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Money or the currency system has evolved itself over the years. One such system that is raging these days is cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrency is basically a virtual currency that is generated and secured through cryptography, making it almost impossible to counterfeit. While the idea of such currency started to establish in the late 1990s, the first actual cryptocurrency came into existence in 2009 with the creation of Bitcoin. Presently, the global cryptocurrency market has hit the $2 Tn mark as of August 2021, and the market is only growing with more awareness and acceptability.
Features that make Cryptocurrency Unique
What makes cryptocurrency unique are its fundamental features. Let us have a look at these, before we understand the crypto market.
● Security — Cryptocurrencies are secured as they consist of cryptography codes. Each owner has a unique set of encrypted codes which are difficult to replicate. The blockchain technology ensures the integrity of transactional data and is an essential part of the system.
● Decentralised — It is not controlled by any central authority. This feature makes crypto immune to the old ways of government control and interference. The system of blockchain record-keeping maintains transaction records and keeps the network transparent.
● Irreversible Transactions — One has to be cautious before initiating crypto transactions as they are irreversible. Once the permission is granted, the transaction will be carried out completely. And due to lack of regulation, no organisation will be able to help in case of wrongly initiated transactions.
● Limited Supply — There are fixed, predefined amounts of cryptocurrency that can be mined. While some miners release a proportion of total supply to ensure price stability, others release all coins at once. With limited supply, the demand for each crypto determines its price. Hence, it can be quite volatile in terms of pricing.
Apart from the above features, Crypto transactions can be processed super-fast, and do not require any physical location, making it easy to use for the people.
Cryptocurrencies that are Leading the Market
From just 66 crypto-coins, to more than 6000 in 2021, the growing popularity and advancement in technology has led to growth of several currencies. Out of vast number of options available, the following are leading the market presently:
● Bitcoin (BTC) — The first cryptocurrency created in 2009, by the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin is the largest cryptocurrency in the world. With a market capitalisation of over $856 Bn, it has witnessed a growth of about 8900% in its price in the last five years.
● Ethereum (ETH) — With a market capitalisation of over $357 Bn, Ethereum is one of the biggest cryptocurrency. It is popular among users particularly due to its usability in crypto-goods and non-fungible tokens (NFT). Launched in 2015, Ethereum has seen a significant growth of over 27000% in the last five years.
● Binance Coin (BNB) — Founded in 2017, Binance Coin currently has a market capitalisation of over $70 Bn. It can be easily used to trade and pay fees on Binance platform which is one of the largest crypto exchange platform in the world. Since its inception, BNB’s price has risen by whooping 419000%.
● Tether (USDT) — Tether is a stable coin with a market capitalisation of over $64 Bn. It is the most consistent crypto-coin as it pegs its value to fiat currency like the US dollar.
Acceptance Around the World
While most people buy cryptocurrencies to gain from price volatility through speculative investments, they have already started to gain recognition as a payment option in many companies across the world. From big firms like Microsoft, CocaCola, BMW to small businesses and even gig workers, across different industries have already started to accept crypto payments. In case of global companies, transacting in cryptocurrencies serves as an added advantage as they are able to dodge additional 2–3% cost they have to incur while making international payments. However, most businesses are dependent on crypto-exchanges that convert crypto payments into fiat currency, which then goes to the receiving party. Tesla’s announcement of accepting Bitcoin as a direct payment option is considered to be a big move in the favour of crypto acceptability. Such instances rally up the prices of the particular crypto coins.
To make crypto payments more accessible, Bitcoin ATMs have been installed at various places. The United States has the highest number of such ATMs. Compared with the rest of the world, the USA has the most number of businesses accepting crypto payments. In June 2021, El Salvador became the first country to accept Bitcoin as the legal tender. Athena Bitcoin, a provider of crypto ATMs, is investing over $1 Mn to install about 1,500 crypto-ATMs in the country. Such moves indicate the growing acceptability to the new form of currency system around the world.
Dark Side of Cryptocurrencies
Decentralisation is the most important feature of cryptocurrency. There is no official organisation that keeps a record of cryptocurrency. While this provides immunity from government interference, this feature has also led to some negative consequences. Due to lack of regulation and anonymity of transactions, it is used for dark activities and frauds. While the blockchain technology makes it difficult for third parties to access transactions, some hackers may be able to crack the code. Recent times have seen an increase in the number of such thefts. From $4.5 Bn worth of theft in 2019 to $1.7 Bn worth of theft in 2020, the value of crime has decreased but the number of crypto theft jumped by 40% YoY. In August 2021, hackers carried out the biggest ever theft of over $600 Mn in digital coins from token-swapping platform Poly Network, of which hackers returned about half of the amount within a couple of days. This shows the vulnerable side of digital currencies.
Changing Regulatory Scenario
Despite the negative consequences, several countries have started to realise the potential of digital currencies. As a result, governments and organisations are working towards changing the policy scenario to make the crypto market a better place.
The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) puts cryptocurrencies under the securities category, on which security laws are very much applicable. The US is even considering strengthening crypto tax measures that will be beneficial for the government as well. On the other hand, China is trying to tighten crypto activities, primarily through crypto mining regulations. While the regulatory scenario across the world is still in its nascent stage, it is believed that clear regulatory norms would remove significant roadblocks for cryptocurrency.
Divided View on Cryptos — What does its future look like?
There is no doubt that the crypto market has seen significant growth since its birth. It has seen widespread growth in its adoption in various firms-big or small, across the world. And when big names like Elon Musk favour such digital currencies, it immediately rallies its prices to a new high. However, there is a divided view about cryptos among big investors. While it is gaining popularity, some of the big investors in the world, including Warren Buffett are against the idea of crypto, deeming it to be risky and worthless, primarily due to its distinctive features.
But at the same time, with the growth of blockchain technology, governments and organisations have started to realise its importance. Several governments have already started working on creating and amending policies regarding digital currencies that would make it a safer option for investors and will also curb the demerits associated with crypto.
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This article has been co-authored by Tamanna Kapur , who is in the Research and Insights team of Torre Capital.