Hard lessons from the crypto crash

Hard lessons from the crypto crash

Billions of dollars have been lost in the crypto meltdown © FT Montage: Getty Images/Chris Ratcliffe, Bloomberg This article is the latest part of the FT’s Financial Literacy and Inclusion Campaign

We deal with all kinds of financial problems on the Money Clinic podcast , but after speaking to young traders who lost their shirts in the $40bn wipeout of crypto token luna, I found it hard to offer them any solutions.

Subbaiah, 29, got into crypto last year after seeing his friends make money. The IT worker in Bangalore watched tutorials by online influencers, started trading in and out of various coins and made enough to dream about quitting his day job and trading full-time.

Unfortunately, this early success gave him the confidence to borrow on credit cards to boost his trades. Tempted by the prospect of a 20 per cent yield , he moved his entire $7,000 portfolio into luna — only to see it reduced to $150 when the coin’s value collapsed this month.

“I thought I could make money easily,” he tells me on the podcast this week. “I never thought about the downside, that everything could go to zero.”

Not only is Subbaiah’s money lost, the credit card debt will be a lasting reminder of how this was a risk he couldn’t afford to take.

You might have limited sympathy for those who have been financially reckless, trading unregulated and volatile crypto assets in an attempt to get rich. In the UK, regulators have consistently warned: “Be prepared to lose all of your money.” So why has this come as a surprise?

Yet, glance through the tales of woe on Reddit threads topped with suicide helplines , and only those with hearts of stone will fail to question what more we should be doing to protect young consumers from financial harm.

Financial regulators are still struggling with how to respond, but there are also serious questions for platforms (those that enable crypto trading as well as social media platforms). As the gatekeepers to the crypto kingdom, they’re profiting from this craze, and should better police it.

However, even the outgoing chair of the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority admitted last week that harsh warnings were not putting young people off. Charles Randell recently visited a school near the FCA’s east London headquarters, and chatted to a group of 13- and 14-year-old students about the risks of crypto.

They accepted it was “like gambling”, but nevertheless still believed they could make money. “They were very able students, but the hope of getting rich was stronger than any facts or rational arguments I could give them,” he said.

“With celebrities as varied as Kim Kardashian and Larry David willing to take money to promote speculative crypto, how do we curb people’s enthusiasm to do something that may seriously harm their financial lives?”

Crypto may be risky and unregulated, but it’s impossible to avoid. Even if young investors are aware of the FCA’s warnings, they’re much more likely to have seen influencer endorsements on social media, crypto ads on the side of buses or taken part in “play to earn” online games such as Axie Infinity .

Last year, FCA research estimated that 2.3mn British adults owned some form of crypto asset, which is not far off t he numbers who invest in stocks and shares Isas. Although most crypto holders knew their investments were not protected, more than one in ten believed otherwise.

There’s rising evidence some people who have lost money on their crypto investments mistakenly think they could be entitled to compensation.

The UK’s Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) tells me that “crypto” is one of the most searched-for terms on its website — yet it’s not a product it covers. In response, the FSCS has created educational content about what to consider before you invest in crypto, including its “Protect your money” podcast . Donate to the Financial Literacy & Inclusion Campaign here This is commendable — but could better financial education really discourage people from taking huge risks to get rich quick? One of Money Clinic’s podcast experts, professional investor Ilan Solot, believes that it can.

“We need to be preparing young people for a financial world where they’re going to be offered situations with high leverage, and people on YouTube saying you can earn 20 per cent and there’s no risk,” he says.

I’m a big believer that we need to start doing more in schools. The FT’s Financial Literacy and Inclusion Campaign (FLIC) has devised a school workshop about risk including a “higher or lower” game — […]

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