Feeling Custodial Joy

I’ve used the word ‘schadenfreude’ at least three times over the years because I think it’s funny and all too real. It’s a German word that refers to the pleasure that we feel when witnessing someone else’s misfortune.

I’m not proud of the feeling, but it came up recently with respect to the FTX crypto-exchange blowup and the general crypto-related losses of late.

Although I’ve never really understood the appeal of crypto as an investment, I was jealous that people were making a ton of money on it, and I wasn’t. In fact, I made a small bet on Bitcoin, lost money, and cashed it out shortly thereafter.

Now that crypto seems to be imploding, I have the not-to-pretty feeling of schadenfreude.

Over the weekend, I read that schadenfreude has a counterpart, the feeling of joy we get from someone else’s good fortune. I’m proud to admit I’ve felt that many times, but didn’t know the Germans had an equally silly-sounding word for it: freudenfreude.

Trying to be a better person, I thought about freudenfreude in the context of the crypto mess, and although I may be stretching it a little, I feel joy that our primary custodian isn’t involved in the crypto mess.

Okay, maybe not joy, but real relief that Schwab didn’t enter that business. I assume Schwab felt real pressure to do it a year ago from upstarts like Robinhood but also from stalwarts like Fidelity.

I’m not at all worried about Fidelity, but it’s a reminder that you want your custodian, the folks who hold your cash and securities, to be safe.

Sure, I like free commissions on equity and ETF trades as much as the next guy, but what I really want is for my money to be segregated from other clients, not used in speculative bets by the custodian, and to be able to make withdrawals when I want.

That seems kind of obvious, but it appears that FTX was taking client money and wildly speculating with it, and other firms besides FTX have suspended withdrawals. While there are crypto firms that haven’t announced problems, I’d be sweating nervously that the so-far-uninfected were on the verge of an announcement.

I don’t know why Schwab didn’t get into crypto, but I suspect they didn’t feel comfortable with the lack of regulations, oversight, and now-obvious counterparty risk. They may offer crypto at some point, but when I asked recently, they pointed me to some of the ETFs that are out there (that we are also glad we didn’t buy).

I feel like an old fogey saying it, but it doesn’t seem that long ago when Lehman Brothers failed and when Bear Stearns was forced to sell to JP Morgan, and Merrill Lynch sold themselves to Bank of America.

None of the Bear or Merrill clients had any issues that I’m aware of, and I don’t really know what happened to the Lehman clients. But that’s partly my point: our primary custodian, Schwab, wasn’t invested in the risky stuff that blew up and got those other firms into trouble, so I didn’t have to worry about it.

Schwab summarizes some of its client protections on their website, and you can click here to read more.

I don’t mean to be pollyannaish about Schwab, but I do feel joy that I don’t have to talk to anyone about their account being frozen, missing money, or anything like that.

Freudenfreude: I feel it!