A cryptocurrency, or ‘cryptoasset’ as they are sometimes called, is a digital asset that can be transferred, stored, and traded electronically. You can think of cryptocurrency as a form of digital money that is designed to be used over the internet.
Compare Accounts For Buying & Selling Cryptocurrency
Use our comparison table of Cryptocurrency accounts to compare costs and the different ways to buy and sell cryptocurrencies. Please Note: Investing in cryptocurrencies is very high risk and not regulated by the FCA. There is a very high chance you may lose all your money.
|Crypto Account||Buying Options||Costs & Fees|
|Coinbase has around 43 million verified users in over 100 countries that use Coinbase to buy and sell Bitcoin and over 30 other cryptocurrencies.||Coinbase charges a spread of about one-half of one percent (0.50%) for cryptocurrency purchases and cryptocurrency sales|
|As well as Bitcoin you can buy Litecoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash and XRP in these Fiat currecnies: GBP, USD & EUR + 30 other global currencies||Buying Bitcoin with Revolut starts at $1, set price alerts, and auto exchanges.|
What is cryptocurrency?
A defining feature of cryptocurrencies is that they are secured by cryptography, meaning it’s nearly impossible to counterfeit them. Another key feature is that they’re typically not issued by any central authority, which means that, in theory, they can’t be manipulated by governments in the same way that fiat currencies can be.
The most well-known cryptocurrency is Bitcoin. It was the first cryptoasset to be launched back in 2009. Other popular cryptoassets include Ethereum, XRP, ADA, and Dogecoin.
How cryptocurrency works
Cryptoassets are underpinned by distributed ledger technology (DLT).
A ‘distributed ledger’ is a digital database of transactions that is implemented across a network of computers and has no central administrator. Because the data in the database is stored across the network and not in one location, the network is said to be ‘decentralised.’
The key advantage of a decentralised network is that any transaction that takes place on the network is recorded in multiple locations at the same time. This means there’s a much higher level of security compared to a ‘centralised’ ledger, where data is stored in only one place.
‘Blockchain’ is the most well-known form of DLT. This is the technology that a lot of major cryptoassets are based on. With Blockchain, transactions are grouped into ‘blocks’ that are chained together and cryptography is used to secure and verify every transaction. The advantage of Blockchain is that all transaction data is public meaning that anyone can see it. This makes it pretty much impossible to forge a transaction on the network.
What are the main uses for cryptocurrency?
Cryptoassets have a number of uses. These include:
- Payments. Some cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, and Litecoin are designed to work as a medium of exchange. This means that they can potentially be used to pay for goods or services, or to transfer money to someone.
- Smart contracts. Some cryptoassets such as Ethereum and Cardano are designed to facilitate smart contracts. Smart contracts are digital agreements that can be used to settle complex transactions and allow movement of funds under predetermined conditions.
- Investments. Increasingly, investors are viewing cryptoassets as an asset class. One appeal of cryptoassets from an investment point of view is that they tend to have a low correlation to traditional asset classes such as equities and bonds. This means that they can potentially be used for portfolio diversification.
The difference between a fiat currency and a cryptocurrency
A fiat currency is a currency that is issued by and backed by a government. Examples of fiat currencies include the US dollar, the British pound, and the Euro.
A cryptocurrency, by contrast, is a digital currency that is not issued or backed by any government. Examples of cryptocurrencies include Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, and Litecoin.
While governments can potentially manipulate fiat currencies by increasing or decreasing supply, they cannot manipulate cryptocurrencies as they are not controlled by any central authority.
How to invest in cryptocurrency
In the UK, there are several ways you can invest in cryptocurrency. One way to invest is through a crypto broker such as Coinbase, Kraken, eToro, or Gemini. These brokers offer access to a wide range of different cryptoassets.
To invest in cryptocurrency through a broker you will need to open an account first. This can sometimes take some time as you will need to complete some identification checks.
With some brokers, such as eToro, you need to deposit funds into your account before you can invest in crypto. However, with others, such as Coinbase, you can pay for your cryptocurrency with a credit card.
