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What Is Bitcoin ETF? All You Need to Know about Bitcoin ETF

Discover what a Bitcoin ETF is, including its definition, workings, history, types, pros, cons, and a step-by-step investing guide in this article.
bitcoin etf

Bitcoin ETFs are gaining popularity among investors, especially after the SEC approved 11 spot Bitcoin ETFs. This innovative financial product provides easier access to Bitcoin investment by leveraging the security and regulatory frameworks of stock markets while mitigating some of the risks and complexities associated with direct cryptocurrency ownership.

In this article, we will provide an overview of Bitcoin ETFs, including their definition, and functionality, as well as the benefits and risks associated with investing in them.

Key Takeaways

  • A Bitcoin ETF (Exchange-Traded Fund) is a financial product that tracks Bitcoin’s market value, allowing investors to participate in the cryptocurrency market without owning Bitcoin directly.
  • There are 2 main types of ETFs: spot and futures.
  • Bitcoin ETFs provide easy market access, regulatory security, portfolio diversification, and tax efficiency compared to direct Bitcoin transactions.
  • Bitcoin ETFs face high market risk, higher costs, potential tracking errors, and a lack of actual Bitcoin ownership.

What is a Bitcoin ETF?

A Bitcoin ETF, or Exchange-Traded Fund, is a type of financial instrument that tracks the market value of Bitcoin, enabling investors to engage in the cryptocurrency market without the complexities of speculating on Bitcoin itself.

Unlike acquiring Bitcoin directly, where investors require a digital wallet and face potential security risks, a Bitcoin ETF provides a more conventional investment vehicle. This fund encapsulates the performance of Bitcoin while being traded on major stock exchanges such as the NYSE or NASDAQ, making it accessible through standard brokerage accounts.

Bitcoin ETFs are deemed a critical advancement for integrating cryptocurrency into the traditional investment sphere. They present numerous benefits, such as minimized custodial risks and the conventional nature of investment practices for both individual and institutional investors.

Furthermore, by utilizing established investment vehicles, Bitcoin ETFs offer a gateway for investors intrigued by blockchain technology yet cautious of direct involvement with the unpredictable crypto market.

How Does a Bitcoin ETF Work?

The operation of a Bitcoin ETF is centered on the principle of monitoring Bitcoin’s market price, either directly or via proxy methods. Below are the two principal methods through which Bitcoin ETFs function:

Direct and Indirect Bitcoin Tracking

Direct Tracking: Certain Bitcoin ETFs opt to hold tangible Bitcoin. The ETF acquires actual Bitcoin, and the valuation of its shares is directly linked to the live market price of Bitcoin, adjusted for operational expenses and management fees.

Indirect Tracking: Conversely, some ETFs might deploy derivatives like futures contracts to mirror the performance of Bitcoin. These options do not involve holding Bitcoin directly but instead engage in contracts that forecast the future market prices of Bitcoin.

The Role of ETF Providers

ETF providers play a pivotal role in administering the fund’s assets and certifying that the ETF’s performance faithfully mirrors the price fluctuations of Bitcoin. This requires the secure storage and occasional insurance of physical Bitcoin when held directly. In scenarios involving derivatives, it necessitates advanced financial strategies to minimize risks and guarantee congruence with Bitcoin’s market value.

History of Bitcoin ETF Proposals

The history of Bitcoin ETF proposals is characterized by numerous submissions and denials by regulatory authorities such as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The narrative began around 2013 when the Winklevoss twins proposed the initial plans for a Bitcoin ETF.

Key Milestones in Bitcoin ETF History

2013: The beginning

The narrative was initiated in 2013 when Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, pioneers in Bitcoin investing and founders of the cryptocurrency platform Gemini, lodged the inaugural Bitcoin ETF application.[1] This represented a pivotal advancement toward incorporating Bitcoin into the conventional financial markets.

2016 – 2018: The efforts of the Winklevoss twins

In response to preliminary feedback from the SEC, the Winklevoss twins revised their proposal in 2016.[2] Concurrently, Grayscale, recognized for its Bitcoin Trust, endeavored to transform this trust into an ETF, signifying escalating interest from financial entities in cryptocurrency-based ETFs.

The SEC declined the Winklevoss application in 2017, citing concerns over market maturity and potential manipulation.[3] Their subsequent attempt in 2018 was also rejected, mirroring the regulatory apprehension concerning cryptocurrency ETFs.[4]

2020-2023: Incremental progress

By 2020, Grayscale’s Bitcoin Trust had achieved the status of an SEC-reporting entity, denoting enhanced transparency and reporting standards.[5] In 2021, despite the SEC’s refusal to endorse any spot Bitcoin ETFs, it approved the debut of the first U.S.-listed futures-based Bitcoin ETF, marking a partial victory toward the realization of cryptocurrency ETFs.[6]

Following multiple rejections of spot ETF applications in 2022, Grayscale initiated a lawsuit against the SEC.[7] This legal dispute underscored the ongoing contention between regulatory bodies and advocates of cryptocurrency ETFs.

