Who Owns Bitcoin?
Crypto Basics

Who Owns Bitcoin?

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1 year ago

How many people own Bitcoin, how much do they have and how many consumers are interested in gaining exposure to crypto?

Who Owns Bitcoin?

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It’s always going to be a bit difficult to determine who owns Bitcoin, thanks to the pseudonymous nature of cryptocurrencies. 

Still, there are two basic answers: individual buyers and, increasingly, institutional investors.

The former are becoming a larger and — at least by some accounts — somewhat more diverse group as their numbers grow.

The latter are the newcomers, but the amount of money they’ve poured in — hundreds of millions and in some cases billions of dollars — has been game-changing. 

On CoinMarketCap's Bitcoin page, you can see who is holding Bitcoin in general as well (albeit still pseudonymously) — broken down by total address, active addresses, top holders and more.

For example, we can see the total number of unique addresses that hold Bitcoin has only been growing over the past month in July 2021.

We can also note that as of August 2021, the top ten holders of Bitcoin own 5.38% of Bitcoin's supply.

But who exactly are these buyers and holders, and how do they differ?

Aside from pulling Bitcoin off the market as they buy to hold, institutional investors have a knock-on effect. 

Giants such as Jack Dorsey’s Square and Twitter, Elon Musk’s Tesla and Michael Saylor’s MicroStrategy are investing nine and 10-figure sums in Bitcoin. Wall Street legends including Paul Tudor Jones, Stanley Druckenmiller — as well as a growing number of hedge funds, family offices and private banking clients — are also jumping in. This builds confidence among new individual investors that the smart money has given its seal of approval to Bitcoin.
And Americans have especially done well. According to a June report by blockchain intelligence firm Chainalysis, American Bitcoin investors reaped $4.1 billion in gains.

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Bitcoin Owners — Who Are You?

A better answer than “nobody really knows” who owns Bitcoins may be: a lot more now than just a few years ago. 

The three studies focused on Americans most cited in the cryptocurrency industry have vastly different answers, but they all agreed on that one point — the base of Bitcoin buyers is growing fast. 
Let’s start with the most recent survey from the most neutral source. That’s from the highly respected polling and analysis firm Gallup, which is not a part of the cryptocurrency industry. The Gallup Investor Optimism Index survey, carried out in June 2021, found that 6% of U.S. investors — who it defines as adults with at least $10,000 invested in stocks, bonds or mutual funds — own Bitcoin. 
This is up from 2% in 2018, meaning Bitcoin ownership has tripled in the last three years.

More impressively, Gallup said, the number of Bitcoin owners in the 18 to 49 demographic was up from 3% to 13% in that time. 

Gallup’s survey is particularly notable as it was not solely focused on cryptocurrencies, but on investors broadly, pulling respondents from the firm’s nationally representative Gallup Panel.  

However, it’s also worth noting that both Gallup surveys — May 2018 and June 2021 — were taken within a few months of the two largest downturns in the price of Bitcoin, which could hardly have failed to impact the results.

One in Five?

Gallup’s numbers are vastly different from two other, widely cited surveys done by crypto companies. The January 2021 study by New York Digital Investment Group said 22% of the U.S. adult population owns Bitcoin. 

That’s more than one in five Americans 18 or older, and doesn’t take altcoins into account. 

The Gemini exchange’s 2021 State of Crypto in the U.S. Report (based on surveys conducted in November 2020) found that “roughly 14% of the U.S. population owns cryptocurrency.”

While that’s closer to Gallup’s numbers, it was based on a survey of 3,000 people who are either crypto owners or “crypto curious.”

And in both cases, the number of Americans cited by the surveys — 46 million for NYDIG and 21.2 million for Gemini — did not match the math for the U.S. Census Bureau’s July 2020 population estimate of 256 million American adults.

NYDIG’s 22% would be 56 million American adults by the Census Bureau’s numbers, while Gemini’s 14% would be almost 36 million.

The Conservative View: Gallup

Looking at the Gallup numbers, it’s notable that while the number of Bitcoin owners in the 50-plus demographic is still miniscule — 3% — that still represents a tripling from the 2018 1%. 

Men are still far overrepresented, with their number rising from 3% to 11%, while women grew from 1% to 3%.