An alternative way to invest in crypto is through a FinTech company such as PayPal or Revolut. With PayPal, you can invest in a small selection of cryptoassets with as little as £1. Similarly, with Revolut, you can invest in crypto with as little as $1. Currently, Revolut offers access to over 50 different cryptocurrencies.
It’s worth pointing out that in the past, it was possible to use Contracts for Difference (CFDs) to trade cryptocurrencies without buying the underlying assets. However, in early 2021, the UK’s financial regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), banned crypto derivative trading in the UK meaning it’s no longer possible to trade crypto CFDs.
The FCA’s ban on cryptocurreny derivatives includes exchange-traded products (crypto ETPs) meaning that UK investors cannot currently invest in crypto exchange-traded funds (Bitcoin ETFs) such as the ProShares Bitcoin Strategy ETF.
Where to buy cryptocurrency
In the UK, you can buy cryptocurrencies from a number of crypto brokers and FinTech companies including:
Before you buy cryptocurrency, you should be aware that the Financial Conduct Authority does not currently regulate most cryptoassets. This means that if you buy crypto, you are unlikely to have access to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) or the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) if something goes wrong. If your cryptoassets are stolen or your platform goes bust, for example, no one is responsible for helping you get your money back.
If you purchase cryptocurrency from an exchange such as Coinbase, you should consider moving it off the exchange to your own crypto wallet. A crypto wallet is a software program that enables you to securely manage your digital assets. Using a wallet helps keep your cryptoassets safe. For example, it can protect you if your exchange gets hacked.
The major cryptocurrency exchanges?
Three of the biggest crypto exchanges include:
Coinbase is a US-based cryptocurrency exchange platform that enables users to buy and sell a wide range of cryptoassets including Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Litecoin. In total, there are over 100 cryptoassets available on its platform.
Coinbase was launched in 2012 and has grown significantly since launch. Today, it has over 70 million customers from more than 100 countries. Its customers include retail investors, institutional investors, and ecosystem partners. In April 2021, the company went public via a direct listing.
Coinbase has an e-money license from the FCA. This means that the business needs to meet certain anti-money laundering and processing standards.
However, buying and selling crypto through Coinbase is not regulated by the FCA. This means there’s no protection if something goes wrong. For example, if the platform goes bust, you can’t seek compensation from the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS).
Binance is the world’s largest crypto exchange by volume. Through its platform, users can gain access to a wide range of digital assets including Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dogecoin, and its own token, Binance Coin. In total, there are more than 500 cryptoassets on the Binance platform.
Binance – which was founded in 2017 – was originally based in China. However, it is no longer based in China due to the strict regulation on digital assets in the country. Today, the company is registered in the Cayman Islands.
In June 2021, the FCA ordered Binance to stop all regulated activity in the UK. However, this does not mean UK investors cannot use the company’s platform. Customers can still access the company’s services through the website as it is not based in the UK meaning it falls outside the FCA’s jurisdiction.
Crypto.com is a crypto exchange platform that offers access to a wide range of digital assets including Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ethereum, and its own coin, Crypto.com Coin. Overall, it offers access to over 150 cryptocurrencies worldwide although the availability of digital assets on the platform is subject to jurisdictional limitations.
Crypto.com was founded in 2016 and is headquartered in Singapore. Since its launch it has grown to have over 10 million users.
Crypto.com does not currently have a license from the FCA. This means that if you use the platform to buy or sell crypto, you will not be protected by the FSCS.
Is cryptocurrency a good investment?
Cryptoassets are considered to be high-risk, speculative investments. They are much higher risk than traditional asset classes such as stocks, bonds, and real estate.
The reason cryptoassets are high risk is that they tend to be very volatile. While their prices can rise explosively at times, their prices can also fall dramatically. It’s not unusual to see the price of a cryptocurrency fall by more than 20% in a single day.
This volatility can be seen in the price of Bitcoin during the first half of 2021. Between January 2021 and April 2021, the price of BTC rose from around $30,000 to above $60,000. However, over the next few months, it then fell back to around $30,000.
