The Unstoppable Integration of Crypto Across the World
The Bitcoin boom is, well, booming, with the world’s best-known cryptocurrency recent hitting a market cap of $1 trillion. This has caused excitement and concern in equal measure, with everyone and their grandmother wondering if it’s a bubble or a breakthrough. Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst at AvaTrade and someone who knows a thing or two about these things, is in no doubt that this volcanic surge “was long coming, and the fact is that we are only 10 times away from flipping the gold market cap on its head.”
While many industry players are still raising sceptical eyebrows at the volatility of the market, with JP Morgan scoffing that Bitcoin is an “economic sideshow”, there’s no denying the cultural and commercial implications of the cryptocurrency’s success. The fact that it’s gained more than 60% in February alone is a reflection of the recent rush of real, tangible interest in its potential – most notably, Tesla snapping up
$1.5 billion of the currency, and also suggesting it will soon start accepting bitcoin payments for its cars.
This would make it the first auto manufacturer to do so, and would surely cause vast swathes of the general public to sit up and realise Bitcoin is a viable, practical kind of currency, and not just the exotic, esoteric preserve of tech nerds, finance bros and billionaire currency speculators.
This is undeniably a game-changer in terms of the mainstream visibility of Bitcoin, but let’s not forget that similarly seismic shifts have been occurring at other bluechip brands. Mastercard recently announced that it will be supporting certain cryptocurrencies on its payment network, and a statement by a senior executive there has emphasised how we really are entering a new era.
“Whatever your opinions on cryptocurrencies – from a dyed-in-wool fanatic to utter skeptic – the fact remains that these digital assets are becoming a more important part of the payments world,” he wrote. “We are preparing right now for the future of crypto and payments.”
Then there was the announcement from PayPal, late last year, that it would be allowing US customers to buy, sell and spend cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin through its platform. Crucially, the service converts crypto into fiat currency at the moment of purchase, which means PayPal account holders can use their digital coins to purchase items and services even from vendors who don’t yet accept crypto.
The Tesla news, and the integration of cryptocurrencies with payment services like PayPal, Neteller and Skrill, surely suggests that more and more businesses will start to accept the likes of Bitcoin as payment. As it stands, people have been paying particular attention to the growing popularity of cryptocurrencies in the gambling industry.
Some well-established, “mainstream” casino and betting sites already support Bitcoin along more traditional deposit and withdrawal methods like debit cards and e-wallets. We’ve also seen the rise of a new generation of crypto casinos, which deal exclusively in digital currency and utilise blockchain technology to provide unprecedented anonymity to gamblers. Personal details aren’t required to play at these casinos, after all.
This side of the gambling industry is still in its infancy. For example, in the UK you can’t yet legally access crypto-fuelled casino sites as they haven’t been sanctioned by the Gambling Commission. Still, this will likely change in the years to come – for all the hype, we’re in very early days both in terms of Bitcoin betting and cryptocurrency usage in general.
It should be acknowledged that, as with any fledgling technology with the potential to change the world, there will be a lot of debates over the “right” way to roll things out. To go back to Mastercard – while the company’s cryptocurrency announcement had a suitably excited tone, it was also at pains to point out that “not all of today’s cryptocurrencies will be supported on our network”, and that “many of the hundreds of digital assets in circulation still need to tighten their compliance measures, so they won’t meet our requirements”. This attracted the notice of tech journalist Timothy B. Lee, who noted that “it’s hard to be both decentralized and regulated”.
“Bitcoin’s open architecture and lack of red tape makes it a fertile platform for innovation and a check on the power of governments,” he wrote in Ars Technica. “But these same characteristics make the network a nightmare for financial institutions that do need to offer consumer protections and comply with money laundering laws.”
Still, these are mere details in the grand scheme of things. Cryptocurrency is no fringe interest anymore. When you have the world’s richest human Elon Musk loudly proclaiming his faith, and major financial institutions integrating crypto into their platforms, then it’s clear a permanent foundation has been built for mainstream growth. It’s now just a matter of waiting and seeing how businesspeople and legislators deal with the new reality – they’ll have to grapple with everything from crypto regulation to the environmental impact of Bitcoin mining.
To quote Daniel Ives, analyst at Wedbush Securities, “the trend of transactions, Bitcoin investments, and blockchain driven initiatives could surge over the coming years as this bitcoin mania is not a fad in our opinion, but rather the start of a new age on the digital currency front.”