Contrasting opinions lead to ambiguity for businesses and investors
The boss of the biggest bank in the US, JP Morgan’s Jamie Dimon has more reasons than most to speak out against Bitcoin. At a recent conference in New York, he stated that any employee found trading in the online currency would be instantly fired. He also said that the only market for Bitcoin was for drug dealers and murderers in, “Venezuela or Ecuador or North Korea”. Strong words. Directly after the conference, early Bitcoin investor Roger Ver (also known as the “Bitcoin Jesus”) prophesied that the development of Bitcoin was as important as the development of the Internet, and that any smart regulator would embrace the technology. The question is, who’s really on the money?
Shady payments, or a force for good?
There are other seriously influential players on Dimon’s side of the pitch including, well, China. Earlier this month, the country announced that it would ban all Bitcoin and cryptocurrency trading on exchanges and outlaw ICOs. Over the counter transactions may still take place, but the decision will undoubtedly discourage early users. Dimon’s outburst also came at around the same time as a warning from the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority that anyone investing in ICOs (Initial Coin Offerings) should be prepared for a total loss. Admittedly, Bitcoin doesn’t have a fantastic track record. Drug sales, money laundering and sex trafficking are just a few of the criminal activities it’s been used for. It was also used by the WannaCry hackers to hide their identities.
At the same time, though, Bitcoin is also doing exactly the opposite of what Dimon assured his audience it was designed for. Blockchain data analysis companies like Chainalysis and BlockSeer have been working to identify malevolent users by matching analysis with public data. Since 2015, these business have aided law enforcement agencies including the US Drug Enforcement Agency, FBI and Internal Revenue Service. Cryptocurrency exchanges are also turning to analysis companies to help them understand who their customers are. If they want to become legitimate and trusted, exchanges need to work to prevent criminal transactions. Bitcoin has also encouraged accountability in finance, restored trust in trade, and improved data storage and energy exchange.
Disruption on the cards. . .
Despite the conclusions of banking companies and governmental organisations, it’s hard to deny the growing influence of Bitcoin. For example, London based property company The Collective will begin accepting rent payments in Bitcoin by the end of 2017. Other influential cryptocurrencies are also creeping into mainstream use, including Ethereum, which has already been used to allow automatic in car payments. Bitcoin is still the leader of the pack, and more use cases will help it to transform its current ambiguous image. The efforts of corporate and governmental organisations are clearly holding back its expansion. The words of influential spokespeople have contributed to considerable valuation drops, and investors are constantly put off by the currency’s infamous volatility. Even so, there are as many voices speaking up for Bitcoin as there are against it. What’s more, the recent Chinese ban is unlikely to have anywhere near the same impact as when China dominated global Bitcoin transactions by over 90 per cent. However, governments worldwide are still understandably wary about dropping fiat currencies in favour of the unknown.
So, there we have it: Bitcoin, the crypto contradiction that fights yet facilitates crime, confuses yet clarifies payments, and is as risky as it is revolutionary. From the benevolent applications listed in this article, there is certainly merit in investing in Bitcoin (and other cryptocurrencies). Nonetheless, investors need to accept the possibility of serious losses if the bubble bursts. Bitcoin’s ambiguity has fostered some deeply contrasting opinions, which is clear from the statements made by Dimon and Ver this month. In dismissing Bitcoin as a criminal tool, Dimon appears to be close minded. Ver’s unfaltering belief, however, could be viewed as equally short sighted. Either way, the jury is still out. As cryptocurrencies are increasingly pushed into the spotlight, it’s up to both corporations and consumers to decide if it’s really worth it.
Have you invested in a cryptocurrency? Do you agree with Jamie Dimon or Roger Ver? Will digital currencies continue to disrupt payments? Share your thoughts and experiences.