Following the Fake Money
Surveying cryptocurrency portfolio tools: What’s available now and what’s coming next
So you’ve been doing this crypto thing for awhile, right? Based on your most recent Facebook posts, you must be some kind of crypto kingpin.
You’re probably HODLing most of your OG coins in cold storage somewhere: one copy of the laminated paper wallet stored in a safety deposit box at Bank of America (oh, the irony!) and another buried in a fire safe beneath a rock that has no earthly business in a Maine hayfield. You probably also have 6–8 different exchange accounts set up, at least 3 of which are Korean, with a smattering of different altcoins spread throughout them, in order to limit your exposure in case some of those assets were to, you know, just disappear. You’re shrewd like that. And that’s a good thing. This is fundamentally unlike all that stock trading that your dad does due to the (as-of-yet) unregulated nature of these exchanges. And so on. It’s still the wild west.
Assuming the above is true (and apologies for the unnecessary sarcasm), you’re probably spending altogether too much time clicking refresh on altogether too many different websites, when you should be using that time learning how to build something useful on top of the blockchain. Maybe consider setting up some sort of dashboard or portfolio tracking software to help you get a holistic view of your portfolio, and eliminate some of the manic refreshing; a little bit of centralization to help make some sense of this crazy decentralized world we’re living in.
Characteristics of a Good Portfolio Tracker
Fortunately, there are a lot of new services out there aiming to address this problem. So many, in fact, that it’s become a bit difficult to keep track of. Hopefully the embedded list a little further down in this post will help.
But before we take a look at any of these apps in detail, let’s talk a bit about what features one would hope to find in an ideal dashboard. You’ll note that some of these goals conflict directly or indirectly with one another, but I feel like it’s important to get them all out there, so here goes:
- Accessible from both desktop and mobile. The ideal solution could be a paired desktop and mobile app, or a mobile-optimized web app. I want to be able to easily check statuses and receive alerts on the go, but do any heavy data entry from the comfort of my keyboard.
- Full transactional history is important. Don’t just record my positions; allow me to specify when I received a token and how. Was it mined? (cost basis: 0) Did I move it to another wallet? Was it bought? Sold? Did I move it to a wallet or another application? You may be surprised to learn that some tokens actually have utility beyond pure speculation! 😔 Regardless, tracking those unrealized gains and losses is important, both for gauging your own performance but also for tax purposes (more on that later). As we’re learning, transacting in tokens is fundamentally different than trading stocks; it’s far more malleable, exchangeable, and harder to track by design. As far as I know, no tracker has got this quite right yet.
- Bulk import trade history from various exchanges and wallets. Almost every reputable exchange allows you to export a CSV of transactions. Most have some notion of a READ-ONLY API key. If you’re trading with any real frequency, you probably don’t want to be manually keying in every transaction. Make it easy. If this is done well, it should make full transactional history more easily achievable. That probably means correlating trades across imported accounts, and having custom parsers for each exchange and wallet export format (or API endpoint).
- Entering transactions manually (when necessary) shouldn’t be painful. This is generally a big strike against mobile-only solutions. But it needn’t be as painful as it often is. Auto-fill as much as possible based on preferences gleaned from previous activity.
- Secure, anonymous, or at least pseudo-anonymous. Call me paranoid but I don’t like the idea of trusting an unknown third party with information about all my holdings. I’d really love some guarantee of privacy. But, failing that, I’d like to use a service that simply doesn’t identify me by email or name. Assuming you have any serious amount of fake money to your real name, associating your public identity with a portfolio tracker makes you a target if that tracker’s user accounts are ever leaked. For mobile-only trackers, this might all be done entirely in local storage.
- Design matters. There’s a lot we can learn from conventional Level II screens / order books, and the better crypto exchanges have borrowed plentifully from what has come before. There are also plenty of good examples of personal wealth dashboards in the wild (Vanguard, TD Ameritrade, etc). I’d like at least the essentials here: easy-to-grok visual representations of current order books and trade volume, useful candlestick charts, historical comparisons of different token performance over the usual time horizons… But this is also an opportunity to think outside of the box a little bit: how does management of crypto assets differ, and how might that be reflected in the design of a dashboard?
- Quasi-realtime price updates. Though it doesn’t absolutely have to be refreshed in realtime, it sure is a big bonus if it is. Use data provided by the exchanges I’m actually using, and fall back to the more commonly accepted price movement and volume aggregators like CoinMarketCap. Don’t make me refresh another website. The majority of my daily interaction should be with this application.
- Free is a great price, though I certainly don’t mind paying for services that are providing value. The reality here is that the base tracker functionality probably should be provided at a freemium, with paid upgrades to access more professional analysis, reporting, and alerting features (that most users will ultimately need, one way or another, if they’re serious about this…)
- Send me contextual alerts. This is something many power users would pay for. A portfolio tracker should be the tool I configure to alert me to price or volume movements in the crypto assets I’m interested in. A dashboard service should have a better big picture than any single exchange of what my entire portfolio looks like, which means it’s in a great position to pattern match and provide insight and alerts. Even better if it can make suggestions based on account history and my watch lists.
