2019 has witnessed a Cambrian explosion of crypto interest schemes. Previously, the only way to make a passive income on your cryptocurrency was through hodling and hoping it would rise in dollar terms, or to operate a masternode for a dubious altcoin. Today’s investors have it a whole lot easier thanks to a string of new savings programs that promise annual interest simply for locking up digital assets.
Crypto Companies Are Borrowing From the Fiat Banking Toolbox
Last week, Nexo became the latest crypto company to introduce interest to its customers, with the provision of up to 6.5 percent annually on stablecoins DAI, PAX, USDC, USDT, and TUSD. Interest will be compounded daily and funds will be protected by custodial insurance. Unlike most of the crypto interest schemes to have emerged this year, Nexo enables its clients to withdraw any amount of cryptocurrency at any time. As such, their crypto account essentially becomes a checking account, stocked with dollar-pegged tokens, but bolstered by the promise of annual interest that exceeds that of most fiat saving accounts.
Nexo is by no means alone in incentivizing customers to secure their crypto in a custodial account and be rewarded. Blockfi will disburse 6 percent annually to clients who store ETH or BTC deposits. Ledgerx introduced its own interest-bearing BTC account last year for U.S. investors, while Compound provides up to 4.2 percent annually for assets such as DAI. At the start of March, Universal Protocol Alliance announced a stablecoin that would pay interest of up to 10 percent per year.
Cryptocurrency users have never had more options in terms of where to store their digital assets. Having had it drummed into them for years that noncustodial wallets are the best place to stash their coins, long-term hodlers now find themselves torn on account of the attractive interest rates offered by third parties. Even with the promise of full custodial cover, cryptocurrency owners face a dilemma: to seek the sanctity and privacy of storing funds in a noncustodial wallet, or to raise the risk a little in return for a generous 6 percent.
Balancing the Risks and Rewards of Interest-Bearing Crypto Accounts
When Blockfi announced its crypto interest scheme, eagle-eyed readers scrutinizing the terms and conditions spotted that the assets would not be insured against losses. While offerings from the likes of Nexo and Coinbase Custody are fully insured, consumers should nevertheless familiarize themselves with the small print before committing. Coinbase hasn’t begun offering crypto interest accounts per se, it should be noted: rather, it’s added staking as a service, which obliges hodlers to lock up qualifying Proof of Stake coins such as tezos (XTZ). The end result to clients is much the same as receiving interest however; by the time Coinbase has taken its 2 percent, stakers will be left with an annual yield of around 6 percent.
Staking and interest are not the same, as industry commenters such as Meltem Demirors have been keen to stress. For the end user, however, be it an institutional client who doesn’t want to “get their hands dirty” with the technical side of staking, or a retail client who doesn’t want to assume custody for their crypto, the outcome can appear indistinguishable. “Financialization of Bitcoin is inevitable and vitally important,” argued Zane Pocock in a Medium post on March 29. He continued:
Financialized structures allow for much better liquidity, debt structures, and other benefits that mean institutional custody and lending can be good for Bitcoin.
Pocock urged investors to do their own research into the interest accounts being offered by crypto companies and not to “fall for the illusion of free money. Bitcoin is our emergency exit from the outcomes of precisely that fallacy.” Crypto interest programs remain an alluring proposal, however, and their number is set to multiply over the coming year. As Shapeshift’s Erik Vorhees pointed out, once the inflationary nature of central bank currencies is factored in, crypto interest accounts become significantly more appealing than their fiat counterparts.
What are your thoughts on interest-paying crypto accounts? Let us know in the comments section below.
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