Scott Mlyn | CNBC
Celebrity investor Kevin O’Leary is investing in digital currencies, but he hasn’t done so lightly, telling CNBC that he’d prefer to consult with regulators on this space rather than be a “crypto cowboy.”
O’Leary told CNBC’s “Capital Connection” on Tuesday that he preferred to consult with regulators before investing in cryptocurrency, in order to see “what is possible and what isn’t” in terms of their stance on the space.
“I have zero interest in investing in litigation against the SEC [U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission], that is a very bad idea,” he said, in a discussion around the U.S. regulator’s case with fintech company Ripple.
The SEC’s case against Ripple is centered on its concerns about the fintech firm’s ties to XRP, the world’s seventh-biggest cryptocurrency. The SEC alleged that Ripple and its executives sold $1.3 billion worth of the tokens in an unregistered securities offering.
O’Leary, who is an investor on “Shark Tank” and chairman of O’Shares ETF, said that he preferred to accommodate and comply with regulators “because that’s where the real capital is.”
“I have no interest in being a crypto cowboy and getting anybody unhappy with me because … I have so many assets in the real world that I’ve invested in already that I have to be compliant,” he added.
In terms of investing in digital cash pegged to national currencies, also known as “stablecoins,” O’Leary said he had no interest in holding the digital Russian ruble or Chinese yuan because he didn’t know enough about the country’s blockchain or how they were monitoring ownership of the money.
Instead, O’Leary believed the biggest opportunity for stablecoins remained with a currency tied to the U.S. dollar.
He acknowledged how that may sound “counterintuitive” considering the rise in inflation, as this decreases the buying power of the dollar.
However, O’Leary explained that he had been sitting on a “large amount of cash,” after selling a lot of his commercial property investments over the last couple of years, which would lose buying power because of inflation.
By comparison, O’Leary said that he could make a potential 6% return by buying into the USD Coin, which is the world’s second-largest stablecoin run by digital currency company Circle and is pegged to the U.S. dollar. Although O’Leary clarified that he could currently only invest up to 5% of his cash in USDC.
But he added that there was an opportunity for the U.S. to “lead the charge” with stablecoins.
Crypto as ‘software development’
O’Leary said that he was in United Arab Emirates capital of Abu Dhabi, attending the city’s annual fintech festival, to also speak to the government and regulators to understand more about where the country stands on its rules for blockchain in finance.
He said that he didn’t consider cryptocurrencies, like bitcoin, “in the same way that other people do.”
O’Leary said he viewed it as “software development” and so, when he was looking to invest in the space, he wanted to understand which blockchain platform would “win long term.”
He named Solana, Polygon and HBAR as a few examples.
“I need to invest in all of those, not just one of them because I don’t know who the winner’s going to be,” he explained, adding that he was looking for which markets offered the best engineering talent and policy in the process.
O’Leary said that the U.S. currently didn’t have an exchange-traded fund that held bitcoin because the regulator was “taking its time” on blockchain regulation.
“That’s why I came here, I wanna hear from the regulator what the plan is so that I can be involved in this because I am going to every jurisdiction that is forward thinking about decentralized finance,” he said.
— CNBC’s Ryan Browne contributed to this report.