- Offer me tax advice. This is going to be difficult, but incredibly important. US-based customers are already struggling with what, if any, taxes they owe for crypto assets sold in the last 12 months. The new GOP tax bill will complicate matters further. This problem is a big opportunity for a portfolio tracker, as every US-based customer is ultimately going to be forced to figure this out… if not for 2017, certainly for the years ahead of us. Plus, once again, being decoupled from exchanges puts a dashboard vendor in a particularly interesting position to advise cross-portfolio, as individual exchanges are just a piece of the story.
- News and analysis. Mainstream financial news outlets have been providing lightweight portfolio tools for a long time, as a mechanism to get the relevant content they’re producing in front of you (and ultimately sell ads and other products). Let’s do the reverse. You might not log into an exchange every day to execute a trade, unless that’s the world you live in. But you probably look at your dashboard every day. Therefore, it’s a great beachhead from which to bolt on other services: contextual news, columns, new product announcements… expert advice and analysis should be even more valuable. One of the chief differentiators between the products that exist in this space in 18-24 months will be their ability to make suggestions about portfolio health.
Whereas there were only a handful of portfolio trackers for a long time, over the past year there’ve been a number of new options popping up. I’ve tried to compile those that I’ve looked at personally in the list below, along with some of the key features from above that I feel that are important for serious usage.
This list is current as of December 2017, and is hosted on a github gist; if you feel like I’ve improperly categorized something, or you have new services to add, please fork it and send me a pull request!
My favorites in this list fall into two distinct groups. The first group are the modern, mobile-first trackers like Delta and Blockfolio. Delta is easy to use, and easy to look at. It checks most of the important boxes and even has a basic alerts feature. What it’s missing (and Blockfolio is also) is any sort of bulk import feature, which is unfortunately a pretty big deal. Manually adding any real number of trades on the mobile interface is painful, and there isn’t a good way to handle transactions that aren’t simple buy and sell operations.
The second group that deserves mention here are the more featureful web-based systems with bulk import capabilities, like CoinTracking and CryptoCompare. They’re far more thorough, but their interfaces can be a struggle to navigate and they’re missing some of the nice alerting features that you can find in a mobile-optimized application. Still, you could certainly do worse. CoinTracking is the only portfolio tracker that I’m aware of that even tries to address the taxation issue. It’s also the most expensive of the options in the list above.
Many of these trackers support direct API integration with the more popular exchanges. This is GREAT, but can also be dangerous if you’re not paying careful attention. Make sure you set up READ ONLY keys with these services if you choose to use them.
AltPocket and a few other trackers also have extensive sharing features and leaderboards for social investing. Although I can understand the value of crowdsourced portfolio management with respect to services like Instavest, there are a lot of other boxes that need to be checked first, and publicizing your portfolio size might just paint a bit of a target on your back, you high-roller you.
Finally, I should mention that there are also a growing number of all-in-one trading platforms like TabTrader and Coinigy that act as both dashboards for your portfolio and centralized interfaces for managing and executing trades across different exchanges. I haven’t used any of these personally, but I’d love to hear from others who have. With the state of the ecosystem being what it is, I’m unlikely to hand out read/write API keys to relatively unknown third parties (in an unregulated market with a track record for sad stories!) any time soon. But in theory they might be a good idea. Maybe.
If you’re serious about tracking your crypto assets and they’re spread across various wallets and exchanges, you probably want to be tracking them in some sort of dashboard or portfolio tracker.
If a beautiful mobile interface and push notifications are your priority, you don’t mind manual data entry, and you don’t own an unwieldy amount of assets spread across different places, Delta or Blockfolio are good choices. I’m told both of them have desktop apps in development.
If you want to track cost basis and gains for tax reporting purposes, CoinTracking is really the only option I’m aware of that even comes close to professional wealth management tools. Another super flexible option is to roll your own dashboard and reports using the Cryptofinance add-on for Google Sheets. For better or worse, this is what I’m doing at the moment, and it works reasonably well when combined with scripted exports.
Right now there isn’t an obvious frontrunner in the crypto assets dashboard category; none of the options I’ve listed above check all the boxes. But the blockchain and cryptocurrency space is moving at an insanely rapid clip, and as things mature, new use cases proliferate, and more retail money starts pouring in, I expect we’ll see a lot of evolution here. This is just the beginning.
Update Q1 2018
A few new portfolio tools have debuted since this post was written in December. The most notable of those, imo, is CoinTracker.io, which is a solid competitor to CoinTracking with a more modern interface, excellent sync-between-wallets detection, and the ability to produce an IRS Form 8949. Tis the season! Enjoy.