IMF: Network Effects Could Spark Blaze of Crypto-Currency Adoption (#GotBitcoin?)
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has argued that network effects could spark the blaze for the mass adoption of new digital monies. IMF: Network Effects Could Spark Blaze of Crypto-Currency Adoption (#GotBitcoin?)
In a fresh report published on July 15, the IMF aims to create a conceptual framework for categorizing new digital monies such as Facebook’s Libra and stablecoins as well to think through the implications of their emergence for central bank policy.
In its analysis of e-monies — including but not limited to blockchain-based assets — the IMF identifies six factors that could drive their rapid growth for payments: convenience, ubiquity, complementarity, low transaction costs, trust and network effects. The report states:
“The first five reasons may be the spark that lights the fire of e-money; the sixth is the wind that could spread the blaze. The power of network effects to spread the adoption of new services should not be underestimated.”
To bolster its claims, the IMF points to the rapid switch from email to SMS and from SMS to social messaging platforms such as Whatsapp, noting that adoption of the latter was exponentially faster than the initial switch to email — noting that its 1.5 billion user base is attributable more to word of mouth than to formal marketing strategies.
The IMF also creates a taxonomy indicating its view of the thriving digital money sector, notably adopting the blockchain industry’s cornerstone principle of decentralization as one of its principle classificatory parameters.
Devoting a section of its analysis to the question of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs), the IMF proposes a hybrid approach that would be established by a public-private partnership — defining the proposed asset as a synthetic CBDC (sCBDC).
A central bank would have limited responsibility as regards a prospective sCBDC, offering settlement services — including access to its reserves — to e-money providers, who would, in turn, be robustly regulated. This hybrid — and not full-fledged — sCBDC would stand to benefit from the comparative advantage of the private sector to innovate and interact with consumers while relying on the central bank to provide trust and efficiency, the report argues. The IMF concludes:
“Much lies in the hands of central bankers, regulators, and entrepreneurs […] but one thing is certain: Innovation and change are likely to transform the landscape of banking and money as we know it.”
This spring, the IMF managing director Christine Lagarde said that blockchain innovators are shaking the traditional financial world and having a clear impact on incumbent players, having previously acknowledged that the organization could potentially release its own digital asset in future.
Crypto and Blockchain Adoption Grows: 5 Important Developments Sept. 2–8
Analysts have long predicted that the increased participation of governments and institutional players in the blockchain and cryptocurrency space shows how the respective industries are maturing. The founder of crypto merchant bank Galaxy Digital, Michael Novogratz, recently said that the next up-move of the cryptocurrency bull market will be driven by institutional investors.
Last week we saw several stories of major firms getting more involved in blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies, pointing to further acceptance and adoption of digital assets and their underlying blockchain technology.
1. PwC Luxembourg To Start Accepting Bitcoin Payments
The Luxembourg branch of the Big Four auditing firm PwC announced that it will begin accepting payments in Bitcoin (BTC) starting on Oct. 1. The firm states that its decision to open up to crypto payments is part of a commitment to clients’ needs as well as to support the growing cryptocurrency industry.
2. Japanese regulator grants cryptocurrency exchange license to LINE subsidiary
Japan’s financial watchdog agency, the Financial Services Agency, awarded a cryptocurrency exchange license to LVC Corporation, the digital asset- and blockchain-focused arm of Japanese messaging giant LINE. Japan has shown a progressive attitude toward cryptocurrencies, with top executives and government officials getting involved in shaping the space.
3. Hsbc Uses Blockchain Platform To Issue Letter Of Credit
On Sept. 2, banking and financial services giant HSBC completed the first yuan-denominated letter of credit transaction on a blockchain. The firm used blockchain software firm R3’s Corda-powered Voltron platform for a cross-border transaction, in which electronics manufacturer MTC Electronics exported a shipment of LCD products to its parent firm.
Blockchain technology is gaining traction in the financial services industries, as it can reduce transaction times, costs and provide a more secure and transparent account of contracts and financing.
4. National Cryptocurrency In The Marshall Islands
Minister In-Assistance to the President and Environment of the Marshall Islands David Paul recently released an essay in which he described the nature of the nation’s forthcoming national digital currency, the Marshallese sovereign (SOV). By issuing the SOV, the government aims to make Marshallese monetary policy more independent, as it currently uses the U.S. dollar.
The government has decided to base the digital currency on a blockchain protocol because it does not think a centralized structure is suitable for a small country of 50,000 people spread across over 1,000 Pacific islands.