Had you invested at the start of 2021 when Bitcoin was trading near $30,000, you could have potentially doubled your money in just a few months. However, had you invested in April near the $60,000 mark, you would have seen your investment halve in value over the next few months.
Given their volatility, financial experts generally recommend not investing more than 5% of your overall investment portfolio in cryptoassets.
It’s worth pointing out that while cryptoassets are risky, studies have shown that they can potentially improve a balanced portfolio’s returns over the long term.
In 2020, analysts at Fidelity compared the performance of a standard 60/40 equity/bond portfolio with the performance of some 60/40 portfolios that contained a small amount of Bitcoin (1% to 3%).
Fidelity’s analysts found that the portfolios with Bitcoin exposure generated higher returns over the long term than the standard 60/40 portfolio, without a significantly higher level of risk. Interestingly, the portfolios with Bitcoin exposure had a higher Sharpe Ratio than the standard portfolio meaning they delivered better risk-adjusted returns.
|5-year average return||Annualised volatility||Sharpe Ratio|
|Balanced 60/40 portfolio||6.83%||11.67%||0.59|
|Balanced portfolio with 1% Bitcoin||7.98%||12.04%||0.66|
|Balanced portfolio with 2% Bitcoin||9.11%||12.54%||0.73|
|Balanced portfolio with 3% Bitcoin||10.24%||13.16%||0.78|
Source: Fidelity. Returns to 30 September 2020.
This research suggests that cryptocurrency could potentially play a role in a well-diversified investment portfolio.
Advantages of buying crypto
Advantages of buying crypto include:
- The potential for big returns. In the past, cryptocurrency has generated strong returns for investors at times. For example, in 2017, Bitcoin generated a gain of around 1,320%.
- Enhanced portfolio diversification. Crypto tends to have a low correlation to other assets such as stocks and bonds. This means that it can potentially be used to help diversify an investment portfolio.
- The ability to make payments. Some cryptoassets can be used for payments. For example, with Bitcoin, you can send it to friends and family. You can also pay for some goods and services with it.
Disadvantages of buying crypto
Disadvantages of buying crypto include:
- The potential for big losses. While crypto can generate big gains at times, it can also generate big losses. In 2018, Bitcoin lost nearly 75% of its value.
- Growing regulatory scrutiny. At present, financial regulators around the world are taking a close look at cryptoassets. This means that there is a high level of regulatory uncertainty. In some countries, crypto has been banned by regulators.
- Most retailers do not accept crypto. In the UK, no major high street shop currently accepts cryptocurrency as payment. This means you must convert your crypto to cash before you can pay for goods or services.
Biggest cryptocurrencies by market capitalisation
At the time of writing, the top 10 cryptocurrencies by market cap were:
- Bitcoin (BTC)
- Ethereum (ETH)
- Binance Coin (BNB)
- Tether (USDT)
- Solana (SOL)
- Cardano (ADA)
- XRP (XRP)
- Polkadot (DOT)
- USD Coin (USDC)
- Dogecoin (DOGE)
What is cryptocurrency used for?
Some cryptoassets can be used to make payments. Others are designed to facilitate ‘smart contracts’ – digital agreements that can be used to settle complex transactions.
What is the definition of a cryptocurrency?
A cryptocurrency is a digital asset that can be transferred, stored, and traded electronically. You can think of cryptocurrency as a form of digital money designed to be used over the internet.
Does cryptocurrency make money?
It’s possible to make money with cryptocurrencies by trading them. However, it’s also possible to lose a lot of money trading crypto.
Is cryptocurrency a scam?
Cryptocurrency itself is typically not a scam. However, cryptocurrencies are often involved in scams. For example, scammers often demand that people pay them money in Bitcoin.
How risky is investing in cryptocurrency?
Investing in cryptocurrency is very risky. It’s riskier than investing in stocks, bonds, or real estate. You should only invest money you can afford to lose.
What’s the difference between a cryptocurrency and a fiat currency?
A fiat currency is backed by a government. A cryptocurrency is not backed by any central authority.