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The bitcoin price crash over the last year, wiping away around $2 trillion in value from the combined bitcoin, ethereum and crypto market, has sparked fears extreme crypto volatility could pose a risk to the wider financial system.
Now, controversial plans developed over last crypto bull run to expose 401(k) retirement savings plans to the wild swings of the bitcoin price are being expanded to include a handful of smaller cryptocurrencies—potentially opening up the near-$7 trillion 401(k) market to crypto.
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San Francisco-based 401(k) provider ForUsAll will allow employees to invest part of their 401(k) directly into the cryptocurrencies of the Coindesk Market Select Index (CMIS)—an index designed by the Digital Currency Group-owned crypto news site and currently made up of 28 different coins.
“This is a groundbreaking move to bring crypto to the people,” Jodie Gunzberg, managing director of indices at Coindesk, said in an interview, adding it reflects the way investors access the stock market via the S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 indices.
The move is a huge expansion of the six cryptocurrencies—bitcoin, ethereum, solana, polkadot, cardano and the dollar-pegged stablecoin USDC—ForUsAll began offering to workers last year.
ForUsAll chief executive David Ramirez pointed to demand among younger people to invest in crypto and blockchain technology. “Like many institutional investors, they believe blockchain is a potentially transformative technology,” Ramirez said in a statement, adding ForUsAll has installed guardrails to limit investor’s overall 401(k) crypto allocations.
The CMIS includes better-known cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, ethereum and litecoin as well as the likes of AXS, the cryptocurrency of blockchain-based game Axie Infinity that suffered a devastating $500 million hack last year, and so-called fan token chiliz, whose issuing company Socios has denied accusations of price manipulation.
Investment giant Fidelity made headlines last year when it announced it would allow retirement savers add bitcoin to their 401(k)s, resulting in the U.S. Department of Labor cautioning retirement savers over adding bitcoin and crypto to their 401(k)s, warning of the “significant risks and challenges” they posed. ForUsAll sued the Labor Department over its cryptocurrency warning.
“The atmospherics—the YOLO and the FOMO of cryptocurrency—are our concerns,” Labor Department acting assistant secretary Ali Khawar told Politico. “Right now, you don’t know whether you’re betting on the winning horse or not. It’s very speculative.”
Fears over the risks posed by speculative cryptocurrencies to investors and the broader financial system have deepened following the shock collapsed of major crypto exchange FTX late last year, the culmination of a series of smaller crypto company bankruptcies through the year.
The high-profile FTX collapse and its sister trading company Alameda Research, has catapulted crypto risks to the top of lawmaker and regulator agendas in the U.S. and around the world.
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However, Gunzberg pointed to the CMIS’s exclusion of FTX’s exchange cryptocurrency FTT, valued at more than $3 billion before FTX’s implosion and designed to ease transactions on the platform, as evidence of the index’s integrity.
“The index rules initially eliminated FTT since it wasn’t priced by at least two eligible exchanges,” Gunzberg said. The CMIS, balanced across various crypto “sectors” such as decentralized finance (DeFi) and smart contracts, requires cryptocurrencies to meet certain trading criteria before they would be considered eligible for inclusion.
Since its inception in July last year, the CMIS has swung from a peak of almost 1,200 points in August to just over 700 points in the aftermath of the FTX collapse.
The expansion of 401(k) providers further into the volatile crypto market will likely raise eyebrows among those who have previously warned the growth of cryptocurrencies could potentially cause a future financial crisis.
“Cryptocurrencies have … huge inherent risks for our macroeconomic and financial stability,” the governor of the Reserve Bank of India Shaktikanta Das said in December, it was reported by CNBC.