This example of blockchain adoption shows how the technology can solve real economic issues, even at the national level.
5. Reports Of A Cryptocurrency-Enabled Samsung Phone
A report from the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on Sept. 5 states that the newest version of Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10 will feature a feature a cryptocurrency wallet and accompanying free coins. Sources familiar with the matter told WSJ that South Korean tech giant Kakao Corp. will issue its affiliate cryptocurrency KLAY directly to Samsung smartphone users.
The expansion of cryptocurrency capabilities on a widely circulated telephone has the potential to bring more people into the cryptocurrency space and simplify the use of digital assets by the uninitiated.
Expert: Bitcoin May ‘Crash To Zero’ Because of Institutional Adoption
Bitcoin (BTC) price could “crash to zero” in the event of mass adoption by institutions, an industry expert has warned.
Speaking at Cointelegraph’s ongoing BlockShow conference on Nov. 14, Dr. Pavel Kravchenko, CEO and co-founder at Distributed Lab and author of “Blockchain and Decentralized Systems,” revealed a rare bearish stance on the increasing institutional interest in Bitcoin.
Kravchenko: BTC Will Go To Zero With Censorship
Kravchenko was sitting on a panel focusing on blockchain projects and their associated cryptocurrency tokens: “Creating token value — are monetary gains hindering blockchain innovation?” He summarized:
“Bitcoin is censorship resistant money, the first in the world. I don’t believe in institutional adoption. If this happens, Bitcoin will become not censorship-resistant. Then it won’t have this feature anymore and will crash to zero.”
Institutions’ role in Bitcoin trading and investing continues to form a point of debate among market participants and experts. This year, new offerings have surfaced, with Bitcoin futures and custody solutions attempting to woo major players.
Some have warned about the detrimental impact of institutional involvement, while others are bullish about the future.
As Cointelegraph reported, venture capitalist Mike Novogratz highlighted trading platform Bakkt in particular as having the potential to boost, not crash, the Bitcoin price.
On the BlockShow panel, Matthew Rosak, CEO of enterprise blockchain startup Bloq, added that store-of-value use case for Bitcoin was furthering the appeal of the industry as a whole.
“Bitcoin as a store-of-value continues to be a freight train of momentum,” he said.
Conversely, Kravchenko argued governments trying to ban Bitcoin altogether would help the price more than institutional acceptance. As a currency, Bitcoin must attempt to become more private — and introduce anonymizing features such as those in Zcash or Monero — or it will lose its censorship resistance feature, he added.
Turkey’s Unexpected Rise to the Top of Global Crypto Adopters
When thinking of countries that are ahead of the curve in crypto adoption, Turkey might not be the first place that springs to mind. However, Statistica’s Global Consumer Survey for 2019 shows that a fifth Turkish residents are acquainted with crypto and have been exposed to it in some form or another. If the figures are true, 20% is the highest proportion of all the countries in the world.
Flying under the radar, Turkey has undoubtedly become a crypto giant, and with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently announcing that testing of the digital lira is to be finalized in 2020, crypto is destined to become even more popular.
In fact, observing the rapid rise of crypto and blockchain in the country, Cointelgraph has unveiled the Turkish edition of the outlet this year. This article was written in association with their team — and in particular, the editor, Erhan Kahraman.
Turkish people were always pro-crypto
While the country’s government was initially reluctant to embrace cryptocurrencies, the people had always found utility in it. A survey from ING conducted in April 2015 found that 45% of Turkish people believed that digital currencies such as Bitcoin (BTC) were the future of online spending. This constituted the highest percentage for all the European countries surveyed, surpassing the European average of 28% by a wide margin.
This higher acceptance of crypto signals that Turkish people more readily use mobile devices for financial activities. The same survey showed that 56% of Turks had used mobile payment apps in contrast with the Eurpoean consumers’ average of 33%.
The online payment sector in Turkey had been ready to adopt crypto, but the first opportunity only came when PayPal was banned in the country following the rejection of its license by the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency. The use of crypto in the country spiked to unprecedented levels to fill the online payment space.
