As Warnings Mount, Will Anyone Want Bitcoin in 401(k)s?

Number of the Day: The most relevant or interesting figure in personal finance

Number of the Day

That's how many 401(k) plan sponsors have signaled they don't consider cryptocurrency a prudent option in a retirement plan, underscoring new concerns lawmakers are raising about Fidelity Investments adding Bitcoin. 

A poll conducted by Plan Sponsor Council of America in mid-March showed that 57% of retirement plan sponsors had never considered cryptocurrencies as a viable investment option and 33% found a new warning from a regulator reaffirming of the concerns they already had about the digital assets. The regulator, the Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration, told plan providers in March to exercise “extreme care” before including crypto in their retirement plans because of “significant risks of fraud, theft and loss.”

Meanwhile, in a letter publicly released Thursday, Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Tina Smith of Minnesota asked Fidelity Investments CEO Abigail Johnson to explain why the company “ignored” the Department of Labor’s warning when it announced in late April it would soon include a Bitcoin option in 401(k) offerings and already had one employer signed up. 

“Investing in cryptocurrencies is a risky and speculative gamble, and we are concerned that Fidelity would take these risks with millions of Americans’ retirement savings,” the senators wrote in the letter to Johnson, questioning whether there are conflicts of interest related to Fidelity’s past Bitcoin and Ethereum mining activities, among other things. 

Bitcoin, the best known cryptocurrency, has gone on a wild ride over the past year, more than doubling in value between July and November—when it reached an all-time high of almost $69,000—and then losing about 46% of its value since. The volatility is one reason the investments aren’t widely available in 401(k) plans. Only 1.6% of plan providers surveyed after the Labor Department’s warning said they were still considering crypto as a plan option, while another 1.6% said they had been considering it as an option until they heard about the warning.

Besides Fidelity’s upcoming offering, retirement plan manager ForUsAll announced a cryptocurrency option last June.  

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  1. Plan Sponsor Council of America. “QOTW: Cryptocurrency.”

  2. Department of Labor. “Compliance Assistance Release No. 2022-01.”

  3. Fidelity. "Fidelity Investments Advances Leading Position as Digital Assets Provider With Launch of Industry’s First-of-Its-Kind Bitcoin Offering for 401(k) Core Investment Lineup.”

  4. "Letter to Fidelity.”

  5. “Warren Questions Fidelity on Plans to Allow Bitcoin Investments for 401(k) Plans.”

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