Meanwhile, in 2023, prominent financial players like ARK Investments and BlackRock submitted their own Bitcoin ETF proposals, and Europe witnessed the launch of its first spot Bitcoin ETF, signaling a positive shift in the international regulatory environment.[8]

The Current State of Bitcoin ETFs

As of now, numerous Bitcoin futures ETFs have been authorized by the SEC in January 2024. Specifically, the SEC sanctioned 11 proposals from issuers including BlackRock, Fidelity, and VanEck to launch Bitcoin ETFs.[9]

Some approved Bitcoin ETFs include Grayscale Bitcoin Trust, Bitwise Bitcoin ETF, Hashdex Bitcoin ETF, iShares Bitcoin Trust, Valkyrie Bitcoin Fund, ARK 21Shares Bitcoin ETF, Invesco Galaxy Bitcoin ETF, VanEck Bitcoin Trust, WisdomTree Bitcoin Fund, Fidelity Wise Origin Bitcoin Fund, and Franklin Bitcoin ETF.

What Are the Types of Bitcoin ETF?

Bitcoin ETFs are available in various forms, each crafted to meet diverse investor needs and risk tolerances. Comprehending these types is vital for anyone considering an investment in Bitcoin ETFs.

Spot Bitcoin ETF

A Spot Bitcoin ETF is designed to monitor the current, or “spot”, market price of Bitcoin. This type of ETF acquires actual Bitcoin, securing it and anchoring its value directly to the real-time price of Bitcoin. The distinctive feature of a spot Bitcoin ETF is its reflection of the live market dynamics of Bitcoin, making it appealing for those seeking direct engagement with the daily price movements of Bitcoin.

Futures Bitcoin ETFs

Futures Bitcoin ETFs do not directly own Bitcoin. Instead, they invest in Bitcoin futures contracts, agreements to buy or sell Bitcoin on a future date at a set price. This arrangement enables the ETF to conjecture on the price of Bitcoin without possessing the cryptocurrency. Futures ETFs are particularly attractive to investors aiming to hedge other investments or access Bitcoin within a regulated trading environment.

What’s the Difference Between Spot Bitcoin ETFs and Future Bitcoin ETFs?

Understanding the distinctions between spot Bitcoin ETFs and futures Bitcoin ETFs is crucial for investors to tailor their investment strategies to their financial objectives and risk profiles.


Spot Bitcoin ETFs directly mirror the current price of Bitcoin. The value of these ETFs fluctuates in tandem with the real-time price of Bitcoin.

In contrast, Futures Bitcoin ETFs are predicated on the anticipated future prices of Bitcoin. These ETFs might not always align with the current Bitcoin price due to elements like futures contract expiration and rollover costs.

Market Impact

Spot Bitcoin ETFs provide a direct reflection of Bitcoin’s market price, simplifying and potentially reducing risk for investors desiring direct exposure to Bitcoin’s price movements.

Futures Bitcoin ETFs introduce speculative elements, as they are contingent on future market conditions. They might experience contango or backwardation, affecting the correlation between the ETF’s performance and actual Bitcoin price movements.

Legal Regulations

Spot Bitcoin ETFs in the U.S. have encountered significant regulatory barriers due to direct ownership of a highly volatile asset, raising concerns about investor protection and market manipulation.

Futures Bitcoin ETFs are generally more readily accepted by regulatory authorities such as the SEC. This acceptance is partly because Bitcoin futures are traded on well-regulated commodity exchanges, which adhere to strict regulatory standards, thus offering a level of financial oversight that can instill confidence in investors.

Pros and Cons of Investing in Bitcoin ETFs

Investing in Bitcoin ETFs presents a distinct array of advantages and challenges that investors must evaluate before engaging with this innovative financial product.


  • Accessibility: Bitcoin ETFs provide investors with the opportunity to participate in the Bitcoin market without the intricacies of direct cryptocurrency transactions, such as establishing wallets and managing private keys.
  • Regulatory Oversight: As these funds are traded on established stock exchanges and are managed by reputable investment firms, they offer an enhanced layer of regulatory oversight, providing a sense of security for investors.
  • Diversification: For traditional investment portfolios lacking cryptocurrency exposure, Bitcoin ETFs serve as a method to diversify holdings, potentially mitigating risk with the inclusion of a non-correlated asset class.
  • Tax Efficiency: Engaging in ETF transactions often results in more favorable tax implications compared to direct cryptocurrency trading, which is considered a taxable event with each transaction.


  • Market Risk: The value of Bitcoin is notably volatile. Although this volatility offers the potential for substantial returns, it also accompanies a heightened risk of notable losses.
  • Costs: Bitcoin ETFs are subject to management fees and other expenses, which can diminish potential profits. These fees are generally higher than those associated with more traditional ETFs.
  • Tracking Error: There exists a possibility for discrepancies between the performance of the ETF and the actual price movements of Bitcoin, particularly in futures-based ETFs due to factors like rollover costs and contango.
  • Lack of Ownership: Investors in Bitcoin ETFs do not possess the underlying Bitcoin, which means they lack voting rights and the capability to influence decisions directly affecting Bitcoin’s value.

