Finance and markets are not sexy. There is nothing cool about a bunch of geeks, sitting behind flashing screens, buying and selling stocks, bonds, and currencies. You are not going to get laid talking about curve interpolation, implied volatility, price-earnings ratios, and non-farm payrolls. Bankers are walking and talking contraceptives. You are well advised to give a wide berth to portfolio managers at cocktail parties – they are known to bore the leggings off the village idiot. Bankers and financiers are not inspirational. They have not split the atom or invented cool stuff like the iPod. They do not give memorable speeches at college graduations. The reason is simple – finance is old and boring. At times, they have captured the headlines and documentaries have been made about them. But this is more due to stupidity, ineptness, and greed than to genius.
Digital currencies have changed all this. Cryptocurrencies are making finance sexy, edgy and inspirational. They are the perfect mix of money democratization and revolutionary technology. They are injecting adrenaline and steroids into an inefficient and obese industry that has been feasting off the financial illiteracy of its clients for decades. Cryptocurrencies and blockchain pose the biggest single threat to banks since the financial crisis of 2008. Regulators and central banks are trying their best to avert this threat but they will not succeed. Popular opinion against banks is too strong and virulent. Only those banks that can recognize and understand the enormity of the threat will survive. The rest will be condemned to the scrapyard where they can share their misery with Kodak, Blockbuster, and Blackberry.
Crypto detractors are numerous. They focus on the lack of rules and regulations. They say that this lack of control provides a fertile breeding ground for money laundering, drug trafficking, human trafficking and prostitution, and the illegal trade in weapons. Blaming crypto for the proliferation of these crimes is like blaming divorce on marriage. Many of these crimes have been around longer than the wheel. These crimes are going to happen whether digital currencies exist or not. In fact, the U.S. dollar has done a pretty good job of settling these transactions for decades. Physical cash will never stand in the way of a rebel country buying a crate of AK-47s. Skeptics are missing the big picture. Yes, it is true that there is no central body or regulator, but is that necessarily a bad thing? Speak to people in the streets of Caracas (Venezuela), or Harare (Zimbabwe) and ask them about regulation and central banking. Has it made their lives any better? Their currencies are worthless and cannot be exported due to exchange controls.
The proliferation of cryptocurrencies – the total count reached almost 4,000 in 2021 - is symptomatic of the need for change in the formal banking and finance sectors. People hate their banks and distrust the organizations that regulate them. They are tired of mediocre service, painful bureaucracy, hidden fees, pathetic returns on their deposits, and exorbitant interest rates on their credit cards. They want change. In a world where people can hail a cab from their cell phone, why is it still necessary to physically enter a bank branch to open an account.
People want to break free from the death grip that monopolistic banking groups have over their wallets. What is the quickest way to send money from Singapore to Los Angeles? Buying an airline ticket and physically taking the bills halfway across the world. The execution of international wire transfers in 2021 still uses SWIFT – an arcane system of codes that make Morse code look revolutionary. Sending money from Singapore to L.A. via SWIFT takes days. With crypto, it takes seconds. Crypto and blockchain are the most dramatic force of change since the internet. The fact that crypto is not regulated by a central bank is at the very heart of its beauty. It does not require central bank oversight because it is backed by its underlying technology.
Crypto represents the democratization of finance. Crypto is the first tangible step towards narrowing the divide between rich and poor. To break the circle of poverty and inequality, the world needs to work towards financial inclusion. More than 2 billion people do not have access to basic financial services. The existing banking model does not cater to the economically marginalized. The cost overheads of an inefficient system of branches, physical representatives, and arcane methodologies of processing and confirming transactions means that banks cannot make money from these 2 billion. The efficiencies of crypto and blockchain now make it possible to serve this market. This is not to say that crypto is flawless.
Bitcoin, as a currency, has been a bloody disaster because it is too volatile and cannot be used to buy much. The trick to analyzing crypto is to look past its weaknesses and understand the financial world that it is making possible.