NEW YORK — Love cryptocurrencies or hate the very idea of them, they’re becoming more mainstream by the day.
Cryptocurrencies have surged so much that their total value has reached nearly $2.5 trillion, rivaling the world’s most valuable company, Apple, and have amassed more than 200 million users. At that size, it’s simply too big for the financial establishment to ignore.
And in the latest milestone for the industry, an easy-to-trade fund tied to Bitcoin began trading on Tuesday. Investors can buy the exchange-traded fund from ProShares through an old-school brokerage account, without having to learn what a hot or cold wallet is.
It’s all part of a movement across big businesses that see a chance to profit on the fervor around the world of crypto, as a new ecosystem further builds up around it, whether they believe in it or not.
“The one thing you can say for certain is that the advent of the era of the Bitcoin ETF opens up the opportunity for Wall Street to make money on Bitcoin in a way that it hadn’t been able to previously,” said Ben Johnson, director of global ETF research at Morningstar. “The winners in all of this are the exchanges and the asset managers and the custodians. Whether investors win or not is a big, bold question mark.”
Bitcoin has come a long way since someone or a group of someones under the name Satoshi Nakamoto wrote a paper in 2008 about how to harness computing power around the world to create a digital currency that can’t be double-spent. The price has more than doubled this year alone to roughly $62,000. It was at only $635 five years ago.
Supporters of cryptocurrencies say they offer an ultra-important benefit for any investor: something whose price moves independently of the economy, rather than tracking it like so many other investments do. More high-minded fans say digital assets are simply the future of finance, allowing transactions to sidestep middlemen and fees with a currency that’s not beholden to any government.
Critics, meanwhile, question whether crypto is just a fad, say it uses too much energy and point to all the stiff regulatory scrutiny shining on it. China last month declared Bitcoin transactions illegal, for example. The chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Gary Gensler, said in August that the world of crypto doesn’t have enough investor protection and “it’s more like the Wild West.”
That hasn’t been enough to halt the immense momentum for crypto, as it’s gone from an online curiosity to a bigger part of the cultural and corporate landscape.
U.S. Bank earlier this month said it has begun offering a…