New research from Imperial College London and eToro argues cryptocurrencies are already fulfilling one of three main criteria of money
Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin offer a viable evolutionary ‘next step’ for money and have the potential to become a mainstream form of payment within the next decade. This is the central finding of new academic research from Imperial and eToro.
In a research report published today – Cryptocurrencies: Overcoming Barriers to Trust and Adoption – Professor William Knottenbelt from Imperial College London and Dr. Zeynep Gurguc from Imperial College Business School argue cryptocurrencies are already equipped to fulfill one of the three fundamental roles of traditional fiat money: acting as a store of value. The three criteria are as follows:
- Store of value: allowing individuals to make intemporal choices on when to spend their purchasing power.
- Medium of exchange: facilitating the exchange of goods and services by eliminating the inefficiencies associated with a barter economy.
- Unit of account: acting as a measure of value in the economic system.
Meeting the last two criteria will require Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to make progress on remaining challenges such as scalability, design, and regulation.
The research argues that money has evolved significantly over time. The earliest forms were based on systems of barter and objects of value such as cowrie shells. Over time, these early ideas were replaced by coins, notes, and payment cards. The rise of contactless and mobile payments is the most recent step.
In each case, new forms emerged which rendered older ones obsolete, such as coin minting and electronic banking. However, despite the changes, money’s three core functions have remained constant throughout.
Provided they can demonstrate progress as a medium of exchange and unit of account, as well as a store of value, cryptocurrencies represent a viable technological update to the way we spend money.
The research also notes that each evolutionary stage of money has brought about a reduction in payments friction. Given their design principles, the paper concludes that the widespread use of cryptocurrencies is a natural next step to reduce friction in the global economy.
Professor William Knottenbelt from Imperial, said:
“The world of cryptocurrency is evolving as rapidly as the considerable collection of confusing terminology that accompanies it. These decentralised technologies have the potential to upend everything we thought we knew about the nature of financial systems and financial assets.
“In this context, we wanted to get back to basics: clarifying the nature of cryptocurrencies as a new kind of asset class, contrasting them with traditional forms of wealth, and classifying the main challenges that need to be overcome in order to drive their success forward.
“There’s a lot of scepticism over cryptocurrencies and how they could ever become a day-to-day payment system used by the man on the street. In this research, we show that cryptocurrencies have already made significant headway towards fulfilling the criteria for becoming a widely accepted method of payment.”
Imperial and eToro set out six existing challenges that cryptocurrencies will have to address in order to become a mainstream method of payment. These are:
- Scalability – many cryptocurrencies are built on blockchains that aren’t designed to facilitate high volumes of transactions at present. The mining community of individual blockchains needs to prioritise solving scalability issues in order to succeed.
- Usability – like any invention, user-friendly design is at the core of mass adoption. Cryptocurrencies can be complex and require specialist understanding.
- Regulation – this is currently fragmented with different countries pursuing different regulatory routes. Without a standardised global approach to regulation, Bitcoin will struggle to gain mainstream traction.
- Volatility – all fiat currencies fluctuate in value. However, current significant volatility in cryptocurrencies hinders their ability to be considered a store of value. As price movements settle the store of value function can be realised.
- Incentives – any new financial ecosystem requires careful thinking about how its reward system will influence behaviour. If this isn’t built in the right way, then the system will quickly be manipulated by some users to the detriment of others.
- Privacy – while blockchains provide a transparent single source of truth, different levels of privacy available to different users is often attractive. Without this, some people will stay away from cryptocurrencies.
Iqbal V. Gandham, UK Managing Director of eToro, who commissioned the research, said:
“People have grown used to their view of money as a solid, permanently fixed idea when in fact the opposite is true. The history of money is a history of evolution, of new technology replacing old to improve the transfer of value from one person to another. Cryptocurrencies represent the next step on this journey.
“The first email was sent in 1971, but it took nearly three decades for the technology to become commonplace with a user-friendly interface in the form of Hotmail. The first ever Bitcoin transaction took place a little over eight years ago and today we are already seeing it begin to meet the requirements of everyday money. Given the speed of adoption, we believe that we could see Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies on the high street within the decade. There are of course barriers to mainstream adoption, but they are far from insurmountable.
“Perhaps the thing that will ultimately tip cryptocurrencies into the mainstream is the issue of cross-border payments. These remain difficult and expensive in many cases. Cryptos are cross-border by design, enabling wealth to be transferred far more easily. The potential for this to be a leading use case looks very strong.”
Dr. Zeynep Gurguc from Imperial, said:
“New payment systems (or asset classes) do not emerge overnight but it is worth noting that the concept of money has evolved – even in our lifetime – from cash to digital or contactless payments. The wider use of cryptocurrencies and crypto-assets is the next natural step if they successfully overcome the six challenges we set out in our report.”
eToro empowers people to invest on their own terms. The platform enables people to invest in the assets they want, from stocks to cryptocurrencies to commodities. eToro is a global community of more than ten million people who share their investment strategies, and anyone can follow the approaches of those who have been the most successful. Users can easily buy, hold and sell assets, monitor their portfolio in real time, and transact whenever they want.
eToro is regulated in Europe by Cyprus Securities and Exchange Commission and regulated in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority
About Guy Hirsch
Guy Hirsch is the USA Managing Director of eToro, the world’s largest social investment network. Guy leads eToro’s expansion into the United States with a focus on U.S. cryptocurrency and blockchain strategy. Prior to joining eToro, Guy served as Director of Innovation Strategy at Samsung SDS, the enterprise IT solution subsidiary of Samsung group, where he oversaw architecting, development, piloting and learning of experimental AI and IoT solutions and evangelized digital transformation projects at the C-Suite level. Guy also previously led Samsung Electronics America’s retail innovation team, where he spearheaded Samsung’s efforts as the leader in consumer electronics retailing. Guy has an LL.B and a BA in Business from the IDC Herzliya in Israel.
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