Barış Özistek, the chairman of both venture capital fund Boğaziçi Ventures and games publication company Netmarble EMEA, attributed the high adoption of crypto to the advanced gaming market of the country, telling Cointelegraph, “There are more than 30 million active gamers in Turkey. Gaming is a sphere in which virtual equipment and digital currency is used for the first time, and used most commonly.” He went on to add:
“Turkish users already knew that virtual materials increase in value when supply and demand are created in the markets, or depending on their popularity, they may decrease in value. That’s why Turkish users adopted to cryptocurrencies very fast and easily. Of course, a high percentage of digitally literate people among Turkish users and being informed about trade in our historical past were contributing factors to the situation.”
Turkey’s Crypto Adoption Is Surprising
Back in August 2014, Cointelegraph interviewed the founder of QuazarCoin, who goes by the name Orhan, about the state of crypto in Turkey. At the time, the regulatory environment in the country was not ideal, as the nation had banned Twitter amid rising political uncertainty.
In that interview, Orhan said Turkey was not the best place to develop crypto, not even Bitcoin itself, as the country did not have any frameworks nor the political stability set up to deal with the technology. He added that: “I think this is the reason why people connected to Bitcoin or alternative cryptocurrencies do not want to show their face or their true name to the general public.” These are some harsh criticisms for a country that would become a global leader in crypto adoption just five years after these words were said.
In 2017, the Turkish government made news with another major push back against crypto. The government claimed that Bitcoin was “not compatible” with Islam due to the speculative nature of buying and selling it. However, Ozistek recently told Cointelegraph that he thinks that blockchain and cryptos are pro-Islam, saying, “Instead of being haram, blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies are more in accord with Islamic Finance rules.” He went on to explain:
“When it comes to cryptocurrencies, if the project gains value, so does the cryptocurrency. You don’t earn money from money. If the project you invested in gains value, the cryptocurrency you hold also gains value; if the project fails, your cryptocurrency loses value. It doesn’t include a guaranteed income, such as interest.”
Economic Uncertainty One Of The Leading Causes Of Adoption
Turkey’s political situation for the past decade has been rocky. The relationships with its highly distrurbed neighbors, Iraq and Syria, put the country at the heart of one of the most violent international conflicts in recent memory. Additionally, the country’s relationship with global superpowers Russia and the United States hasn’t always been great either.
All of these factors came together to make the Turkish lira one of the most volatile national currencies. Volatility wasn’t the only factor that led to the country’s migration toward cryptos. It was the uncertainty associated with the currency, too. Şant Manukyan, the director of international markets at İş Yatırım, told Cointelegraph regarding the issue:
“When compared to other countries which include Argentina or countries with collapsed infrastructure such as Venezuela, the situation of Turkey is much more different, and better. Bitcoin is highlighted in these countries as a protection from devaluation and as a way to carry the money abroad. In Turkey, it provides an alternative to investors who use dollar but look for profit; but it’s not as common as other countries for sure.”
July 2016’s failed coup d’état led to a sharp decline in the lira’s price. The lira sinking in August 2018 marked two years of economic uncertainty. Coupled with poor political relations with the U.S. and an impending debt crisis, high inflation and low interest rates, it was a perfect storm for an already tech-ready country to adopt crypto.
The correlation of economically affected countries and high crypto adoption can be seen elsewhere across the global — such as Venezuela, Iran and Zimbabwe — giving credence to the theory of Hyperbitcoinization. Yasin Oral, the CEO and founder of Bitcoin exchange Paribu, told Cointelegraph:
“When a country go through an economic crisis it causes the investors to seek new channels and untroubled markets. In addition to this the fluctuating exchange rate gives way to new investment tools. In Turkey, the crypto money and the other digital assets were accepted as a new means of investment thanks to the population that can easily adapt to new technologies. If you pay attention to the local surveys, crypto money owners plan the digital assets as long term investments as well as actively making transactions.”
Crypto And Blockchain
Turkey’s Ministry of Industry and Technology announced plans to establish a national blockchain infrastructure during its Strategy 2023 presentation on Sept. 18 in Ankara. The plan necessitates working with Turkish regulators to assist in creating a regulatory sandbox for blockchain applications. This accompanied several blockchain technology implementations, like the Istanbul Blockchain and Innovation Center, known as BlockchainIST Center.
Talking about the country’s policymakers jumping on the crypto bandwagon early, Ozgur Guneri, the CEO of the BTCTurk exchange, told Cointelegraph that he believes Turkish policymakers are keen to see what blockchain and crypto can bring to the table, adding that:
“The latest major policy decisions were Turkish Central Bank’s aim to launch a crypto currency and Financial Crimes Investigation Board’s decision to loosen its strict stand towards cryptocurrencies. I believe that major motivation behind Turkey’s interest in cryptocurrencies and blockchain is its revolutionary technology and all the potential disruption they may bring to the economy.”
