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You had your best-laid plans and then COVID-19 came along and hammered the entire economy. But you’ve got this – if you have the right information. Join Rob Carrick and Roma Luciw on Stress Test, a podcast guiding you through one of the biggest challenges your finances will ever face.

ROMA: Do you invest in crypto? Are you worried about missing out on the trend? Cryptocurrencies have been in the spotlight because of their dramatic ups and downs.

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ROB: So what are people who buy cryptocurrency thinking? And what should you know before investing?

ROMA: Welcome to Stress Test, a podcast about personal finance for Gen Z and millennials. I’m Roma Luciw, personal finance editor at The Globe.

ROB: And I’m Rob Carrick, personal finance columnist at The Globe and Mail.

ROMA: So, Rob, by now, everyone has heard of cryptocurrencies. Everyone’s talking about it. But I wonder how many people understand exactly what it is and how it works? How about we begin with a definition of what crypto is?

ROB: Let me take a stab at that. Cryptocurrency is a digital or virtual currency that exists independently of central banks and governments. The term crypto refers to the fact that encryption is used in the creation of currency units, and it helps transfer them from person to person. Crypto transactions are tracked using blockchain technology, which is a way of digitally keeping records that require no central authority to manage things. A couple of the differences between crypto and traditional currency: Crypto is virtual, which means you need what’s called a wallet to store it. Also, we are only in the very early stages of being able to pay for goods and services using cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin is probably the most widely known cryptocurrency. Some others are Ethereum, Dogecoin, Cardano and Tether. There is your quick crypto tutorial.

ROMA: Cryptocurrencies are in the news. Everyone’s reading about it. What’s the appeal?

ROB: You know, I think a lot of the appeal that this is completely outside the traditional financial world. It’s outside of central banks, it’s outside of big banks and corporations. I think that appeals to people. They remember how the financial system almost came unglued in 2008, ‘09, and they put a lot of the responsibility on the traditional financial system. And along comes crypto. It’s completely outside that it’s like a rebel entity, and I think that appeals to a lot of people.

ROMA: OK, so we have some sense of what it is, and we do have some numbers in terms of who is investing in crypto. Talk us through that.

ROB: Well, there’s an estimate that about 3.2 per cent of the population own crypto. Slightly more men are buying it than women. And big shocker - millennials are the largest group of crypto holders in Canada, and apparently they account for almost about a third of crypto ownership. It’s really a phenomenon of younger people. A lot of people in the traditional investing industry and a lot of experienced investors are very sceptical and cautious about crypto. I interviewed a whole bunch of financial advisors and money managers last summer about crypto, and I was surprised how unwilling they were to sort of bring it into their investing world, either buy it or to at least give it a closer study. They feel they can’t put a value on it. And that is one of the things about crypto is it has a certain price, but there’s no sort of underlying value. There’s no profits, there’s no central bank that stands behind it. So traditional financial people feel that’s a bit of a turnoff and they are avoiding it. But I’m starting to notice a little bit more, a little bit more attention being given to crypto. One very big money management company offers all in one ETFs exchange traded funds. That’s a whole portfolio in one ETF, a very convenient, excellent investment product to buy, and they just introduced some new ones that have a very small crypto allocation. I think that’s a bit of a turning point. Traditional investing and starting to bring crypto into its product line.

ROMA: Mm-Hmm. One thing to keep in mind is the people who got in early have made a lot of money, but this space is high risk and volatile. So anyone who’s considering getting involved and investing in crypto should be prepared for some pretty wild swings and strap in for a very volatile ride.

ROB: Yeah, like almost nothing else in the investing world, crypto is about huge ups and downs, and you cannot get in unless you are mentally prepared for that.

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ROMA: After the break, we’ll hear from an Ontario woman who started investing in crypto as a pandemic hobby.

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ROMA: When you think of the typical crypto investor, you might not think of our next guest. But this young woman has jumped into the crypto space. She’s having a lot of fun doing it.

CAIT: Hi, my name is Kate. I am 31 years old, living in the city of Toronto, and I’m working as an urban designer.

ROMA: Some people baked sour dough, others got pets. Cait’s biggest pandemic hobby was investing in crypto.

CAIT: So I had heard about cryptocurrency actually a couple of years ago. My mum’s been investing in cryptocurrency for quite a few years, actually. But during the pandemic, I was sifting through hobbies and was kind of burning through things, and my brother started talking to me about it again. So it kind of re-triggered the thought of investing. Yeah. When I first moved to Toronto, I started a savings account and I’ve not been impressed with the kind of percentage that I’m earning in my savings account. So I thought crypto might be a good opportunity for me to make a little bit more money.

