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Why Americans haven't been convinced on cryptocurrency

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

And I'm Leila Fadel. A recent Pew Research survey found that despite a high-profile ad blitz, just 16% of Americans say they've invested in, traded or used cryptocurrency. Among those who invested, nearly half say they did worse than they expected. The crypto market has rebounded from a, quote, "crypto winter" - basically, a bear market - up from a low of $100 billion to about $1 trillion now. But why have some people invested and others have not? Joining us is Cleve Mesidor. She's the executive director of the nonprofit Blockchain Foundation and author of "THE CLEVOLUTION: My Quest For Justice In Politics & Crypto." Good morning.

CLEVE MESIDOR: Good morning. Thank you for having me on.

FADEL: Thank you so much for being here. So 16% of American adults say they've invested, traded or used crypto. What's keeping Americans from investing more in cryptocurrency?

MESIDOR: Well, let's face it. If the traditional financial system has worked for you, if you've benefited from traditional markets, you are probably cool to crypto. That's why we've seen Black and Latino communities lead adoption. But the blitz that occurred, right - the Super Bowl ads, all of the media - it happened around the time that a recession was looming. Traditional markets were going into a bear market. So I think it's just timing. I think, you know, every American right now, regardless of what their portfolio includes, their portfolio does not look good. They're not happy. So it's not crypto. Crypto is not happening in isolation.

FADEL: Well, let's talk about what you just mentioned. You said if you're happy with traditional investments, you're not going to want it to go towards crypto. And you mention this outsized number of Latino, Black adults, Asian adults that are investing. Why do you think that is? Why are these communities moving quicker than white communities?

MESIDOR: Yes, because those who have been traditionally locked out of the traditional financial system - and we're talking beyond the unbanked, right? We're talking about Black and Latino professionals, Black and Latino businesses...

FADEL: Right.

MESIDOR: ...You know, Black and Latino, Asian nonprofits, right? Those who have been locked out all along the spectrum - I'm a Gen Xer. I'm a middle-class professional. Wealth managers do not treat me the same way. When you look at the PPP loan program that was supposed to be for minority businesses, it primarily went to wealthy businesses and hedge funds. So a large segment of the American population, regardless of socioeconomic status, have been left out of traditional financial systems and also have been operating in an alternative financial system. We saw fintechs grow because companies recognize there were people operating outside of traditional banks. Cryptocurrency is just the next iteration of that.

FADEL: I mean, the perception is, is that crypto is much more volatile than traditional markets. Is that the case?

MESIDOR: Again, depending on your relationship with money, depending on your relationship with traditional finance. As a Black woman who has a master's degree, who's middle class, the traditional financial markets is riskier to me than cryptocurrency is. I have never been able to fully participate. So it depends on your vantage point. That's why you see Black, Latino, Asian communities are leading adoption. And that's not just in the U.S., that's happening abroad in Latin America and the continent of Africa and India. Those who have been locked out globally are gravitating towards this new strategy, this new approach, because it looks a lot like the ways we've operated alternatively, DeFi - you know, decentralized, autonomous organization. You're going to continue to see communities of color lead adoption of cryptocurrency.

FADEL: Cleve Mesidor is the executive director of the nonprofit Blockchain Foundation. Thank you so much for your time.

MESIDOR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.