If you’ve ever felt like introducing some Vegas-style odds into your retirement plan, you’re finally in luck.
Last week, Fidelity Investments announced that it would allow investors to put part of their retirement savings into bitcoin through a “Digital Assets Account.” A few days later, the U.S. Labor Department voiced “grave concerns” about the plan, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.
Now, Senators Tina Smith and Elizabeth Warren, who has long been a crypto skeptic, are getting in on the action. The politicians penned a letter, released by the WSJ, to the CEO of Fidelity Investments questioning the “appropriateness of [the] company’s decision” to let people plop their life savings in willy nilly fashion into cryptocurrency directly through their employer-sponsored retirement funds. The senators have requested that Fidelity answer multiple questions about their digital assets plan before May 18.
Fidelity is the biggest single retirement plan provider in the U.S., reaching many people through their employer. As of 2020, the company controlled more than a third of the 401(k) market with $2.4 trillion in assets, according to the research firm Cerulli Associates, as reported by the New York Times. Fidelity works with more than 22,000 employers and 32 million individual participants, according to its own website.
Under the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act, “fiduciaries must act solely in the financial interests of plan participants and adhere to an exacting standard of professional care,” wrote the Labor Department in a March statement pre-empting Fidelity’s announcement. Companies that fail to meet those requirements “are personally liable for any losses to the plan resulting from that breach” crypto investments included,” the department went on to clarify.
In that same March statement, the DOL said the Employee Benefits Security Administration would be conducting an investigation into plans that offer crypto investment. They cited the speculative nature, vulnerability to theft, and notorious volatility of crypto, as well as the misleading hype surrounding the unregulated currency in their notice.
Those same points were strongly echoed in Wednesday’s Warren and Smith letter.
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. Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency your company has deemed sound enough for your customers’ retirement savings accounts, has a particularly volatile history. After reaching a high of nearly $69,000 last November, the value of Bitcoin dropped down to $33,000 just over two months later. Indeed, Bitcoin’s value has dropped as much as 30% in a single day.
Note: As of writing this, Bitcoin’s value had fallen more than 7% today alone.
In addition to risk concerns, Warren and Smith also pointed out a potential conflict of interest behind Fidelity’s digital assets announcement. The company began lucratively mining ether and bitcoin in 2017, and soon after added a Coinbase link to customers’ account pages. “Now, Fidelity has become ‘the first to offer employers exposure to Bitcoin for the core lineup of 401(k)s.’ Despite a lack of demand for this option – only 2% of employers expressed interest in adding cryptocurrency to their 401(k) menu,” said the senators’ letter.
In an e-mailed statement to Gizmodo, a Fidelity spokesperson said, “consistent with our ongoing dialogue with regulators and policymakers, we will respond directly.” The company also directed Gizmodo to their April 12 letter responding to the Department of Labor.
Update 5/6/2022, 8:41 a.m. ET: This post has been updated with comment from Fidelity Investments.