ROMA: In February 2021, Cait invested $3000 into crypto. And she’s never looked back.

CAIT: The first cryptocurrency that I purchased was KuCoin, which is a platform based token. And then I’ve just been looking for different cryptocurrencies that either have something - offer something that’s of interest to me or I’ve read about them and think that they’re interesting projects. So some of my favourite ones, I like Polkadot a lot. Cardano has been a really interesting one. And then I also invest in like Bitcoin and Ethereum, some of the standard ones as well.

ROMA: So where did a first time crypto investor like Cait learn about the different coins she was buying?

CAIT: So Reddit was a big one. I am not really a fan of Reddit, but it became like a really interesting space for me to enter under this like cryptocurrency community. So that was great. I started using the apps like Telegram and Discord, so it’s basically just a large group of people chatting about different topics. So you can enter different groups based on what you’re interested in. So it’s like specific cryptocurrencies will have a group and it’ll just be a conversation about that token specifically. And then just Tik Tok, YouTube. I’ve kind of done it all and searched for different people that I think have a good voice and are sharing information, and that’s valuable to me.

ROMA: Cait says her mum is her role model when it comes to investing in crypto. And when researching it, she’s drawn to female influencers or content creators.

CAIT: In terms of my own personal research and experience, it is such a male-dominated space. So that’s even when I’m looking for people to follow, sources to kind of listen to. I really enjoy finding women who speak about it. There’s just something about it. It’s just like a more comfortable experience when there’s another woman that’s talking about investing.

ROMA: For Cait, crypto investing provides a sense of community.

CAIT:It feels like you have, yeah, full new group of people that are sharing, you know, interests with you. I also think it’s like poetic in a way that this happened during a pandemic and while we’re all online anyway. And while we’re all interacting online with other people. So it just almost feels normal and a sense that you’re building this community online while everything’s happening online right now, anyways.

ROMA: Cait’s crypto journey hasn’t been all smooth sailing. In 2021, she invested in a Canadian crypto coin that ended up closing the same year. She lost $600.

CAIT: So I watched my money slowly, slowly dwindle away. And yeah, unfortunately, in the end, I left with nothing, but it’s OK, you live and you learn.

ROMA: Even with that loss, Cait continues to invest half her portfolio in crypto. And she’s eager to keep investing in this space.

CAIT: so I get paid bi monthly, so I put a small amount from each paycheque. Again, it’s like something that I won’t think about when it gets taken out and when it gets put into a separate account. So I’m just putting kind of $50 from each paycheque. That’s it. And my strategy has changed in the sense that I’m also now kind of holding for a longer term when things are moving so quickly, it felt like I couldn’t keep up with it and I just had to like, really stay on top of it. And now that things have sort of slowed down a little bit, you know, numbers are really dipping quite a bit lower than they initially had been. It’s just one of those things that I just kind of have to wait, wait and see where things, where things go.

ROMA: When it comes to crypto FOMO, you might think it’d go away once you have a few crypto gains. But for Cait, it was the opposite.

CAIT: I don’t think I felt the FOMO as much as I feel it now. So once I entered, it was like this rush of adrenaline that now I just I feel like I can’t put enough money into it, and I feel like nervous that I’m missing out on new projects. I feel nervous that I’m missing kind of the upswing of things. So it’s definitely something I experienced now more after starting than before I entered.

I never really thought of it honestly as like a hindrance to my mental health. It was more something that I was so excited to be a part of. I would be sitting at home working with my computer, and I would have KuCoin open with like kind of the markets constantly running. And it was just like, this almost obsession. Like, I could not stop looking at it and it was just watching the numbers go up and down was like, so interesting to me. I just find cryptocurrency so exciting because it’s a 24 hour thing. So there have definitely been a few nights where I could not sleep because I was just watching numbers rise.

ROMA: When crypto markets were super volatile, Cait was checking her apps 4 to 5 times a day. Now, she doesn’t feel the need to do it as much. She also considers herself a high risk investor.

CAIT: And I just feel that because I’m so I’m still so young, there’s still opportunity for me to make money. And so I’m willing to kind of take a bit more risk in investing at this point.

I think during my first kind of like down swing of things, I definitely went into panic mode. I was like trying to figure out how do I get all of my money out of here right away. And then I learnt what the word or the term paper hands meant, which is basically just you fold and you are unable to kind of keep your investment. You just sell everything off. I have tried to not react so quickly when it comes to cryptocurrency now. It’s just one of those things that, yes, things are going to go up and yes, things are going to go down.

ROMA: She may have started buying crypto coins as a pandemic hobby, but what does the future hold?

