Bitcoin was once again hitting national headlines on Wednesday, albeit for a slightly different reason, as an ad campaign telling UK punters that it is “time to buy” the cryptocurrency was banned by the advertising regulator.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled that the posters, displayed on the London underground and the city’s bus network by crypto exchange Luno, “gave the impression that Bitcoin investment was straightforward and accessible” and did not sufficiently indicate that digital currency was “complex, volatile, and could expose investors to losses”.
The ASA also said the decision to display the ads on public transport networks meant novice investors were being targeted and upheld a complaint that the posters “took advantage of consumers’ inexperience or credulity”.
As a result of its ruling, the ASA ordered that the ads not appear again in their current form and that Luno’s future marketing should make it “sufficiently clear that the value of investments in Bitcoin was variable and could go down as well as up, that Luno Money Ltd and the Bitcoin market were unregulated, and that they did not irresponsibly take advantage of consumers’ lack of experience or credulity by implying that Bitcoin investment was straightforward or accessible”.
The watchdog’s reaction may have been sparked by the recent plunge in the price of Bitcoin, which has fallen by around 30% so far this month and suffered a sharp drop last week as regulatory fears and concerns over the environmental impact of crypto mining sent prices of digital currencies tumbling across the board.
However, the ASA’s opinion that buying Bitcoin is not a “straightforward and accessible” process is likely to elicit confusion from many crypto investors and could indicate that the regulator is behind the times when it comes to its knowledge of the market.
How to buy Bitcoin
For the uninitiated, Bitcoin is likely to conjure images of a digital enigma that seems to soar and plunge in value for almost no reason. Purchasing Bitcoin may appear similarly complex, involving long strings of electronic wallet keys and a shady market of unregulated, anonymous actors.
However, the crypto market has come a long way since Bitcoin first caught mainstream attention in the mid-2010s.
Nowadays, buying Bitcoin is just as easy as purchasing a stock, with dedicated trading platforms such as Coinbase and Binance allowing retail investors to simply download an app, deposit some cash and buy and sell Bitcoin and other cryptos for a small fee.
Even existing stock trading platforms, such as eToro and US trading app Robinhood, now offer their users the opportunity to buy crypto, negating the need to even use a separate platform solely for digital currency.
The proliferation of these apps means almost anyone with a smartphone can now buy and trade Bitcoin, making the process seem very straightforward and accessible and leaving the ASA’s assessment looking a little outdated.
Price volatility is nothing new
The ASA’s other complaint regarding the ad, that it did not sufficiently inform the public that Bitcoin “could expose investors to losses”, also seems to ring a little hollow given this is the case for almost every traded financial product.
While the movements in Bitcoin prices may seem eye-watering, they have been a part of the crypto’s trading cycle since at least its first large price crash in late 2017, when it fell from a then all-time high of around US$18,000 to less than US$10,000 within three months.
Large value declines are also nothing new in the wider market, with it not being uncommon for small-cap stocks to see rises and falls of 10% or more in a single session. For example, in early afternoon trading on Wednesday, shares in AIM-listed clean air and water tech firm MyCelx Technologies tumbled 12.6% to 62.5p following disappointing final results, a seemingly large swing in price for a single trading session.
Increasingly sophisticated market
Additionally, while the crypto market is still suspect to wild swings in value, the exploding popularity of Bitcoin and other digital currencies this year means the crypto market is maturing at breakneck speed alongside an increase in the sophistication of its participants.
Crypto can now be traded through reputable institutions and trading platforms, while those unwilling to trade in crypto directly can play the market through ‘proxy’ stocks such as Coinbase and Bitcoin miners like Argo Blockchain. Shares in these firms often track the ups and downs of the crypto market while allowing investors to put their money into regulated firms and shield themselves from some of the market’s more drastic movements.
A similar trend is true for the growing number of crypto-linked exchange-traded products (ETPs), stock market listed funds that following the performance of numerous digital currencies including Bitcoin, Ethereum and Litecoin.