Why Are Investors Interested in Bitcoin ETF?

The increasing interest in Bitcoin ETFs can be attributed to several fundamental reasons:

  • Simplicity and Familiarity: ETFs are a familiar investment vehicle. Investors can purchase ETF shares like buying stocks, using a brokerage account, which simplifies the process.
  • Reduced Entry Barriers: Bitcoin ETFs lower the entry barriers, enabling individuals and institutions to partake in Bitcoin’s potential growth without the technical and security challenges of direct cryptocurrency ownership.
  • Institutional Involvement: The presence of Bitcoin ETFs allows institutional investors, who might be restricted from holding actual cryptocurrencies, to invest in the digital currency arena.
  • Hedging Options: Futures-based Bitcoin ETFs provide sophisticated trading tools, including options for hedging against other asset classes, appealing to professional traders and large-scale investors.

Will Bitcoin ETFs Affect the Price of Bitcoin?

The launch of Bitcoin ETFs is anticipated to significantly influence the market value of Bitcoin:

  • Increased Demand: As Bitcoin ETFs simplify the process for a wider audience to invest in Bitcoin, heightened demand from both retail and institutional investors is expected to escalate Bitcoin’s price.
  • Market Legitimacy: The endorsement of Bitcoin ETFs by regulatory authorities can bolster the credibility of Bitcoin as an investment option, potentially fostering wider adoption and elevated prices.
  • Price Volatility: While heightened demand might amplify prices, it could also spur increased volatility if substantial volumes of ETF shares are rapidly transacted.
  • Indirect Influence: Since spot Bitcoin ETFs hold actual Bitcoin, escalated purchasing of these ETFs can directly boost demand for Bitcoin itself, impacting its market price. In contrast, futures-based ETFs may not exert the same direct influence, as they do not entail outright purchases of Bitcoin.

How to Invest in Bitcoin ETFs?

Investing in Bitcoin ETFs can be a seamless experience for those accustomed to traditional stock market dealings. Follow this step-by-step guide to begin:

Step 1: Choose a Brokerage

Select a brokerage that offers the type of Bitcoin ETF you are interested in. Most major brokerages provide access to ETFs listed on conventional exchanges. You can refer to our suggestions on where to buy Bitcoin ETFs.

Step 2: Research

Before investing, examine the available Bitcoin ETFs. Investigate their management teams, fee structures, and historical performance. Also, assess the type of ETF—whether it’s spot-based, physically-backed, or futures-based—as each type presents unique exposures and risks.

Step 3: Open an Account

If you don’t already possess a brokerage account, you will need to establish one. This usually requires submitting some personal information and undergoing identity verification procedures.

Step 4: Fund Your Account

Deposit funds into your brokerage account, which may be accomplished through bank transfer, credit card, or other means, depending on the brokerage.

Step 5: Purchase Shares

Once your account is funded, purchase shares of the Bitcoin ETF as you would buy regular stocks. Base the number of shares on your budget and risk tolerance. You can refer to our list of the best Bitcoin ETFs to gain more investment knowledge.

Step 6: Monitor Your Investment

Regularly monitor your investment, especially given the volatile nature of Bitcoin. Set up alerts for significant price fluctuations and remain informed about developments in the cryptocurrency and ETF sectors.

Step 7: Consider Diversification

While investing in Bitcoin ETFs, maintain a diversified investment portfolio to mitigate risks linked with the volatility of Bitcoin.

What Is the Future of Bitcoin ETFs?

The future of Bitcoin ETFs appears bright yet is fraught with regulatory, market, and technological challenges:

  • Regulatory: The most significant factor shaping the future of Bitcoin ETFs is the regulatory framework. Positive strides, such as the authorization of Bitcoin futures ETFs, indicate a movement toward broader acceptance. However, the regulatory landscape remains dynamic and uncertain.
  • Technological: Enhancements in blockchain technology and security protocols may diminish the risks linked to Bitcoin ETFs, potentially making them more appealing to risk-averse investors.
  • Market: As the legitimacy and potential of Bitcoin as an investment are increasingly recognized by both individual investors and institutions, the demand for Bitcoin ETFs is expected to rise, potentially spurring the development of a more diverse range of ETF products.
  • Global Trends: The ongoing digital transformation of finance and the proliferation of decentralized financial products could boost the relevance and allure of Bitcoin ETFs.

The Bottom Line

Bitcoin ETFs signify a notable advancement in the investment landscape, offering a structured, regulated avenue for investors to access Bitcoin. They simplify some of the complexities and hazards associated with direct cryptocurrency engagements but still embody inherent risks due to Bitcoin’s volatility.

For those contemplating Bitcoin ETFs, it is crucial to conduct exhaustive research, uphold a balanced investment strategy, and keep abreast of regulatory and market shifts. As the market evolves, Bitcoin ETFs could assume an increasingly pivotal role in the expansive investment realm, potentially fostering greater stability and mainstream acceptance of Bitcoin as a significant asset.


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