Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum run on blockchain technology, which has the potential to revolutionize many industries by helping to decentralize them and make their use of data more efficient. While investing in digital currencies can be fun and exciting, it can also be extremely risky. A safer option is to buy shares of companies that are looking to utilize blockchain more in their businesses (or that accept cryptocurrencies as payments).
Two stocks that fit that profile are Cigna (CI 1.44%) and PayPal Holdings (PYPL 1.44%). Both investments can give investors exposure to the emergence of blockchain, without taking on as much risk.
Health insurance companies aren't known for being on the cutting edge of technology. But some businesses in the industry have banded together to uncover ways for blockchain to help improve and change the way their operations run. Health insurance provider Cigna and many other notable healthcare companies, including Anthem, Aetna (which CVS Health owns), and Cleveland Clinic, announced the formation of Avaneer Health in June. Among the things Avaneer aims to do: "ensure privacy and reduce the costs of data exchange" and "remov[e] administrative barriers and resolv[e] inefficiencies in cross-party transactions."
The goal is a bit abstract, and it's hard to gauge what this would mean for a company like Cigna. While it might lead to some cost savings down the road and some improved efficiencies, how much that will amount to is anyone's guess. Blockchain is still in the very early innings of its existence and it could be a long time before the results of this initiative bears fruit for Cigna or any other company in healthcare.
But for investors who at least want some exposure to blockchain, this is a fairly safe way to gain some. Cigna is anything but a risky stock -- it generated more than $160 billion in revenue last year and has consistently posted a profit. While its net margin is typically less than 6% of sales, Cigna has been in the black in each of the past five years.
For crypto fans, buying shares of Cigna is a way to diversify into an industry where you might not expect too much bullishness on blockchain. If nothing else, you can buy and forget about the stock while collecting a solid dividend yield of 2% from the company (that's still better than the S&P 500 average of 1.3%).
PayPal is much more heavily engrained in not just blockchain, but crypto. In September, the fintech company announced the launch of a newly designed app that makes it easier for users to manage all their finances in one place. In addition to paying bills and sending and receiving money, they can also buy and sell crypto through the app.
But using crypto isn't new to PayPal. Users have been able to use cryptocurrencies as a funding source on its platform since last year, when the company announced it can be used for payment at the millions of merchants who accept PayPal.
And there are signs that embracing crypto is starting to pay off for the business. In April, PayPal allowed users of Venmo (which is designed for sending money between friends rather than for business purposes) to buy, sell, and hold crypto. And in the company's most recent earnings report, Venmo processed $58 billion in transactions for the period ending June 30 -- rising at a rate of 58% year over year. And that's building off some already strong results a year earlier when Venmo's volume grew by 52%.
PayPal has the potential to benefit much more in the near term from allowing cryptocurrencies on its platform by getting a boost in volume. In its most recent quarter, sales topped $6.2 billion (a record high), growing at a rate of 17% year over year. And PayPal nets even more in profit than Cigna -- over the trailing 12 months, its net income has been more than 20% of revenue.
For more aggressive growth investors, PayPal can offer some more immediate benefits from the rising popularity of blockchain while still being a fairly low-risk investment.