Alternative Investments: What Are They? Definition and Illustrations

A financial asset that does not fit into one of the traditional investment categories is called an alternative investment. Traditional categories consist of cash, bonds, and stocks. Venture capital and private equity, hedge funds, managed futures, art and antiques, commodities, and derivatives contracts are examples of alternative investments. Another common classification for real estate is alternative investments.

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Comprehending Alternative Investments

Due to its complexity, lack of regulation, and level of risk, institutional investors and high-net-worth individuals own the majority of alternative investment assets. Particularly when contrasted with mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs), many alternative investments have high minimum investments and fee structures. Additionally, there are fewer opportunities for these investments to market to potential investors and release performance data that can be verified. Due to lesser turnover, alternative assets usually have lower transaction costs than traditional assets, notwithstanding the possibility of high starting minimums and upfront investment fees.

Comparing alternative assets to their traditional equivalents, the majority are somewhat illiquid. For instance, due to a restricted number of purchasers, investors are likely to find it far more difficult to sell an 80-year-old bottle of wine than 1,000 shares of Apple Inc. Because alternative investments’ assets and the transactions that involve them are frequently uncommon, investors may find it difficult to even value them. For instance, because only 11 of these coins are known to exist and only one may be lawfully acquired, a seller of a 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle $20 gold coin could find it challenging to determine its worth.

Alternative Investment Types


Investing in real estate might involve purchasing tangible assets or securities with a property component. Additionally, it might involve making investments in real estate mutual funds, REITs, and crowdfunding platforms. Investors seek operational income as a possible source of continuous, steady cash flow in addition to the capital appreciation of tangible assets.

Goods and Services

Raw materials like gold, silver, oil, and agricultural items are called commodities. Because of their fundamental qualities, investors may invest in these physical items that have real-world applications and frequently endless demand. For instance, due to its widespread use and reputation as a store of value, gold is seen to have a more stable price.


Farmland is an alternate investment option that combines real estate and commodities. Farm owners may enjoy continuous cash profits in addition to the advantages of owning actual, physical property, if their activities and commodity sales are profitable.

Collectibles and Art

Art, sports memorabilia, entertainment memorabilia, and other collectibles can serve as alternative investments for those who want to combine their finances with a pastime. These objects could be valuable historically or in the future when connected parties—such as the artist, the linked athlete, or the affiliated movie star—become more notable.

Digital Money

Since cryptocurrencies are a new kind of digital currency that falls outside the conventional stock and bond market, they are viewed as alternative investments. Although some would argue that cryptocurrencies don’t provide a robust hedge against other risky investments, they might offer capital growth or passive income in the form of incentives for staking.

Private equity and venture capital

Venture capital and private equity are essentially a sophisticated subset of stock investments, blurring the boundaries between them as alternative investments. Investors may look for other ways to invest in start-ups or private businesses rather than exchanging shares of publicly traded corporations on an open market.

Inter-Peer Financing

Investing in peer-to-peer lending is lending money to people or companies using websites that match investors and borrowers. Although peer-to-peer lending occurs on more private marketplaces and frequently involves dealing with riskier clientele, it functions very similarly to bond investment. Higher returns are possible, but not guaranteed.

Alternative Investment Regulation

Due to a lack of restrictions, alternative investments are vulnerable to fraud and investment scams even when they don’t include rare commodities like coins or paintings.

Compared to traditional investments, alternative investments may fall under a less defined legal framework. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act does apply to them, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) may investigate their operations. They are often exempt from SEC registration requirements, nevertheless. As a result, unlike mutual funds and exchange-traded funds, they are not subject to SEC oversight or regulation.

For this reason, while thinking about alternative investments, investors must do a thorough due research. Certain alternative offers may only accept investments from authorized investors. Investors that meet the eligibility requirements include those who have a net worth of more than $1 million, excluding their principal property, or who earn at least $200,000 (or $300,000 + spousal income) annually. Accredited investors can also be financial professionals with a FINRA Series 7, 65, or 82 license.

Advantages of Diverse Investments

Alternative investments may have poor correlations to traditional investments like stocks and bonds due to their distinct character and deviations from traditional markets. As a result, in order to perhaps assist diversify an investment portfolio and lower overall portfolio risk, investors typically look to alternatives.

Alternative investments have the potential to yield larger returns than standard investments since they are regarded as riskier investments. Furthermore, alternative investments are available in a variety of shapes and sizes, allowing investors to select the one that best fits their objectives, risk tolerance, and personal tastes. Investors may have a preference for specific cryptocurrencies due to the possibility of passive income.

Markets that are closed off to typical investors may be accessible through alternative investing. Investors could find this more intriguing (for example, a baseball lover would be more passionate about purchasing an autographed baseball), but they might also find it harder to sell the item since there might be fewer buyers, which would reduce the market’s liquidity. As a result of fewer opportunities for panic sales or hasty transactions motivated by emotion, investors may view this as a positive development that will improve price stability.

Drawbacks of Alternative Investments

Compared to standard investments, alternative investments sometimes have greater fees and charges due to their limited accessibility. For instance, large management and performance fees are sometimes levied by hedge funds and private equity, which can drastically lower investor returns. Six Many alternative investment products have a fee associated with them, even though many brokers provide free trading of various stocks and bonds.

As was already indicated, one advantage of alternative investments may be their frequent illiquidity. But think about the scenario when an investor wants the money badly enough to sell a rare piece of movie memorabilia immediately. They might not be able to sell the item fast or readily without paying high transaction fees or losing value since there might not be a strong or active market.

Since alternative investments might not be often listed on public markets, it could be more challenging to find market information on past patterns or prices. While publicly traded corporations are bound by several reporting regulations, certain alternative investments can face reduced regulatory supervision and a greater potential for fraud, misbehavior, and other abuses. As was also previously noted, alternative investments typically yield larger returns, but this is because they are riskier.

Additionally, alternative investments are frequently difficult. Investors may find it challenging to comprehend intricate structures and terminology in some cases, which raises the possibility of making ill-informed or improper investment selections. Some might not have easily accessible market values, which makes it challenging to ascertain their actual worth.