CAIT: So I did have a financial goal that I have met, so now I don’t think there’s really an ultimate goal. It’s just to continue investing in cryptocurrency because I really do believe, you know, this is the way that we’re headed. I think this is what the future is going to be. So I’m just excited to be in the space at this point in time.

[MUSIC TRANSITION FADE IN]

ROB: Crypto is a volatile space. Because it’s not regulated, there are a fair share of scam stories. We’ll hear more about one investor’s experience, after the break.

ROB: Next up today, we hear from an Ontario man who experienced great highs and lows in his journey.

BILLY: Hi, my name is Billy. I live in Niagara Falls, Ontario. I’m 26 years old and I’m an engineer.

ROB: Billy started mining Dogecoin, the meme coin created as a joke, in 2013 as a way to socialise with his university floormates. He didn’t think much of the crypto space until 2017.

BILLY: And in 2017 there was a huge hype with cryptocurrency, with bitcoin. But my real journey investing in cryptocurrency started in 2021, when I started reading more about the space, watching podcasts, reading articles, and that’s really when I got my foot in and started investing by myself. Just looking more into the space, but I invested in mainly the main coins, the two that I feel and I think most, if not all, the people in the crypto space, they feel that Bitcoin and Ethereum, they’re kind of the blue chips of cryptocurrency. So I put money in there and I myself fell down a rabbit hole and started learning about these new coins. And I put my money to some other ones, namely like Ada, Cardano, Solana, and there’s a few others as well.

ROB: As a new investor, Billy learned an expensive lesson after trying to cash out the Dogecoins he mined in university.

BILLY: Yeah, 2021 rolled by. So I got more into the space and that piqued my interest of like, Hey, so these old coins on my old Toshiba laptop. It doesn’t feel like I have that in my bank account. I mine these coins, now they’re worth something. It was just hard for me to kind of fully grasp that like they were mine, so what I wanted to do was put them onto an exchange.

ROB: Billy posted on the Dogecoin sub-Reddit looking for help. He received a direct message from someone who said they had just done the same thing - mined a bunch of coins, recovered them and now had the money. The scammer even made a post about their success.

BILLY: I felt that he kind of got my trust with his post, and it was one of those Reddit posts where you see, like so many symbols at the top and just people are just happy for him. And I was happy for him too. But that was not the case. It was a scam post, just try to really add credentials to his Reddit profile unfortunately.

ROB: The scammer was persistent and kept asking Billy if he’d gone through the instructions that were sent over. They insisted on helping Billy step by step.

BILLY: So, yeah, he’s going through these steps with me. Step six was the step that I got scammed. So he told me to run this command on PowerShell, so I can update my notes and my coins or get lost in limbo. So I ran step six. Clicked enter and Windows gave me an error. And at that moment, that’s when the facade just went away. And I was like, “This guy just scammed me.”

ROB: To verify that his coins were gone, Billy checked the transaction history in his crypto wallet. And just like that, 90,000 Dogecoin, worth around $90,000, were gone.

BILLY: So yeah, yeah, I saw it being taken out using the blockchain explorer, and I told them they “Hey like my funds are no longer my account.” And he says, “What are you talking about? I don’t know what you’re saying.” And I told him what I did, I just checked on the blockchain explorer and they’re gone. They’re just transacted out. And he’s just like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, like, I’m just trying to help you.” So I was talking to the guy for like 20 more minutes. And it’s just. The same back and forth, I’m like, you have my coins. Just admit that you stole my coins. That was kind of like my end resolve because I asked them cuz I just had to ask him, like, “Hey, can you give it back, please? Like, I really need the coins. Like, I was hoping to do a lot with it.” And he’s just gaslighting me like, “No, I don’t have your coins. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” And he even had the audacity to be like, Are you trying to scam me?

ROB: After the incident, Billy went to the police. He filed a report and later contacted the FBI, but no one’s followed up with him.

BILLY: It’s just a new space. There’s really not much you can do about it. It’s not like I can contact my bank and tell me, “Hey, can you stop this transaction?” It’s just how the blockchain is, how bitcoin is, how crypto is. That having that ownership of an asset, there’s no recourse, there’s no like third party that can really…retaliation on these scammers just because of the nature of the technology.

ROB: Billy wants to warn others about being too influenced by crypto FOMO.

BILLY: You get into the space and you’re like in that community too or whatever. And you see, like people talk about these coins and like you get a lot of FOMO as well. You see coins go up like 100X. All this stuff and you’re like, Oh, like, I wish I invested into it. So there’s a lot of FOMO. There’s a lot of like. I don’t know, kind of like peer pressure in a way, it’s like all you want to catch up and all that stuff.

