bitcoin (BTC-USD) is by far the most popular choice, owned by more than 5% of the U.S. population. Also not surprisingly, Ethereum is in second place, with a 1.8% ownership rate. Although there is significant ownership of bitcoin cash, Ripple, and a few others, no survey respondents owned more than 1%.
Here's why most Americans aren't buying cryptocurrencies
The 92% of Americans who don't own any cryptocurrency were asked why they hadn't bought any yet, and this is what they had to say:
% of Survey Respondents
There is no need or they are uninterested
It's too high risk
It's too complicated to understand
It's a scam
It's a bubble
It's too difficult to use
There are too many fees
To be fair, some of these are certainly valid reasons for staying on the sidelines. With that in mind, let's take a closer look at each of these reasons and why so many Americans might feel this way.
- There is no need or they are uninterested (39.7%): As one of my Twitter followers recently pointed out to me, it's easy to not see the purpose for cryptocurrencies when Americans have always had access to a solid currency in the U.S. dollar. The same can't be said in many parts of the world, but it appears that many Americans have the attitude that if their money works just fine, why do we need a second option?
- It's too high-risk (35.3%): Cryptocurrencies are volatile. Since its mid-December peak, bitcoin (BTC-USD) has lost more than half of its value. As I write this, four of the 10 largest cryptocurrencies have moved by more than 10% in the past day alone. I've written before that volatility is one of the biggest challenges standing in the way of mainstream adoption of cryptocurrencies, and I've also said that investors shouldn't put more money into cryptocurrencies than they're willing to lose. Well, 35% of Americans apparently aren't willing to lose any money on cryptocurrencies.
- It's too complicated to understand (26.8%): A big obstacle with many new technologies is educating the public. For example, my mobile phone has tons of features, but I only understand how to use a handful of them. A similar problem applies with cryptocurrencies and is keeping many people out of the market.
- It's a scam (18.4%): This is one situation where increased regulation can be a good thing, as there have been some major scams involving cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings, or ICOs. Facebook and Google have both recently banned cryptocurrency ads for this purpose, and the SEC plans to crack down on the cryptocurrency markets to protect investors.
- It's a bubble (16.6%): This may be the toughest point to refute, and people who had the same attitude about the dot-com bubble certainly fared better than the bubble-era investors did. There are currently more than 1,600 different cryptocurrencies, and it's fair to say that not all of them are going to be long-term winners. As with the dot-com bubble, it's difficult to tell where the long-term value lies at this point.
- It's too difficult to use (11.4%): I often say that no matter how revolutionary and useful a technology is, if it isn't easy to use, most people will be slow to adopt it. To be fair, cryptocurrencies have gotten far more user-friendly over the past few years, and integration into platforms such as Square Cash is making it even easier. Still, it's tough to make the case that buying and using bitcoin is as easy as using a debit card.
- There are too many fees (5.8%): This is more of a bitcoin-specific problem than a cryptocurrency problem. Without getting too technical, bitcoin's network can't handle large volumes of transactions, so when the network gets overloaded, transaction fees can spike. As of this writing, the average bitcoin transaction costs $1.35, according to bitinfocharts.com, but the figure spiked to over $20 in late 2017.
What could cause more than 8% of Americans to get into the cryptocurrency market?
I mentioned that bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are gradually becoming easier to buy and sell, and solutions are in the works for bitcoin's scalability problem that could dramatically reduce fees. As time goes on, the perception that cryptocurrencies are a scam and are in a bubble could naturally take care of themselves, and regulatory clarity could help keep volatility in check.
Perhaps the toughest obstacle to overcome is also the most common -- that Americans simply don't see a need for cryptocurrencies or aren't interested. And until this perception starts to change, mainstream adoption of cryptocurrencies could prove to be rather difficult.