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A former U.S. Treasurer on crypto investing in 2022: ‘The train has already left the station’

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Rosie Rios, now former treasurer of the United States Department of the Treasury, speaks during the annual Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, U.S., on Tuesday, May 3, 2016.
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

If you're just now thinking about investing in cryptocurrencies or blockchain technology, former U.S. Treasurer Rosie Rios says you're probably already too late to get in on the ground floor.

"The train has already left the station," Rios, who served as treasurer in the Obama Administration from 2009 to 2016, tells CNBC Make It. "Blockchain technology is here."

Rios, a visiting scholar at Harvard University, has built much of her post-government career around investing and crypto. She's a board member for blockchain start-up Ripple, CEO of real estate investment consulting firm Red River Associates and investor on online reality show "Unicorn Hunters" alongside co-stars Steve Wozniak and Lance Bass.

Based on those experiences, Rios says she has one piece of advice for anyone looking to invest in blockchain-based platforms or assets like cryptocurrencies or NFTs: Stick to easy, basic questions like "Is the product practical?" or "Is there room for growth?"

Since many experts believe that assets like NFTs are just a speculative flash in the pan, Rios says she'll only invest in platforms that have growth potential and provide meaningful services or real-world value.

"Whether there is intrinsic value is very meaningful to me," she says.

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For her, that means understanding how it can be used "responsibly" and whether it can save you real-world time or money. That's the main reason she joined Ripple's board, she says: Its cryptocurrency, XRP, advertises the ability to facilitate cross-border payments faster and cheaper than traditional foreign exchange services.

"It's not just the future," Rios says. "It's already being used all over the world."

Crucially, Rios hopes that 2022 will provide more regulatory clarity for the crypto market. In November, a group of regulators including the U.S. Federal Reserve said that lawmakers plan to offer more clarity on how banks and other large financial institutions will be allowed to handle cryptocurrency next year.

The need for clarity extends to Ripple, which is locked in an ongoing lawsuit with the Securities and Exchange Commission over whether the XRP cryptocurrency is a virtual currency or a security. The latter classification would require it to fall under more intense regulatory scrutiny.

Regulations aside, the crypto market seems likely to keep growing next year, after topping $3 trillion in total value for the first time in November. Major companies like Microsoft, PayPal and even Burger King already accept cryptocurrency in some forms.

Others have already announced plans. Movie theater chain AMC says it'll accept bitcoin as payment for movie tickets soon, and WhatsApp says it is testing a new crypto payments feature. 

Rios says she's "very hopeful" that more big players will follow suit in 2022 — or, at least, "have the right mindset to begin these conversations and hopefully provide a path moving forward."

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