ROB: Even after being scammed, Billy still has 60 per cent of his investments in crypto. He believes blockchain is the future.

BILLY: There’s coins that I have like a conviction for. All the ones I put money in. I feel like they can bring value in some way. But the main coins like Bitcoin, Ethereum, I’m like, I definitely think that’s an investment and I’m not looking to like, take out my coins and like a couple of years or anything or like in a few months. I really do think like these main blue chips. They’re like, it’s just technology like, I don’t feel society will in the end, like push back on technology. I do think it’s an advancement. So in the next five or 10 years, I do think like the value of them, like they’ll go up, they’ll be higher than they are now. But I can’t predict like short term within the next year or whatever, and they could definitely go down.

[MUSIC TRANSITION FADE IN]

ROB: After hearing the stories of our two previous guests, some of you may still be unsure of what to make of crypto. That’s why I spoke with Braden Dennis and Simon Belanger of the Canadian Investor podcast about their tips on crypto investing for those looking to get started. Here’s part of our conversation.

ROB: Guys, we’re here to talk about crypto, and I want to start off by asking you, what’s your one or two sentence elevator pitch for the millennial or Gen Z investor to say, what’s crypto all about? Do I need it?

SIMON: Yeah, yeah, so that’s a good question, and I mean, definitely crypto has evolved a lot since its inception since the late, I think it was 2009 if I remember correctly or 2008 when bitcoin was first created. Now it can be difficult to navigate for a lot of people because there’s thousands of cryptos out there. You see Tik Tok videos, people talk about certain new coins that they just heard of. They’re trying to get people to buy in and so on. Personally, I mostly own Bitcoin. I do own some Ethereum as well. The reason for those two, more specifically Bitcoin, is the one I have the most conviction in. It’s a personal decision for everyone. It is highly volatile and you should if you’re interested in cryptocurrency, you should just invest what, honestly, you’re ready to see go away to zero. So if you’re comfortable with that, then you can allocate a percentage that you’re comfortable with.

ROB: Braden, how important is it for a young investor to have a piece of crypto right now?

BRADEN: Well, my simple answer is that in my view, important to pay attention to very innovative and disruptive technologies. Simon and I are long term investors in the fact that the bulk, the vast majority of our portfolio is in high quality businesses via public, publicly traded stock. So we buy and hold the best businesses on Earth, well-researched fundamentals of equity positions. Now we do also hold some Bitcoin and a little bit of Ethereum. 99 per cent of the other projects are really not that interesting from the perspective of many of them are looking to just get rich quick. The reality is with Bitcoin and lots of interesting things happening on the Ethereum blockchain, for instance, is that it’s been proven to actually have real use cases and be fundamentally sound money when it comes to Bitcoin in particular. A lot of the other projects Simon and I, we’re just not quite interested in them yet. In terms of like your main question, I do believe it’s important to at least pay attention to it. It’s not for everyone Simon just mentioned. It is crazy, crazy, volatile, as we have seen. And so you have to kind of have that in mind, but I do think that it is worth paying attention to at the bare minimum.

ROB: OK, I’m looking at your portfolios like a pie. How big is the crypto slice for each of you?

BRADEN: It varies quite large actually between us. Simon has owned Bitcoin for several several years. He was one one of the longest owners of anyone I know personally. For me, it’s about two and a half per cent of my portfolio.

ROB: Simon, what about you?

SIMON: Depending on the price and we mentioned the volatility, I would say it probably ranges between 15 and 25 per cent in the past past - three months, three or four months. But we did hit an all time high just a few months ago and dropped about 50 per cent since then.

ROB: Let’s look at some tips for younger investors who want to get involved in crypto, but they’re a little unsure of how to go about it. What are some of your top pieces of advice for the newbie who wants to get involved?

SIMON: Well, yeah. So the first thing I would say make sure you understand what you’re investing on. That would be the first thing. So if you’re interested in Bitcoin, that’s fine. But there is a lot, especially Bitcoin. There is a lot of information that you can easily get just to understand. You can read the whitepaper. So for those of you who don’t know what it is, a white paper basically just explained the technology behind the cryptocurrency itself. So just doing some research first on. Second, like I mentioned earlier, invest a portion that you’re comfortable - I would say just comfortable losing. Bitcoin has gone up and down quite a bit. It’s not unusual to see 50, 60 per cent drops from all time highs and then just see it go up double from there in a few months. So you just have to be able to stomach the volatility. I’m not saying it’s going to go to zero. I’m just saying, if you have that mentality, then if there are a lot, there is a lot of volatility. You won’t get too impacted by it. And then the next thing would be just to pick an exchange to get started. So there is some in Canada, in the US. Coinbase is one that’s very well known. This one is much larger. It’s in the U.S. and Canada. In Canada, I’ve used Shake Pay before and it’s a very seamless experience. So there are some easy ways to get started for people. First, Shake Pay, it’ll be more limited because it’ll only be Bitcoin and Ethereum. But Coinbase does offer a bunch of other cryptocurrencies. But the last thing I would say with other cryptocurrencies. Be careful of unit bias. So unit bias is just wanting to invest in either a stock or a cryptocurrency because a single unit is very cheap. So in cryptocurrencies, you could see, you know, certain cryptocurrency trading for a fraction of a cent, and for stocks, it could be penny stock. While it might look cheap on a unit basis, but if you look and you dig a little bit and often times I would just say, look at the total supply that will give you a good indicator, whether it’s expensive or not, compared to some of its peers.

