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Credit Unions on Cryptocurrency: What Members Need to Know

Sageworks
March 22, 2018
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As Bitcoin and other popular cryptocurrencies continue to develop and increase in popularity, credit unions should know what that means for them. The number of members who explore cryptocurrencies is expected to continue to rise, so knowing how to educate them is important.

What is cryptocurrency?

Cryptocurrency is a form of currency that only exists digitally and relies on encryption for the security of transactions. There are thousands of forms of cryptocurrency, with some of the most well known named Bitcoin, Ethereum and Ripple.

The NCUA’s 2018-2022 Draft Strategy Plan last fall released comments on this technology saying, “The emergence and the increasing importance of digital currencies predicted by many analysts may pose both risks and opportunities to consumers, credit unions, banks, and financial regulators.” The report’s authors later add, “These trends are likely to continue, and even accelerate, through 2022.”

A wider use of cryptocurrencies across the U.S., along with the development of other popular fintech, will influence the way credit unions operate. Therefore, it is important to educate your members on the trending risks surrounding cryptocurrencies. These include:

High volatility:  In 2017 the price of Bitcoin skyrocketed to almost $20,000 from under $1,000 and fluctuated thousands of dollars daily. Janet Yellen, former Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, described Bitcoin as being highly speculative in her final press conference: “[Bitcoin] is not a stable source of value, and it doesn’t constitute legal tender.” 

Lack of regulation and security threats: In a February hearing, Jay Clayton, chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, said “We the SEC and CFTC do not have direct jurisdiction over the popular markets that trade true cryptocurrencies… If asked, we will work with other regulators to evaluate this issue.” Although the SEC may become increasingly involved, cryptocurrency exchanges are not regulated: Investors are not protected by theft or fraud. The SEC warned investors that losses due to illegal activity may not be recoverable.

Fraudulent initial coin offerings (ICOs) and scams: Clayton also stated in the same February hearing that ICOs are being conducted illegally, and are not registered with the SEC. Prodeum is just one of of the most recent phony cryptocurrencies that shut down after collecting money for an ICO. One-Coin and BitConnect are two platforms that have shut down this year after facing ponzi scheme allegations. The SEC voices their concern with ponzi schemes in this Investor Alert.

Cryptocurrency purchases with credit cards: One site compares the riskiness of buying cryptocurrency with a credit card like charging stocks. If the price drops, the purchaser could face interest and fees.

Some other notable risks accompanying cryptocurrency is the slow adoption of merchants to accept cryptocurrency, tax implications, and scalability.

It is likely that your credit union will encounter some type of cryptocurrency or questions about it if you haven’t already, so be prepared to educate your members to exercise caution when investing.

About the Author

Sageworks

Raleigh, N.C.-based Sageworks, a leading provider of lending, credit risk, and portfolio risk software that enables banks and credit unions to efficiently grow and improve the borrower experience, was founded in 1998. Using its platform, Sageworks analyzed over 11.5 million loans, aggregated the corresponding loan data, and created the largest

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