Photo: AP

With the cryptocurrency market cap now estimated to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars and a sort of familiar frenzy kicking into overdrive, here’s another reminder that widespread adoption by the U.S. public has not yet materialized.

A September poll conducted by student loan refinancing market LendEDU found that 78.6 percent of Americans were aware of Bitcoin, the most famous cryptocurrency—and up to 39.6 percent were open to “the idea of using Bitcoin for transactions and purchases.” But a poll released by LendEDU on Tuesday suggests that beyond having heard about Bitcoin in the news, the vast majority of Americans have so far declined to learn more than the bare minimum.

LendEDU’s new 1,000-respondent online poll found that just 31.6 percent were aware of Ethereum, a newer cryptocurrency which has exploded in scale to the second-largest market position in recent years. Just 18.2 percent said they planned to invest in Ether tokens. Even fewer had heard or planned to invest in Ripple, the third-largest cryptocurrency.

Almost exactly three-quarters of respondents said they had never heard of initial coin offerings, a complicated and almost completely unregulated form of investment vehicle in which crypto-backed companies sell stakes in “new” cryptocurrencies in lieu of traditional stocks. Just 15.1 percent said they planned to invest in an ICO.

ICOs have boomed this year, with billions of dollars flooding into the sector despite warnings from various authorities—as well as notorious Wall Street scammer Jordan Belfort—many of the companies involved could be pump-and-dump schemes. There are hints of a possible crackdown by the Securities and Exchange Commission in the future, though U.S. regulators don’t have a great track record.

Advertisement

ICOs’ relative obscurity may be both a curse and a blessing. It could limit the fallout of any possible implosion in the cryptocurrency markets, but people who haven’t been adequately informed of the risks might also wander into bad investments.

Taken together, the polls also suggest that regardless of the ongoing crypto boom, much of the public is staying away from the rampant speculation. It’s hard not to envy them, especially given how much resemblance the typical blockchain business pitch has to a time-share promotion. But it’s also a reminder that if trends continue, a crash could hit the larger economy with possibly serious consequences—and for many people it will seem like it came out of nowhere.

Of course, it’s also possible that the bubble will never pop and the 15.1 percent who plan to get into ICOs will be the billionaire libertarian overlords of our future, in which case...

[Forbes/LendEDU]