Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are similar to cryptocurrencies but with key differences. While transactions for both are recorded on blockchain ledgers, NFTs also represent ownership in a digital asset or a real asset—anything from computer-generated media to sports trading cards, physical artwork, and even company shares and real estate.
So should you invest in NFTs? That depends on whether the items they represent are authentic, hold value, and stand to gain from being tokenized.
- NFT investing is helpful for establishing a clear chain of ownership over an asset, but it still includes the possibility of counterfeiting, fraud, and money laundering. The asset tokenized by the NFT may be nonexistent, duplicated, or tainted.
- NFTs representing digital-only items may not have growth potential or sustainable value unless there is consistent demand from collectors.
Pros and Cons of Investing in NFTs
Open to the general public
Convenient digital means of establishing and verifying ownership of any type of asset
Mitigates conflict in ownership claims
Own portions of an asset that may not otherwise be fractionalized
Susceptible to market manipulation
Potential for fraud, scams, and money laundering
Tradeoffs of self-managing security
Doesn't prevent disputes, theft, and infringement
Added investment analysis of underlying asset
NFT Pros Explained
Investors have many reasons to want to buy and sell assets that are tokenized into NFTs. Some advantages include:
- Allowing anyone to invest: NFT markets have broad and global reach, meaning demand is theoretically infinite—an advantage to driving value to an NFT if supply is limited. Investing is accessible to anyone in the world with a working computer, Internet connection, and knowledge of transacting on NFT marketplaces.
- Memorializing portable contracts: NFTs can digitally signify from an app or website any item that benefits from having its ownership documented. Being able to instantly create, verify, and transfer what is effectively an electronic contract disintermediates legal services and reduces time and costs associated with drafting, managing, and retrieving physical contracts.
- Strengthening legal evidence: NFTs are minted and hosted on blockchain technology and compatible wallets. Because the blockchain is a tamper-proof ledger, ownership of an asset is easier to prove and harder to be challenged in a court of law.
- Fractionalizing ownership: Ownership in items can be divided up efficiently through primary markets and resold quickly through secondary markets among hundreds, thousands, or millions of investors, improving liquidity to markets for those goods and opening up an alternative avenue for streamlined crowdfunding. Raising and distributing equity has been traditionally relegated to fragmented communications and administrative paperwork without central visibility. NFTs used for equity financing may be classified as securities.
NFT Cons Explained
Investing in tokenized assets through NFTs can also come with disadvantages including:
- Lack of market regulation: NFTs are an unregulated asset class with little to no investment laws and consumer protections in most jurisdictions. Market manipulation tends to run rampant and fly under the radar, with misinformation and speculative hype contributing to inflated prices, volatility, and pump-and-dump schemes.
- Fraud, scams, and crime: Anyone can make claims about an NFT, execute an NFT transaction, and set up an NFT marketplace online, allowing criminals to prey on unsuspecting buyers and sellers with ease. The remote nature of NFT transactions makes it difficult to vet physical goods that are purported to be the tokenized asset and to maintain compliance with anti-money laundering (AML) laws. Some goods, like fine art and luxury goods, are already difficult to determine if they're genuine and originated from a compliant source with professional expertise. Supporting documentation corroborating the asset's provenance, the counterparty's identity, and the marketplace's legitimacy may be needed to ensure the transaction isn't for a forged replica, a hoax, or illicit commerce.
- Limited legal rights: NFTs can document ownership and provide substantiating evidence in a dispute, but they can't stop the tokenized asset from being contested and pirated altogether. NFTs don't waive legal claims and grant patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Third-parties can choose to litigate ownership, duplicate the asset, and sell the replica. Electronic images and videos, which can be copied, pasted, and saved with a few clicks of a button, are particularly vulnerable to intellectual property theft and infringement.
- Securing the NFT: NFT security is largely self-managed, unless the NFT was purchased through an external party. Properly storing, unlocking, and invoking public and private keys to an NFT wallet is a complicated and time-consuming process with room for error that could potentially result in losing access to hackers and technical glitches. NFTs also don't offer privacy assurances due to the public transparency of blockchain transactions and are a common vector to introduce malware.
- Weighing a dual investment structure: The value of the NFT is inextricably intertwined with and maintains certain distinctions from the value of the underlying asset. Investment fundamentals for the underlying asset and the economic characteristics of the NFT will need to be taken into consideration in parallel and in combination. Intangible, digital-only goods tend to have less intrinsic value than tangible, hard-asset items.
Why Do People Invest in NFTs?
Investors buy and sell NFTs for many reasons. Some are interested in owning the underlying asset. Others may perceive value in tokenizing the asset into an NFT or learning more about cryptocurrency and blockchain technology.
How Can I Invest in NFTs?
Tokenized assets can be purchased publicly through NFT marketplaces and some cryptocurrency exchanges, and privately through brokers and dealers, including auction houses Sotheby's and Christie's. Many online NFT marketplaces, such as OpenSea, Rarible, NBA Top Shot, Super Rare, and Nifty Gateway, require owning a specific blockchain's native token to buy an NFT—usually in ether, the cryptocurrency of the Ethereum platform.
What Assets Can Be Tokenized Into NFTs?
Digital assets that have been turned into NFTs include photos, drawings, sketches, GIFs, videos, songs, and video game collectibles. Physical assets include paintings, sculptures, wine, sports memorabilia, cars, planes, tickets, reservations, houses, buildings, and companies.
The Bottom Line
Investing in NFTs has just as many benefits as downsides. In general, NFTs should be purchased if the tokenized asset has an established market and interests you—otherwise, it's unlikely the NFT will experience price appreciation and you will be happy owning it following your purchase.