What Lies Ahead for Bitcoins and Blockchain

What Lies Ahead for Bitcoins and Blockchain
Bitcoins and the underlying blockchain technology are still caught up in some notoriety, however they are steadily gaining acceptance, changing the world around us, and promising to bring another tsunami of innovation and new business models.  According to Bitpay, in 2014 they saw $158 Million in transaction value with 563,000 transactions and an average transaction size of $281 – doubling in value over 2013 except for transaction size that has halved.

Blockchain, combined with the maturity of the Internet and Mobile have fueled innovations in ways that were not possible before. We moved from brick-and-mortar to the Internet with eCommerce and digital goods.  With Blockchain, we will move further away from the physical world into the digital world – this time starting with currency and exchange of value, opening up opportunity around the world where previously there was no possibility. Comparable to what the Internet has achieved with eCommerce and retail, Blockchain is global, democratizing and leveling the playing field in the financial sector. 

Venture money also seems abundant – Circle Internet Financial recently closed its Series C round with $50 Million, the largest round to date for a Bitcoin company.  Bitcoin innovation and investment is spanning cities around the world from San Francisco in the lead to Vancouver where the first Bitcoin ATM was installed to the Philippines and London. itBit, a Bitcoin exchange just received its banking trust charter license from New York’s State Department and is now legally open to customers across the U.S.

NYU and Duke University are now offering courses in crypto currencies. You can tip in Bitcoins and also donate with Bitcoins to causes such as the recent earthquake in Nepal. 

And did you know that buying and selling of Bitcoins is exempt from VAT in Spain, Germany, France, Finland, Belgium, and the UK?  These steps are making Bitcoins more mainstream.

The impact to the financial world could be significant.  In Argentina Bitcoins are becoming a common tender, bypassing exchange rates, gaining global access and avoiding currency volatility. Instead of using a bank to store and exchange value, people are using Bitcoins, albeit in small numbers.  There is no reason this could not be the case in the rest of the world.

Many banks in the US have formed their own Bitcoin research and working groups to explore the possibilities and impact this could have on the role of banks.  Antiquated in their cost structures and their business systems, banks may have to completely reinvent themselves if Bitcoins gain in popularity.  It could be highly disruptive and transformative since the role of the banking middleman and payment systems could essentially be eliminated. And in addition to Bitcoins, banks are under increasing pressure from alternative funding solutions such as crowd-funding and peer-to-peer lending. 

The hum of activity in the Blockchain and Bitcoin space is getting louder – so what could hold Bitcoins back? As of now Bitcoins are still somewhat under the radar for the average consumer.  Perhaps that is because it is still hard to acquire and transact in Bitcoins. Merchant acceptance is definitely on the rise but far from mainstream.  And ultimately even if merchants offer Bitcoins as a payment option, the success of Bitcoins depends on one key factor – the consumer must embrace it and use it. Like any great idea, if the consumer is not behind it, it is likely to fail.

And the consumer is right to resist.  Consumer protection, fraud, and risk are still unclear and much regulatory work needs to be done before widespread acceptance. 

Despite heavy investment in the technology, the obvious advantages of this decentralized, digital alternative and the amazing potential it offers, there is a long road ahead for Bitcoins and Blockchain to become commonplace.

Hear the latest on the future of the financial world from leading investors and entrepreneurs in this space at the BayPay event on June 10th in San Francisco. 

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