Guide to High-Risk Investments

By Michael Flannelly · July 01, 2024 · 9 minute read

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Guide to High-Risk Investments

High-risk investments may be types of investments or securities in which investors may experience significant losses, or significant gains. Generally, high-risk investments tend to be from cyclical, volatile industries, or take the form of equity in relatively new, untested companies. In contrast, lower-risk investments tend to be related to more established businesses or sectors.

But there are many types of high-risk investments. These can include stocks, cryptocurrencies, and even investing in venture capital or private equity (if available to you, as an investor). The important thing to know about high-risk investments is, broadly speaking, that the higher the associated potential reward with an investment, the higher the risks, too.

What Is Considered a High-Risk Investment?

There’s no set definition of “high-risk investment,” other than it can refer to any type of investment vehicle that may involve more innate or inherent risk than another type of investment. It may be helpful to think of risk as relative, too — if a Treasury bill, for instance, is generally considered to be a low-risk investment, a penny stock may exist on the other end of the spectrum.

It’s important to remember that no matter what you’re adding to your portfolio, investing almost always involves risk. In other words, there are no “safe” investments, but some may be “safer” than others.

The question for most new investors will be how much risk they are willing to take on (often referred to as risk tolerance). If you’re looking to take on substantial risk to reap potential rewards, you may want to look at certain subsets of stocks. Of course, it’s important to remember that the more risk you take on, the more you stand to potentially lose.

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Examples of High-Risk Investments

As noted, high-risk investments can take many forms. Here are some of the more common and higher-risk investments you may encounter.

Highly Volatile Stocks

Experts typically consider stocks to be one of the riskier asset categories to invest in, especially compared to bonds or certificates of deposits. But not all stocks are created equal, or have equal risk profiles. There are different classes of stocks that are riskier than others.

Here are some examples of high-risk, high-reward stocks that tend to be more volatile.

Penny Stocks

Broadly defined as stocks that trade at a market value of less than five dollars per share, penny stocks can be found across all industries. Penny stocks might represent shares of companies in utilities, energy, gold mining, technology, or anything else. Like other high-risk, high-reward stocks, penny stocks can yield high returns in a short amount of time. However, the risks of penny stocks may outweigh the potential for high rewards due to low trade volumes, lack of information on the companies, fraud, and other drawbacks.

IPO Stocks

Investing in stocks of newly public companies can also be higher risk. These initial public offering (IPO) stocks generally tend to be less tested by the market, making them more prone to price swings or ups and downs in business trends.

Commodities or Commodity Stocks

Commodity stocks, or stocks of companies that produce raw materials like oil, grains, and metals, tend to be highly volatile. That’s partly because these commodity industries are cyclical, or closely tied to economic growth. So, any sign of slowing growth or perceived signs of slowing growth can cause investors to sell this group.

💡 Recommended: Why Is It Risky to Invest in Commodities?


Bitcoin, and the entire digital currency market, have become mainstream fixtures in the financial markets. While certain cryptocurrencies are the most popular or recognizable, there are thousands of coins or tokens that investors could, potentially, get their hands on. But given Bitcoin’s wild price swings over the years, it’s easy to see why investors may want to try and ride its popularity to large returns.

However, the cryptocurrency market is still very volatile and highly speculative, with digital assets remaining mostly unregulated — for now. That’s likely to change in the years ahead. For investors, know this: Crypto is about as risky of an asset as you can find on the market.

💡 Recommended: Cryptocurrency Glossary

Spread Betting

Spread betting refers to making a bet on the direction of the price of an asset without actually holding it. In spread betting, you make money if the asset moves in the way you predicted, and you lose if it moves the opposite way. Investors can bet on currencies, bonds, commodities, or stocks.

Spread betting is often offered as a leveraged product, meaning investors can trade on margin. If the margin requirement were 10%, for example, a bet of $10,000 could be made with as little as $1,000. This amplifies both losses and gains. When trading on margin, investors are vulnerable to margin calls and can lose more than they initially invest.

Leveraged ETFs

A leveraged investment vehicle offers returns or losses several multiples higher than what someone has to invest, which makes an asset like a leveraged exchange-traded fund (ETF) potentially high-risk. Leveraged ETFs use debt or derivatives to generate two or three times the daily performance of an underlying index.

There are leveraged ETFs that rise in price along with the assets they track (bull ETFs) and those that rise in price when the assets they follow go down in price (bear ETFs, also known as leveraged inverse ETFs).

Hedge Funds

While not all investors are engaging with hedge funds, they’re worth discussing due to how relatively high-risk investing in one can be. Hedge funds operate by collecting a pool of investors’ money that gets invested in different assets. The goal of a typical hedge fund is to get high rates of return for investors by any means possible. That generally means taking calculated risks.

