Since 2010, when it emerged as the first legitimate cryptocurrency, bitcoin has been declared “dead” by pundits over 300 times. Critics have cited the cryptocurrency’s hair-raising price volatility, it’s scalability challenges, or the improbability of a central bank ceding monetary control to a piece of pre-set software code. Yet since 2009, bitcoin has facilitated over 300 million consumer payment transactions, while hundreds of other cryptocurrencies have emerged, promising to disrupt a host of industries. Granted, no more than 3.5% of households worldwide have adopted cryptocurrency as a payment method. But I think cryptocurrency will transform how the world does business as developers, regulators, and demographics resolve the following key issues:
1. Approval of a Bitcoin ETF
I think the US investment community will not rest until they satisfy SEC criteria for a bitcoin ETF. Approval would represent another milestone in the validation of cryptocurrencies. This bodes well for the global financial system, because cryptocurrency promises to create financial savings and societal benefits — by streamlining how the world transacts for goods and services, updates mutual ledgers, executes contracts, and accesses records.
2. Comprehensive U.S. Regulation Can Improve Protection, Innovation, and Investment
Demand is mounting for a larger, more comprehensive U.S. and global regulatory framework that protects consumers and nurtures innovation. Those institutional investors who are assessing the cryptocurrency risk/reward proposition are also awaiting regulatory guidance and protections to honor their fiduciary duties. How, if at all, for example, will exchanges be required to implement systems and procedures to prevent hacks and protect or compensate investors from them?
Effective cryptocurrency regulation requires a nuanced set of rules, a sophisticated arsenal of policing tools, sound protocols, and well-trained professionals. I think U.S. regulators will eventually get it right. And if institutions become more confident that regulations can help them meet fiduciary duties, even small cryptocurrency allocations from reputable organizations could unleash a new wave of investment.
3. Bringing the Technology to Scale
Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies cannot yet process tens of thousands of transactions per second. I think developers working on technology — such as Plasma, built on Ethereum, and the Lightning Network, for bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies — will sooner or later bring leading cryptocurrencies to scale. This could unleash an explosion of new applications, allowing cryptocurrency to integrate with debit and credit payment systems, developing new efficiencies in commerce — whether B2B, B2C, or B2G — in ways we can’t fully anticipate.
4. Developing World Incentives and Demographics
Cryptocurrency adoption as a payment method could grow fastest in emerging markets. Many consumers and entrepreneurs in such regions have a strong incentive to transact in cryptocurrency — either because their country’s current banking payment system is inefficient and unreliable, and/or they are one of the world’s 1.7 billion “unbanked.” Two-thirds of the unbanked own a mobile phone, which could help them use cryptocurrency to transact, and access other blockchain-based financial services.
Data underscores the receptiveness of Developing World consumers to cryptocurrency. The Asia Pacific region has the highest proportion of global users of cryptocurrency as a transaction medium (38%), followed by Europe (27%), North America (17%), Latin America (14%), and Africa/The Middle East (4%), according to a University of Cambridge estimate. Although the study’s authors caution that their figures may underestimate North American cryptocurrency usage, they cite additional data suggesting that cryptocurrency transaction volume is growing disproportionately in developing regions, especially in:
● Asia (China, India, Malaysia, Thailand)
● Latin America (Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela),
● Africa/The Middle East (Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania, Turkey)
● Eastern Europe (Russia, Ukraine).
Demographics will also likely drive cryptocurrency adoption in the Developing World, home to 90% of the global population under age 30.
Remember The Internet – Investment Bubbles and Bursts Will Identify The Winners
High volatility is inherent in the investment value of this nascent technology, due to factors including technological setbacks and breakthroughs, the impact of pundits, the uneven pace of adoption, and regulatory uncertainty. Bitcoin, for example, generated a four-year annualized return as of January 31st 2018 up 393.8%, a one-year 2017 performance up 1,318% — and year-to-date, a return of down over 50%. Bitcoin has previously experienced even larger percentage drops before resuming an upward trajectory.
In my view, bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies will experience many more bubbles and bursts, in part, fueled by speculators. But the bursting of an investment bubble may signal both a crash and the dawn of a new era. While irrational investments in internet technology in the 1990’s fueled the dotcom bust, some well-run companies survived and led the next phase of the internet revolution. Similarly, I believe a small group of cryptocurrencies and other blockchain applications, including bitcoin, will become integrated into our daily lives, both behind the scenes and in daily commerce.
Although “irrational exuberance” will continue to impact the price of cryptocurrencies, this disruptive technology represents not only the future of money, but of how the world will do business.
Brian G. Sewell is the founder of Rockwell Capital, a family office committed to educating investors about cryptocurrency, and Rockwell Trades, an institutional cryptocurrency trading platform. He may be reached at http://RockwellTrades.com.