It’s been ten years since Satoshi Nakamoto published the Bitcoin White Paper and introduced cryptocurrencies to the world. His radical vision of a decentralized peer-to-peer electronic cash system was groundbreaking, as it sought to rebuild the structures that upheld our global financial institutions. A decade on, the cryptocurrencies market is now worth $209 billion globally, and there are more than a thousand separate tokens in circulation.
[Note: This is a guest op-ed article submitted by Samuel Leach, Founder of Yield Coin]
Despite this success, Nakamoto’s vision is yet to be fully realized. Although “cryptos” and associated phrases have entered the popular language, and awareness of them is at an all-time high, uptake has been restricted to a narrow subset of society.
Bloomberg estimates that around a thousand users own approximately 40 percent of all bitcoin currently in circulation and cryptos have failed to supplant fiat currency. Before we see the mass adoption of cryptocurrencies, there are a number of obstacles that first need to be overcome.
While regulation is often treated as a pariah among many in the crypto community, if executed properly, it will bring beneficial change for all. Cryptocurrencies have only been in existence for a relatively short amount of time meaning many governments are still figuring out the best way to regulate them. The result of this has been a crypto market structured in a laissez-faire fashion. While it can be argued that this has fostered further innovation, it has undoubtedly led to several negative side effects.
At present, anyone could set-up a new cryptocurrency and raise significant capital without having to face repercussions if they fail to implement their plans. This has reduced overall confidence in the market, as it can be difficult to differentiate legitimate projects from nefarious ones. This is also preventing many institutional investors from entering the market, as the lack of regulatory guidelines will lead to compliance issues on their part.
A daily price swing of 10-20 percent is not uncommon among most cryptos, making them exceptionally volatile in comparison to fiat currencies; in comparison, the pound lost 4 percent of its value against the dollar on the infamous Black Wednesday. Finding a way to temper this instability would go some way to certifying cryptos as legitimate currencies.
At the moment, it would take a very brave consumer and equally brave merchant to conduct a transaction using cryptocurrencies. The inherent volatility of most cryptos means consumers run the risk of massively overpaying and similarly, the outlet risks the value of the crypto received being eroded.
Practicality, Usability & Accessibility
While cryptocurrencies have seen some mainstream usage among investors interested in day trading and investing, this uptake hasn’t been reflected by everyday consumers. This is mostly due to crypto’s impracticality for day-to-day usage. Some of this is due to its price volatility but a more central factor is the lack of businesses who are willing to accept it as a form of payment. If individuals are unable to find a legitimate use case for their crypto, then its value as a form of electronic cash is zero. Further, the process of acquiring crypto itself is difficult, meaning uptake has been restricted to a tech-savvy subset of the overall population.
It should be noted, however, that while numerous solutions are in place allowing the spending of bitcoin via third-party services such as gift cards, BTMs, etc. — this often adds friction and introduces more middlemen into the experience.
In the beginning, cryptocurrency related crime was almost non-existent, but as the market has grown, it has attracted the attention of organized scammers and hackers. Earlier this year, criminals stole $530 million worth of crypto from the Coincheck exchange, and there have been many other examples of large-scale thefts.
With ‘traditional’ financial systems, when a payment is made, third parties ensure that the transaction goes through and if anything does go wrong, they are liable for recovering the funds. Similarly, if your credit or debit card information is stolen, then you aren’t responsible for any transactions made. With cryptos, however, it is the user’s responsibility to ensure that all the data associated with a transaction is correct. If a user’s private key is stolen, then crypto can be stolen with a low chance of recovery.
Research has found that 38 percent of the British population do not ‘understand’ cryptocurrency. With the commonly held misconception that it is a tool for criminals to launder money being the most cited reason for mistrusting it. While those involved in the community understand the revolutionary possibilities of cryptos, the wider public still needs further education on the potential benefits.
For those not familiar with trading concepts, the notional value and artificial scarcity that underpins crypto may be hard to grasp. Further, the existing way in which money has been exchanged for goods has been long established, and cryptocurrencies will require people to think about transactions in an entirely new way.
Without a doubt, the introduction of cryptos has been revolutionary. However, whether we are within the midst of a complete reconstitution of the financial system remains to be seen. If the engineers and developers involved with cryptos can find a way to deal with the intense volatility and lack of widespread understanding around cryptos, then their benefits will be able to be enjoyed by all.
Do you agree with these barriers to adoption? Are there more? Share your thoughts below!
Images courtesy of Shutterstock