There is no established definition of what a hedge fund can invest in. Some hedge funds specialize in asset classes, like junk bonds, real estate, or equities — all relatively high-risk categories.

In general, hedge funds are only available to accredited investors. That means investors have to fit specific criteria. Specific financial entities like trusts and corporations can also be accredited investors.

Further, part of what makes hedge funds risky is that they are not subjected to government regulations that offer protection to everyday investors. The reasoning is that only sophisticated investors should be involved in the first place.

Venture Capital

Venture capital is a form of investing that targets a new company and seeks to help it grow. Again, like hedge funds, many investors likely aren’t involved with venture capital, but at some point, they might be.

The requirements for companies to access the public equity markets, meaning they raise money by selling their shares on an exchange where any average investor can purchase them, are high. Most corporations aren’t eligible for this kind of funding, so some of them turn to venture capitalists.

Venture capital funds often receive funding from large institutions like pension funds, university endowments, insurance companies, and financial firms.

The term “venture capital” has become closely associated with the tech industry, as many entrepreneurs in technology that believe they have promising ideas turn to venture capitalists to fund their startups. Traditional business loans often require real assets as collateral, and with many modern companies being information-based, that kind of loan isn’t always an option.

The fact of the matter is that new businesses fail often (about 25% don’t even make it one year), making venture capital investing full of risk. But the possibility of early investment in the next big tech company means the potential reward can also be high.

Angel Investing

Angel investing is a form of equity financing — a way for businesses to fund their operations in exchange for a stake of ownership in the company. Compared to venture capital, “angel investor” is a more generic term that applies to anyone willing to take a gamble on a new startup. Angel investors are often high-net-worth individuals looking for significant returns on their investments.

Why Invest in High-Risk Stocks

Investors may invest in high-risk stocks and similar securities because they may provide substantial returns. For some, the prospect of massive returns is simply too much to ignore.

Very few people, however, probably put 100% of their portfolios into high-risk investments. Instead, taking on risk is considered part of a broader asset allocation strategy.

Ideally, investors take on just enough risk to potentially increase their returns without ruining their long-term prospects should they lose up to a significant percentage of their allocation to high-risk assets. The balance between safe and risky investments tends to be determined by individual investor goals.

Conventional wisdom often says that younger investors in their 20s or 30s tend to be able to afford greater risks since they will, in theory, have the rest of their working lives to earn back any potential losses. Meanwhile, investors closer to retirement typically focus on relatively safer investments that are likely to produce more reliable, albeit likely smaller, returns.

A Warning About High-Risk Investments

There are different ways to attempt to measure risk. Some are objective measurements of aspects of a specific investment, while others are more generic insights. Penny stocks and IPOs tend to be riskier than shares of big companies, for example, because their underlying businesses generally aren’t as stable or profitable.

Statistically-based risk measurements, such as standard deviation, seek to assign mathematical value to the risk involved in a particular investment. Calculating portfolio beta is another way to monitor how sensitive your stock holdings are to broader swings in the market.

An important thing to note is that riskier investments are generally considered ones with greater volatility and potential for negative returns. When it comes to high-risk stocks and other investments involving significant risk, wise investors often follow the adage: never invest more than you can afford to lose. High-risk investors must be prepared for the possibility of losing a significant amount or the entirety of an investment.

Remember, too, that it may also be worthwhile to discuss your strategy with a financial professional.

💡 Quick Tip: Did you know that opening a brokerage account typically doesn’t come with any setup costs? Often, the only requirement to open a brokerage account — aside from providing personal details — is making an initial deposit.

The Takeaway

High-risk investments are just that — risky — but that might not necessarily mean everyone must avoid them all the time. If you have the risk tolerance, you can utilize high-risk investments to help build wealth and meet your financial goals. Investing in more volatile companies may help individuals benefit from the potential growth of these businesses.

Again, though, it may be a good idea to stick to a larger investment strategy that incorporates high-risk investments in balance with more conservative ones. A financial professional can also help you review options and allocations based on your risk-tolerance, if you need guidance.

Ready to invest in your goals? It’s easy to get started when you open an investment account with SoFi Invest. You can invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, alternative funds, and more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).

For a limited time, opening and funding an Active Invest account gives you the opportunity to get up to $1,000 in the stock of your choice.


Which type of investment has the highest risk?

It’s difficult, if not impossible to say which type of investment has the highest associated risk, but some of the investment vehicles that do fit the description are options, certain types of stocks (penny stocks, for instance), and investing in hedge funds or venture capital.

Which type of stock is the highest risk?

While it’s not really possible to pinpoint any one type as “the highest risk,” penny stocks have one of the highest associated risk profiles. Penny stocks, which trade for less than $5, generally, and are shares of unproven, small, or young companies.

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