Interestingly, Gallup found that the growth among investors with more than $100,000 was that same as that for those with less than $100,000 — 6% each. That took the overall numbers from 2% and 0%, respectively, in 2018, to 8% and 6% this year.

Gallup noted that the overall Bitcoin ownership numbers — 6% — make it “more akin to gold,” which the Investor Optimism Index found was owned by 11%. That’s compared to stock index or mutual funds, which are owned by 84%.

Gallup’s 2021 survey was taken about a month after the price of Bitcoin dropped 50%, which likely impacted the number of respondents who said they are interested in buying BTC — with 2% saying they are likely to buy Bitcoin in the near future, while 34% are “intrigued” by it.

And 58% said they have no interest in ever buying Bitcoin, down from 72% three years ago.

Investor awareness of Bitcoin was up to 38% from 29% in 2018. In the 18-49 age group, it went to 62% from 48%.

The number of investors who consider Bitcoin very risky dropped to 60% this year from 78% in 2018 — and it’s hard to imagine the timing didn’t affect this. But again, 18-49 year olds were out in front, with less than half — 47% — seeing Bitcoin as very risky, down from 71% in 2018.

The Tempered Optimist: Gemini

While noting our concerns about the overall Bitcoin owner numbers in the Gemini and NYDIG reports, it’s still worth looking at the trends they found.

Gemini’s State of Crypto report drew from crypto owners and the “crypto curious.” It found that, among crypto owners, men outnumber women three to one, 77% are under 45 years of age and 71% are white.

The surveys used to create the report were taken from mid-October to mid-November 2020, well before Bitcoin broke $20,000 and raced to record highs of $65,000 before cooling again.

Taking Gemini’s finding that 14% of U.S. adults own Bitcoin, it’s noteworthy that another 13% planned to buy Bitcoin in the next 12 months — which is to say by November 2021. 

Given the enormous Bitcoin price spike in the first six months of that timeframe, it’s fair to say that Gemini’s findings actually mesh fairly well with NYDIG’s, which found 22% owning Bitcoin in the second week of January, when Bitcoin had already more than doubled its October-November price.

Gemini found that the crypto curious — those at least wanting to learn more about crypto — accounted for 63% of American adults. And, slightly more than half were female.

As for the actual crypto owners surveyed, 70% have owned their holdings for at least three years and 69% see themselves as long-term holders. In addition, 36% said they actively trade cryptocurrencies for profit (so there’s clearly some crossover) and 27% use it to make purchases on the internet. 

Of Limited Scope: NYDIG

NYDIG’s “Survey: Bitcoin + Banking” was a far less ambitious project, looking at just two very limited questions beyond its estimate of the overall Bitcoin ownership rate. 

First, would Bitcoin holders put their holdings in a bank that offered secure storage? The result was 81% saying yes.

Second, would Bitcoin holders switch their “primary bank to a bank that offered Bitcoin-related products as well as regular bank products.” The positive response rate was 71%.

The reason this survey got so much attention is that Newsweek picked up the 46 million American Bitcoin holders number, which was promptly cheered on by the likes of MicroStrategy CEO and corporate Bitcoin investment advocate Michael Saylor, among others.

Institutional Bitcoin Buyers

While the number and profile of institutional investors has grown rapidly in the past year or two, they remain low.

In a March survey of 3,400 institutional investors from 1,500 companies, JPMorgan found that just 11% said their firm trades or invests in crypto, although 58% said it is “here to stay.”

Of the firms that currently do not work with cryptocurrencies, more than one in five (22%) said it is “likely” that they will begin to do so. 

In January, a study by London-based asset manager Nickel Digital Asset Management surveyed European institutional investors and wealth managers who oversee $110 billion in funds. It found that 81% expected to see more companies invest in Bitcoin, and 29% expect to see “dramatic growth.”

That study also put some numbers — fairly small ones, despite all the zeros — on the companies that have actually bought Bitcoin in a big way. 

Nineteen companies with a combined market cap of more than $1 trillion had amassed $6.5 billion in Bitcoin and another 17 have invested treasury funds in Bitcoin. Of course, Tesla alone accounted for nearly three-quarters of that market cap. 

Beyond that, Nickel found that various trusts and exchange-traded funds controlled $43.2 billion worth of Bitcoin for both individual and institutional investors. 

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