A blockchain is simply a publicly shared digital ledger that records economic transactions. New sets of data records added to a blockchain are called "blocks." Each block has a timestamp and link to the previous block – hence the name "blockchain." Every transaction made to a blockchain is irreversible and verified by the network of computers that have a copy of the ledger. Although everyone can view transactions on the shared ledger, a user must hold a cryptographic key to add a new record. No central entity, such as a bank or government, has control over a blockchain, which prevents data from being compromised.
Blockchain technology is likely to disrupt the financial services industry by reducing the need for intermediaries to verify information and transfer funds. For example, stockbroking firms could execute peer-to-peer trade confirmations, cutting out the need for custodians and clearing houses, which will reduce middleman costs and dramatically expedite transaction times. Global management consulting firm Bain & Co. believes that blockchain technology could save financial institutions between $15 billion and $35 billion a year, according to an article cited by Barron's. (See also: Blockchain Technology to Revolutionize Traditional Banking.)
Investors who want exposure to the early stages of this game-changing technology should consider purchasing one of these three exchange-traded funds (ETFs).
Launched in January 2016, the Amplify Transformational Data Shearing ETF is an actively managed portfolio that invests in global companies that develop and utilize blockchain technology. The fund's top three allocations are Digital Garage, Inc. (OTC: DLGEF) at 6.81%, GMO Internet, Inc. (OTC: GMOYF) at 6.48% and Square, Inc. A (NYSE: SQ) at 5.18%. The ETF's basket contains 52 holdings.
The Amplify Transformational Data Sharing ETF has assets under management (AUM) of $167.83 and charges investors a 0.7% annual management fee. The fund has returned 1.31% over the past three months and -3.77% over the last month as of July 23, 2018. In comparison, bitcoin has returned -14.35% and 26% over the same respective periods. (For more, see: What is the Difference Between Blockchain ETFs and Bitcoin ETFs?)
The Reality Shares Nasdaq NexGen Economy ETF, formed in January 2018, seeks to replicate the returns of the Reality Shares NASDAQ Blockchain Economy Index. The fund does this by investing the majority of its $115.03 million asset pool in securities that make up the benchmarked index. These are companies that develop, research and use blockchain technology. The ETF's portfolio holds 64 stocks, with allocations spread relatively evenly. The fund's top 10 holdings carry a combined weighting of 21.34%. Key holdings include Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (NASDAQ: AMD), Intel Corporation (NASDAQ: INTC) and Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ: MSFT).
The Reality Shares Nasdaq NexGen Economy ETF has an expense ratio of 0.68%, which is above the 0.55% category average. As of July 23, 2018, the ETF has one- and three-month returns of -2.47% and 0.05%, respectively. (See also: How Do Blockchain ETFs Work?)
Also formed in January 2018, the Innovation Shares NextGen Protocol ETF aims to track the performance of the Innovation Labs Blockchain Innovators Index. The ETF achieves this by investing at least 80% of its assets in securities that are constitutes of the underlying index. This index measures the performance of companies that have interests in blockchain technology. The fund’s top four holdings – Visa Inc. Class A (NASDAQ: V), Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN), Microsoft and Intel – account for 27.59% of the portfolio. In total, KOIN holds a basket of 45 stocks.
The Innovation Shares NextGen Protocol ETF has $7.35 million in net assets. The manager charges investors an annual fee of 0.65%, which is comparable with fees of other ETFs in this niche category. KOIN has returned 4% over the past three months and -0.67% over the past month. Category average returns over the same periods are 3.1%, and -2.88%, respectively, as of July 23, 2018. (See also: 3 Small-Cap Blockchain Plays.)