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U.S. Investors Not Biting on Bitcoin, but Many Intrigued

U.S. Investors Not Biting on Bitcoin, but Many Intrigued

Story Highlights

  • 2% of U.S. investors own bitcoin; 26% say they are intrigued
  • Three in four who have heard of bitcoin call it "very risky"

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Bitcoin, the leading form of digital currency that has seen its price soar, crash and rise again in the past year, has made little headway with U.S. investors. According to a Wells Fargo/Gallup poll, just 2% of investors say they currently own bitcoin, and less than 1% plan to buy it in the near future. While most investors say they have no interest in ever buying bitcoin, about one in four (26%) say they are intrigued by it but won't be buying it anytime soon.

Many More Investors Intrigued by Bitcoin Than Own It
Based on U.S. investors who have heard of bitcoin (96%)
May 2018
Have no interest in ever buying bitcoin 72
Intrigued by bitcoin but won't be buying it anytime soon 26
Currently own bitcoin 2
Will probably buy bitcoin in the near future *
* = less than 0.5%
Wells Fargo/Gallup, May 7-14, 2018

These results are from the second-quarter Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index survey, conducted online May 7-14, 2018, via the Gallup Panel. The poll is based on U.S. adults with $10,000 or more invested in stocks, bonds or mutual funds, either within or outside a retirement savings account.

Created in 2009 as a form of digital currency outside the realm of central banks, bitcoin has become more popular as a high-risk/high-reward investment than as an online currency -- although acceptance of bitcoin for electronic payments is growing.

Bitcoin has yet to make significant inroads into any major subgroup of U.S. investors. Just 3% of men, 1% of women, 3% of those aged 18 to 49 and 1% of those aged 50 and older report owning it. While ownership is more common among wealthier investors, just 3% of those earning $90,000 or more report owning bitcoin, compared with less than 1% of lower-income investors.

Little Known About Bitcoin, Except It's Risky

Limiting bitcoin's popularity as an investment, only about three in 10 investors (29%) say they know something about digital currencies. Most of the rest -- 67% -- say they have heard of these currencies but don't know much about them, while 5% have not heard of them.

The bigger constraint on bitcoin sales is likely the widespread perception that trading in the currency is not safe. While risk is central to how investing works, three in four investors who have heard of online currencies consider bitcoin a "very risky" investment.

Three in Four Investors Consider Bitcoin Very Risky
What is your view about the risk level of bitcoin as an investment?
Very risky Somewhat risky Not too risky Not risky at all
% % % %
May 2018 75 23 2 *
Note: Based on investors who have heard of bitcoin or other online currencies (96%)
* = less than 0.5%
Wells Fargo/Gallup, May 7-14, 2018

Awareness of cryptocurrencies differs by gender and age. Men and younger investors are far more likely than women and seniors to say they know something about bitcoin or other digital currencies. Related to the age differences, investors with less than $100,000 in investments (who tend to be younger) are more likely to be familiar with the innovation than those with higher asset levels.

Additionally, among the large group of investors who say they have heard of bitcoin, men and younger investors are more likely than their counterparts to say they are intrigued by bitcoin -- and less likely to say they're certain they will never buy it.

Men, Younger Investors Most Familiar With Bitcoin
Know something about bitcoin Intrigued but won't be buying bitcoin soon^
% %
Men 38 30
Women 20 21
18-49 48 41
50-64 22 20
65+ 16 17
Total invested assets
$100,000+ 25 23
<$100,000 39 33
^Based on investors who have heard of bitcoin or other online currencies (96%)
Wells Fargo/Gallup, May 7-14, 2018

Bottom Line

The price of bitcoin is back on an upswing after crashing earlier this year, causing some to say its bubble is again about to burst and others to argue that its value will only accelerate as more merchants inevitably adopt it. For now, most investors are on the sidelines, knowing little to nothing about bitcoin. Few are already invested in it, and even fewer plan to jump in soon.

Bitcoin's image as a risky investment may be irresistible to those with the financial means and temperament to assume market-type risks. But as Wells Fargo/Gallup surveys have found in the past, most U.S. investors prefer to play it safe with their investments, opting for security over growth. Looking to the future, however, many younger investors who currently say they are intrigued may be converted to investors once the currency goes more mainstream.

Survey Methods

The results of this Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index survey are based on a Gallup Panel web study completed by 1,921 U.S. investors, aged 18 and older, May 7-14, 2018.

The Gallup Panel is a probability-based longitudinal panel of U.S. adults. Gallup recruits panelists using random-digit-dial phone interviews that cover landlines and cellphones, as well as using address-based sampling methods. The Gallup Panel is not an opt-in panel.

The sample for this study was weighted to be demographically representative of the U.S. adult population, using the most recent Current Population Survey figures. For results based on this sample, one can say that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5.4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. Margins of error are higher for subsamples. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error and bias into the findings of public opinion polls.


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