Cryptocurrency made the transition from concept to legitimate function in 2009, with the creation of the first readily available cryptocurrency, Bitcoin. (Disclaimer: I and my clients have invested in Bitcoin.) Thousands of speculators became millionaires on the back of an early Bitcoin investment; however, after soaring to a valuation of roughly $20,000 per bitcoin in 2017, a plunge shortly thereafter has led to a debate about whether cryptocurrencies really have a future.
There are both advocates and detractors of cryptocurrencies, with its more ardent supporters suggesting that, in time, it could become as ubiquitous as physical currencies such as the U.S. dollar or the euro. As a professional in the cryptocurrency market analysis space, I’d like to examine the future of cryptocurrencies in this piece.
Why are cryptocurrencies so attractive from a social standpoint?
The determining factors in whether cryptocurrencies will survive and thrive over the long term will inevitably be whether they help consumers and businesses overcome the payment challenges they face, and whether or not mass adoption becomes prolific enough to a point where such an ease of usage is pragmatic. Currently, cryptocurrencies are a largely “development stage” technology and are predominantly the plaything of those in the tech and financial industries; however, it is their potential to boost the financial inclusivity of a much more diverse group of consumers that could guarantee their success in the years to come.
In traditional financial transactions, a middleman such as a bank is typically required to manage the movement of money from one party to another. As such, perhaps the biggest fault of the current system is the fact that it excludes the 1.7 billion people worldwide who do not have, or are unable to acquire, an account with a financial institution. Lack of access to an account may restrict their ability to access financial products such as affordable credit, insurance and even essentials such as housing and healthcare; this is especially prevalent in less developed and developing nations.
The great appeal of cryptocurrencies is their ability to bypass the middleman and to execute transactions in a peer-to-peer ecosystem wherein the need for trust in a second or third party is essentially eliminated in lieu of a network wherein transactions are confirmed and executed on a blockchain, which is essentially a self-authenticating element. No financial institution is required to administer the movement of currency, so financial transactions can be made across geographical and political boundaries quickly, cheaply and easily. This could increase the access to financial products for the many unbanked people in some of the most poverty-stricken countries around the world.
What do the detractors say?
The future of cryptocurrency is the subject of much debate, and there are undoubtedly challenges that could limit its success in the future. In the ten years or so since Bitcoin was created, mainstream adoption has been relatively slow. The historic volatility of cryptocurrencies as investments has also led to some doubts about its suitability for mainstream use. Opponents of cryptocurrency also hold that the value of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin is determined by what investors are willing to pay at a point in time, which may leave it vulnerable to unpredictable changes in value.
There are also concerns about the lack of regulation from a central regulating authority, especially from United States regulatory agencies such as the SEC. Cryptocurrency prices tend to be quite sensitive to public sentiment, emotion and publicity, and that may make cryptocurrency rife for manipulation by private investors who could potentially drive unnatural price movement with few regulatory ramifications.
What’s next for cryptocurrencies?
The managing partners of our cryptocurrency-focused law firm collectively believe that we will continue to see growth in the widespread use and regulatory control of cryptocurrency. We think this is inevitable and, ultimately, a good thing that will lead to an increased perception of legitimacy in the eyes of the public.
Although more and more merchants are willing to accept cryptocurrencies, there is still some ways to go until digital currencies are considered part of the mainstream financial system. There’s also a balance that needs to be struck to increase the regulation of cryptocurrencies while still retaining the fundamental benefits of the innovation that have made digital currencies so popular.
For cryptocurrencies to become more widely used, they’ll have to gain more acceptance among the average consumer, and the benefits will need to be better explained and become more easily apparent to the world population as a whole. Regulations in the United States and other nations must continue to be implemented and developed to more appropriately fit the nature of these assets; furthermore, safeguards and protections will have to be put in place while still preserving the autonomy of the user.
With that said, it’s perhaps not surprising that cryptocurrency is currently viewed by many as an investment opportunity rather than a currency that can be used to make transactions on a daily basis. However, with more and more cryptocurrencies being utilized as financial instruments, investment vehicles, equity stock and functional utilities, cryptocurrencies and similar digital assets are not likely to disappear anytime soon.