There are many investors feeling validated in the cryptocurrency market now that Bitcoin’s price has established a new all-time high of $40,778.
The last time Bitcoin (BTC) traded anywhere near this level was during the bull run of 2017, when it reached a peak of about $19,783. Even the mainstream media took notice, including the New York Times, which observed that the current rally had “a very different feel to it than the last time around.”
In 2017, Bitcoin’s bull run was largely believed to have been fuelled by retail investors who were placing speculative bets on a nascent BTC market and other smaller-cap cryptocurrencies from the initial coin offering craze.
At that time, there were reportedly millions of retail investors in South Korea, Japan and China that became a force in the market. Back then, it was the “average Joe” powering Bitcoin’s more-than-1,300% gain that year, as pointed out in the Wall Street Journal by IG Group chief market strategist Chris Weston.
Fast forward to 2020, and the investor landscape has changed dramatically. Institutional investors, who largely remained on the side-lines in the first bull run, have been the face of the rally this time around.
These investors are largely expected to take long-term holding positions with no intentions of selling anytime soon. They are also flocking to the Bitcoin futures markets, where open interest on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange recently surpassed $1 billion, and they are strengthening their balance sheets with BTC rather than letting it sit in cash.
While it is not unusual for institutional investors to be ahead of the curve, it’s worth repeating that they were not the first ones out of the gate in crypto. In fact, many of the leaders in corporate America who are now entering Bitcoin for the first time are now the very people who dismissed Bitcoin back then.
For example, in October, PayPal announced that it would support cryptocurrency transactions across the 26 million merchants on its platform. Users can also buy, hold or sell cryptocurrencies on the PayPal platform, including Bitcoin, Ether (ETH), Litecoin (LTC) and Bitcoin Cash (BCH).
Another key difference is that Bitcoin’s price started off the year in 2017, trading at about $1,000. In 2020, BTC’s price began trading at $7,200. So, it’s much more expensive today, and not all retail investors may realize that they don’t have to buy an entire Bitcoin to gain exposure to the asset.
Additionally, unlike 2017, East Asian investors have reportedly been unloading their Bitcoin this year at an unprecedented pace.
While the cryptocurrency market may remain in its early innings, it is more mature than it was in 2017. Much of the froth has been weeded out, and it is no longer considered to be the Wild West in many ways.
Despite any retail investor hesitation, channels to entry are growing rapidly, with new exchanges increasingly coming online, including those that are decentralized in nature. Meanwhile, Bitcoin ATMs, which are becoming a competitive and convenient gateway for retail investors, are expanding their footprint across the globe.
As the BTM market begins to mature and the list of genuine operators expands, crypto retail investors may finally have an easy gateway to entry. For example, CoinFlip, one of the largest BTM operators, rolled out thousands of BTMs across the U.S., focusing on locations where people are without bank accounts or internet access.
This cash-to-Bitcoin approach offers retail investors a simple and convenient method to enter the Bitcoin market and, according to Ben Weiss, chief operating officer of CoinFlip, is designed to empower those locked out of the traditional banking system.
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