BRADEN: My one recommendation for all investors, if you if you’re looking in getting into equities or if you’re looking to dabble in some cryptocurrency, namely Bitcoin, Ethereum is to be patient and not impulsive. We’re seeing lots of people. Hey, look, I tripled my money in three days or hey, I’m looking at stocks as some day trading instruments. The reality is that that party ends really fast and it doesn’t work forever. So my one recommendation is don’t act impulsively. Good investing happens over years and decades for young people. Not days and quarters. So when you see a source, think about it, sleep on it. If it’s telling you to do something right now, then just be aware and cautious of that because if it’s too good to be true, it more often is.

ROB: Guys, in closing, I wonder if you could leave the listeners with one parting thought about how important crypto’s going to be, not just today and not just in today’s headlines, but over the next 10, 20, 30, 50 years.

SIMON: Sure, yeah, for me, I think it has a potential to completely revolutionise the way we do things, our financial system. One thing we didn’t really talk about is, you know, we’re used to Canada having easy access to bank accounts. But around the world, a lot of countries, a lot of people don’t have that access. And you know, something like bitcoin does give them the possibility of being their own bank and keeping that purchasing power. So for me, it has the really the potential of transforming our financial system. Will it? I’m not sure we’ll have to see, but I think it has the potential to do that. And we’re seeing companies investing in cryptocurrencies quite a bit, major companies making major investments. We’re not the only ones taking notice, I’ll just say that.

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ROMA: The one thing that strikes me is that young investors are hungry for this amount of risk, and I’m concerned about seeing them burned early. On the other hand, there is this idea that if you get introduced to the highs and lows, you lose a bit, you move forward with your eyes open. Perhaps that’s an introduction to a more balanced approach to investing down the road.

ROB: I think part of the crypto phenomenon that we’ve seen since the stock market crash of March 2020 is this huge appetite for risk of all types. It’s not just crypto that people want, they’re investing in meme stocks, they are investing in AI stocks and all kinds of technology stocks because there’s just this massive appetite to take a chance. There’s a lot of money sloshing around the system. People have saved money in the pandemic. There’s been government benefits have flowed to people, and I think it’s a very special time in investing right now. Taking high risks, rolling the dice has been rewarded. It is not always like this and we will return to a time when people are much less willing to take risk. And riskier investments will be trickier to handle. So don’t look at what’s happening in crypto and other types of assets and think that’s permanently how the investing world is. Eventually, people will tire of taking these big chances. They’ll want something a bit safer, and crypto will have to work its way through that. I’m sure it will, but it’ll be volatile.

ROB: Here are three takeaways on crypto.

  • The investing establishment is still trying to figure crypto out - some believe in it, others do not. But it seems clear that crypto is now part of our financial system.
  • If you invest in crypto currencies, use only money you can afford to lose. As a rough rule, think about having around 5 per cent of your investments in crypto to limit risk.
  • Expect huge ups and downs in the price of your crypto assets. From what we’ve seen, that’s normal in crypto land.

[MUSIC TRANSITION FADE IN]

ROMA: And just like that we’re done with our fourth season of Stress Test. This show was produced by Amy Chyan and Zahra Khozema. Audio engineering and editing by Kyle Fulton. Our executive producer is Kiran Rana.

ROB: Thank you to Billy, Cait, Braden and Simon. Thank you to all our listeners who have rated and reviewed our show. If you haven’t already, give us a five star rating and review on Apple Podcasts. You can find Stress Test at Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify or your favourite podcast app. And find us at the Globe and Mail.com, where we cover all things financial.

ROMA: We hope you’ve enjoyed talking about personal finances with us. I know Rob and I really enjoy making this show. Feel free to go back and listen to any episodes you’ve missed. Send us an email! We’ll be back with another season soon. Thanks for listening!