Ric Edelman’s ongoing crusade to bolster cryptocurrency education is spreading its wings.
The Edelman-helmed Digital Assets Council of Financial Professionals, a research and educational organization through which financial advisors can earn an online certificate in blockchain and digital assets, has announced a revised and expanded program with four lesson tracks for a broader range of crypto enthusiasts.
Along with a segment that teaches advisors how to integrate digital assets into their practice and explain crypto to clients with confidence, the expanded program includes lessons designed for financial professionals who aren’t client-facing that focuses on regulation and operational issues; a industry track for those employed in the digital assets community; and an investor/consumer/student track pitched as a place for enthusiasts and the crypto-curious who want to gain better understanding.
The push comes amid conflicting data on how investors view digital assets. An Arizent study in January found that almost half of financial advisors, or 49%, surveyed said they did not consider digital currencies a suitable investment. Three in four advisors said that fewer than 5% of their customers were invested in crypto last year.
The DACFP program, which debuted in 2021 and is billed as the first of its kind, offers up to 18 continuing education credits upon completion. As of last summer, the program had signed up more than 1,200 people from eight countries.
Instructors include Scott Stornetta, the co-inventor of blockchain technology; Lex Sokolin, chief crypto-economics officer at ConsenSys; Del Wright Jr., professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School; and Laura Shin, an author and podcaster.
Edelman, who has made crypto education his primary focus since stepping away from his $291 billion namesake independent advisory firm, Edelman Financial Engines, in 2021, said the expanded program broadens crypto’s appeal to a wider audience.
He also argued that the fast-moving banking crisis is motivating Americans to seek alternative places to store their cash. The closure of Silvergate Capital and Signature Bank, two of the top cryptocurrency banks, within a matter of days this month has roiled the digital asset space. FTX, once the third-largest crypto exchange in the world measured by its assets under management, declared bankruptcy last November.
“In a strange and unexpected way, Bitcoin in 2023 has proven to be safer than bank accounts and far better performing than stocks,” Edelman said in an email to Financial Planning. “People thus now realize that they need to understand how crypto works, and our certificate program is the best way for them all to learn.”
He cited the volatility surrounding digital assets at the end of 2022 as evidence of the need to get up to speed on the alternative asset class.
“Following 2021’s huge crypto performance, many people got cocky, thinking crypto offered an easy road to riches. But 2022 brought everyone back to reality,” Edelman said. “Collapses by Terra/Luna, Celsius, Voyager, BlockFi and others, culminating with the FTX debacle, made everyone realize that this isn’t as easy as they thought, so they need a better understanding of crypto so they can manage the risks and opportunities more effectively.”
He added that the most interesting statistic from last year’s up and down ride is that crypto adoption rose 10% in 2022 despite a 70% drop in prices.
“Now, 22% of U.S. adults own crypto and it’s likely an even higher percentage of RIA clients. This makes it imperative that advisors and their firms learn about this asset class. Because if they can’t or won’t help their clients, their clients will turn to other advisors who will,” he said.
Edelman told Financial Planning that his team anticipated a high level of advisor interest. But what surprised him is the strong amount of interest from those outside of wealth management.
“We’ve discovered that 60% of the people who are enrolled in our certificate course are not advisors. They work in the financial services field. They are executives, managers and back-office personnel of advisory firms, as well as regulators and media,” Edelman said. “We also have had a large number of people from fund companies enroll in our course. In many cases, fund companies are requiring their staff to complete the course, because the firms themselves are trying to figure out what their crypto strategy ought to be, but (are) discovering that no one in the firm has sufficient knowledge about this new asset class.
Because his original course was designed exclusively for advisors, tweaks needed to be made. Edelman said some of the program’s content isn’t of value to financial executives who aren’t client-facing, or to crypto professionals or the public.
“Educating the public is hugely important, and we — the financial services industry and crypto community — have an obligation to teach consumers about this new asset class,” Edelman said. “Over the past two years, according to the FTC, 46,000 Americans lost $1 billion to crypto frauds and scams. This occurred because people have heard the hype but they lack the knowledge they need to protect themselves.”
The announcement comes as Bitcoin thrives amid chaos. Bloomberg reported Monday that turmoil in the banking sector, hotter-than expected inflation data and renewed hopes for a dovish Federal Reserve has pushed the largest digital coin to levels not seen in about nine months.
Topping $28,000 for the first time since June 2022, Bitcoin traded at around $28,200 early Monday. The currency is now up more than 70% since the start of the year, Bloomberg reported. Other tokens have rallied as well, with Ether gaining almost 50% since Dec. 31 and Solana more than doubling.
Crypto markets have regained ground since hedge fund Three Arrows Capital and crypto lender Celsius Network collapsed last summer. The havoc in traditional banking markets, which saw Swiss lender Credit Suisse lurch into a government-mediated takeover by rival UBS on Sunday and several U.S. lenders, including Silicon Valley Bank, fail in past weeks, may be propping up crypto.
Edelman’s council’s expansion is its latest effort to reach more potential students. In June 2022, Flourish and DACFP entered a partnership that gives all RIA clients of Flourish Crypto access to an introductory course specifically designed to help advisors become more fluent about blockchain, bitcoin, ethereum and other digital assets.
Other efforts to bolster digital asset education in wealth management in 2022 included Interaxis and CPE World merging to form a comprehensive platform to teach financial advisors and accountants how to incorporate cryptocurrencies into their practice.
Interaxis began in 2019 as a YouTube channel for certified financial planner Adam Blumberg and financial analyst Ron Dixon to explain the world of blockchains, cryptocurrencies and decentralized finance. As the platform grew, Blumberg closed his RIA to work full time on digital asset education.
And in fall 2022, Envestnet shared its plans to roll out a crypto education program with the assistance of Anthony Pompliano, the founder of Pomp Investments, and cryptocurrency recruitment firm Inflection Points.
Edelman said he welcomes others to create and distribute crypto education, saying that the more such content is available, the faster we’ll get everyone educated.
“But I’d caution those who are interested. It’s challenging to create content that’s interesting as well as informative; challenging to keep it current; challenging to keep it educational and not a veiled sales pitch; challenging to promote it and gain attention; challenging to do all this profitably,” he said. “DACFP has the biggest brand in this space, has the most highly regarded program in the field, and has a huge head start.
“So, while anyone can create a soft drink, it’s hard to compete with Coca-Cola.”