Turkey has a vision of making Istanbul a financial center, and all institutions are working toward that end. Talking about the hard path to make Turkey a global financial hub, Özistek said it will not be an easy task to take that status away from the United Kingdom and Switzerland:
“By making necessary investments in cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology, and creating infrastructure and legal regulations, Turkey may surpass its strong rivals just as a technology entrepreneur. I think this is the primary motivation.”
Sovereign Powers Could Be Key To Mass Crypto Adoption
Nation-states made a more substantive impact this year than the ten previous years of crypto combined. China’s statist approach, in particular, may prove to be a catalyst to the still elusive “mass adoption of crypto.”
In the US, the SEC made headlines with several high-profile enforcements including EOS, Telegram, and kin, while federal lawmakers made their presence felt regarding Facebook’s Libra. FINCEN’s KYC/AML guidance factored prominently, and token sales and SAFT rounds slowed in 2019, driving much of the fundraising activity towards exchange platforms, causing a short blip of popularity in IEOs.
Regulatory action may have caused deal flow to slow, U.S. entrepreneurs and investors say, even if Silicon Valley will continue to produce some of the most compelling innovation in blockchain. As the industry moves forward into bitcoin’s second decade, there will continue to be high-drama friction as we try to reconcile crypto-anarchist ideals of pseudonymous participation with long-standing regulations around securities, KYC/AML and money-transmission laws.
We saw cross-border collaboration around the FATF enforcement recommendations, calling for exchanges to share customer information. But it remains to be seen whether this mandate will affect exchange activity or if it will drive a renaissance in decentralized exchange volume in 2020.
During the first three quarters, we saw China step forward and embrace blockchain technologies. The People’s Bank of China announced plans for a national sovereign digital currency, the DCEP. Industry observers and PBoC’s development team expect it to launch in 2020. President Xi Jinping’s comments regarding China’s desire to lead in blockchain technology were almost certainly strategically timed on the back of the Facebook hearings.
China’s leadership in our industry has been playing out for some time. More than two thirds of bitcoin mining happens in China and exchange volume is dominated by Chinese markets (for example, more than 60% of Tether trading). Most importantly, more consumer-facing Web3 apps are coming out of China than any other market globally. At the time of this writing, eight of the top ten dapps are developed by and/or for the Chinese market.
While Western crypto purists continue to point to concerns over privacy and surveillance of the DCEP, this is an overly simplistic evaluation in my opinion. I am confident that Chinese ingenuity will lead towards a myriad of relatively seamless bridges between high-privacy crypto-networks and the regulated DCEP. I estimate that the DCEP most directly impacts Chinese demand for Tether and other stablecoins going forward.
“After years of waiting patiently in vein for “mass adoption of crypto,” I think we should be open-minded here.”
The Chinese market also drove much of the bitcoin and ethereum market rebound in the first half of the year as Chinese investors sought to diversify their personal stores of value amid their nation’s trade war with the US. Enormous scams like the multi-billion dollar Plus Token embezzlement caused regional governments to take a stronger stance on exchanges, driving down prices and showing China’s influence on crypto markets. Chinese officials are in the “blockchain not bitcoin/tokens” camp, but recognize crypto’s market popularity. It seems like many sovereigns are trying to reconcile the power and potential of blockchain technologies with unsettling risks.
Chinese consumers have a certain affinity for foreign crypto projects, possibly due to perceptions around security, privacy and technical prowess. But 2020 will bring forward the first crop of technically sophisticated mainland-based projects. Local startups have evolved beyond the early fast-follower experiments into a new generation of very legitimate technical teams with novel crypto-economic models (for example, Nervos, Sperax, Bihu).
Crypto may be remembered as one of the first industries (but certainly not the last) that China takes the position of technical innovator rather than fast-follower, sitting at the vanguard of development in Web3 technologies. In fact, we may even look back on the DCEP as a harbinger of China’s strategic shift towards reserve-currency status.
A statist approach to blockchain development, like other industrial policies in the past, might yet prove successful in this market. After years of waiting patiently in vein for “mass adoption of crypto,” I think we should be open-minded here. I often tell investors that if you don’t get comfortable riding the Great Red Dragon, you may get burnt in its wake. As we move forward into a new decade on the calendar and our industry’s second decade of existence, I’m excited for what’s on the horizon as we look East.
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