Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, also known as “the Winklevoss Twins,” or simply “Winklevii,” have stepped out of Facebook’s shadow and back into the public eye as leading advocates for the consumer adoption and regulatory approval of the Bitcoin.
The twins have moved to create and operate an Exchange-traded Fund (ETF) that's backed by the Bitcoin currency itself. The impetus behind their bold plan, which is still in its early stages, appears to be growth of the digital platform's liquidity and the extension of its shelf-life on the global marketplace.
Although the Winklevoss' chances of receiving approval, and credibility, from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) are meager, the public attention garnered from their attempt could have far-reaching implications for Bitcoin, and for e-commerce in general.
OK. What is a "Bitcoin," and why is it a risky investment for the twins?
The Bitcoin is an enigmatic digital currency that's widely thought to have been founded by an anonymous hacker, or group of hackers, in 2009.
The “cryptocurrency” was created to be traded online, and can currently pass from one virtual wallet to another without circulating through a central bank or financial institution. There are specific mathematical formulas for creating Bitcoins, and for transferring them from stakeholder to stakeholder. There is a limit to the number of Bitcoins that can be created, which adds to the currency’s lack of mainstream appeal among professional and recreational investors.
The Bitcoin’s value has fluctuated over the past few years, thanks to stakeholders' inherent skepticism about the market’s security and sustainability, as well as prospective investors' reluctance to devote funds to an untested exchange-traded product that was initially established to avoid financial regulation.
Notably, the digital infrastructure supporting the investment and security of the Bitcoin industry remains largely unproven, including mechanisms developed by staff and associates of the Winklevoss twins, among others, that cope with market volatility.
Will investors and the general market take the Winklevoss twins seriously?
In recent months, the Winklevii’s decision to invest in and champion the Bitcoin as a viable, publicly traded online currency has been questioned by experts and press representing all corners of the global investment and financial industry. Many people view the former Olympic rowers' move as an obscure maneuver by individuals with few investment credentials and a lot of personal wealth, a truly head-scratching move from the land of pseudo-celebrity.
In fact, the twins have amassed close to $1 million in Bitcoin assets between last year's announcement that they would invest in the virtual currency, and the recent filing of a lengthy proposal to publicly list “Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust,” – an exchange-traded fund ambitiously valued at $20 million – with the SEC. Their sizable investment amounts to roughly 92,000 units, or 1% of the total Bitcoin market, which is valued at around $1 billion. According to the SEC filing, the twins’ new company, Math-Based Asset Services, is set to operate a new Bitcoin fund that's currently pending approval with the SEC, and promising to invest in one Bitcoin per every five it publicly trades.
Public skepticism of the Winklevii’s credentials in recent weeks has been driven by the sharp fluctuation of the Bitcoin market, thanks to uncertainty and risk surrounding the formula-based currency. The fact that Bitcoins currently have the ability to flow between investors without circulating through central banks or financial regulators also raises questions about how receptive the SEC and other regulators will be toward legitimizing the currency.
In order to address these concerns, the Twins included an 18-page document in their SEC proposal that explains the risks, and proposes solutions to many of the known problems that could plague the Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust – and the general Bitcoin market – illustrating the Winklevii’s serious approach to their ambitious endeavor.
Successful or not, Bitcoin’s legacy will prominently feature the Winklevoss name
The Winklevoss’ speculative investment in Bitcoin is the financial equivalent of a "shot in the dark," and, if their proposal clears the SEC, their goal of spearheading the market will be one step closer to realization. Whether Bitcoins will become widely used, or join the Sacagawea gold dollar in currency purgatory, remains to be seen, even as the Winklevoss name attempts is becoming permanently affixed to the potentially revolutionary product.