Bitcoin’s Mainstream Adoption
Bitcoin adoption: How financial system has changed its rigid views in favor of cryptocurrencies.
It goes without saying that the real value of anything can be judged only through practical, everyday use of it. With Bitcoin, as with cryptocurrencies in general, it is no different. Although the concept of a decentralized digital ledger as it is represented by the leading cryptocurrency may seem enticing and masterly on its own, ultimately, it still comes down to the actual application and usability in real life. And this is where BTC adoption within the existing financial system comes into play as one metric to gauge its genuine success or utmost failure, arguably the most telling and important one.
A medium of exchange
Bitcoin was envisioned as a peer-to-peer electronic cash system, synonymous with the idea of using it as a medium of exchange or means of payment (the latter two being essentially six of one and half a dozen of the other). As everything big out there, Bitcoin started small. What went completely unnoticed in 2008 now came to be a major factor capable of affecting the entire global financial system.
But before that, Bitcoin was used as a means of exchange and payment in the markets which shouldn’t have been there in the first place. These were the days when the Dark Web was the primary and likely only driver behind Bitcoin adoption, and that’s also happened to be the reason why so many governments turned heavily against it back in the day. Bitcoin had received a bad rap as a currency for conducting illegal operations, mostly selling drugs on black markets like now-defunct Silk Road.
It was not until late 2012 that Bitcoin started to attract attention of the general public after the launch of Coinbase in the summer of that year. Around that time the first attempts to regulate the top cryptocurrency had begun, and the overall negative attitude toward BTC started to change. All in all, the period between 2008 and 2012 was likely the only time in Bitcoin’s eventful and intense history when most of its adoption came about through using it as a real currency and a means of payment, even if primarily for illegal purposes and criminal activities.
A store of value and investment asset
Bitcoin today as we know it has only become possible after many thousands of speculators and investors started to pour their money into the cryptocurrency in the hope of earning off the future growth. No matter how you look at it, whether you like it or not, since 2013 Bitcoin adoption has been expanding mostly by attracting people who are interested in it as an alternative, non-sovereign store of value and investment asset. Today, the Bitcoin as an investment asset and store of value totally took over the Bitcoin as a means of payment and exchange.
The godfather of all cryptocurrencies has seen plenty of ups and downs, which posed a valid concern regarding how it would perform as a grown-up investment asset. Now that we have seen oil prices go into negative territory and fall as low as -37 dollars per barrel, a lot of these doubts have been dispelled. It is little wonder that institutional investors are nowadays looking into Bitcoin as a robust hedge against inflation and sinking economies in a world fraught with recession risks and plagued by the coronavirus pandemic. For example, in 2019 alone cryptocurrency assets under the management of hedge funds more than doubled – to over 2 billion dollars, with around 150 hedge funds actively investing in cryptocurrencies today.
It is no surprise either that during the last couple of years Bitcoin has risen substantially in the eyes of the institutional beholders, all the way up from the bottom, from an outcast, and sometimes even an outright outlaw, to a level on par with such an established store of value as gold. The famous hedge fund manager and billionaire Paul Tudor Jones, who manages around 22 billion dollars through his BVI Global Fund, recently confirmed that he has invested a few percent of his assets in Bitcoin as a hedge against inflation and central banks printing money out of thin air. Altogether, this leaves no doubt that Bitcoin has become a viable and legit investment choice in the realm of institutional money.
A value transfer vehicle
International money transfers have always been a pain in the neck – slow, costly, complicated. As Bitcoin needs no banking institutions to conduct money transfers, be it domestic or global, it has become a value transfer vehicle of choice for people willing to send money with no involvement of banks and payments processors. Historically, making overseas remittances with Bitcoin was among the first use cases of this cryptocurrency.
Cross-border remittances have been recognized as an important source of private capital flows for developing countries. Bitcoin and its crypto brethren have firmly established themselves in this niche for the simple reason many people in poor countries don’t have a bank account and thus can’t access bank services, aside from overall poor banking infrastructure there along with reasonable concerns about the stability of national currencies in backward economies.
Without cryptocurrencies, it would be impossible to receive financial support from abroad provided by migrant workers to their families. This led to an emergence of a wide variety of bitcoin-based remittance services such as BitPesa, Rebit, Bloom, Payphil, to name but just a few, that offer such services for African and Asian countries. They are typically using Bitcoin as a value transfer medium concealing the cryptocurrency from users by converting the sender’s fiat currency into bitcoins and then converting back to the receiver’s fiat currency.
Problems and solutions
One of the major problems Bitcoin faces is not strictly specific to it as it stems from an innate conflict between the two major functions of money. As it happens, a medium of exchange function doesn’t live quite well with a store of value function. A good medium of exchange, or means of payment, should be inflationary to facilitate its use as a currency that you pay with, say, in a grocery store. On the other hand, a good store of value should be the opposite of that to maintain and possibly increase its value over time. Realistically, such a dilemma cannot be effectively resolved from within Bitcoin itself.
As a result, the main cryptocurrency has developed into a trusted, battle-tested investment asset which already established a firm foothold in the corporate investment sector. This is in stark contrast to its promise as a functional currency where Bitcoin still massively lags behind fiat. Is there any way to fix that? The solution probably lies in the separation of different functions between Bitcoin and altcoins. The former will most certainly continue to evolve as a solid store of value. Whether the latter can live up to their collective role of an efficient means of payment, we have yet to find out.
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July 7, 2020