Suddenly, cryptocurrencies are rebounding — fast. Bitcoin is up 34% in the past month, above the $8,000 mark, and ether is up 8%. As typically happens when the two leading coins are up, the other digital assets come along for the ride: ripple (XRP), bitcoin cash, EOS, litecoin, Tron, and other small-cap coins are all up as well.
The timing is auspicious for New Wave Capital, a San Francisco firm launching on Thursday that touts itself as the first crypto robo-advisor. The premise: Cryptocurrency portfolio investing for regular people—that is, not just accredited investors, who typically must prove a minimum income of $200,000 or net worth of $1 million.
New Wave customers deposit a minimum of $1,000, and New Wave distributes it, based on an algorithm that assesses your risk tolerance, among 12 coins to begin with: bitcoin, ether, ripple, bitcoin cash, stellar lumens, litecoin, ethereum classic, Zcash, OmiseGo, golem, TenX, and Numeraire.
There are certainly other firms now offering similar baskets or funds that provide exposure to multiple cryptocurrencies, such as Grayscale’s Digital Large Cap Fund, but they are limited to accredited investors. CoinList, a platform for investing in verified, “safer” initial coin offerings, also requires accreditation.
“It’s mostly hedge funds doing this and it’s limited to accredited investors,” says New Wave cofounder and chief product officer Albert Cheng, “which is ironic, since cryptocurrency is supposed to be an open and decentralized thing. We want it to be affordable enough that regular people can participate. As long as you’ve got $1,000, you can invest.”
New Wave CEO Eric Campbell, COO Stewart Hauser, and Cheng all worked together at Chariot, a ride-sharing startup Ford acquired in 2016 for $65 million. Cheng also spent five years at YouTube.
“A lot of people don’t buy crypto because they find it to be too complicated or risky,” says Cheng. “We hope that’s going to change over time, and that’s why we’re focusing on the coins that are more mature.”
Risk tolerance in crypto investing
There’s an irony to calling any cryptocurrencies “mature.” Bitcoin came about in 2009, ethereum in 2015. In the last two years, the ICO market has exploded, and the sheer volume of cryptocurrencies has ballooned along with it. But precious few have proven a use case, and all, including the largest by market cap, are extremely risky investments.
When you sign up for New Wave, you fill out a questionnaire that gives you a risk score, then suggests allocation percentages across the 12 coins in New Wave’s portfolio at launch. You can adjust the slider to choose more or less risk—if you choose less, it puts more of your money into bitcoin and ether. Of course, bitcoin and ether are still extremely risky investments, even if they’re considered safer than other coins.
“Bitcoin is incredibly resilient,” says Cheng. “But part of the reason we built the product the way we did is that if bitcoin does not end up being the leader in the long term, your portfolio will adjust.” (New Wave’s algorithm will rebalance portfolios every quarter.)
The firm is registered with the SEC as an investment advisor and took in $50,000 in assets in a matter of days while still in stealth mode. It’s mostly self-funded, plus $250,000 in seed investment. New Wave will make its cut by charging a monthly 0.25% fee on assets under management.
Competition from Circle, Robinhood
To be sure, New Wave is hardly the only option for people to invest passively in a bunch of coins at once. And the others doing it are much bigger names. Circle, one of the best-known early bitcoin startups, recently added a “buy the market” feature to its Circle Invest app that lets users choose an amount to invest and disperse it among the seven coins Circle Invest currently supports. Robinhood Crypto offers buying of five coins, but is only available in 17 states and does not have an all-at-once option. But none of these other players would call themselves a “robo-advisor.”
With brand-name options like Coinbase, Circle, or Robinhood, why would a crypto newbie give their money to New Wave Capital? Cheng makes his case this way: “I think we will do the best job of hand-holding the user. The personal questionnaire, as opposed to you buying a static, market-weighted thing.” He adds that New Wave will get the best price on coins because it has accounts with Coinbase, Kraken, Binance and Bittrex and its algorithm shops around in real time.
New Wave says it will expand beyond eight coins soon, but will only add coins that have been listed on an exchange for a year, a bar that eliminates a large portion of cryptocurrencies right off the bat. “We will add coins that have been out for a good amount of time and have been tested,” Cheng says, “not just ICO white papers.”