The cryptocurrency market has grown beyond many people’s expectations over the past decade. The nascent industry has managed to change mainstream perception quite significantly, especially in 2021, which saw many traditional financial institutions adopt crypto in one form or another.
Some of the biggest public companies such as MicroStrategy started using Bitcoin (BTC) as a treasury hedge, while the likes of PayPal, Mastercard and Visa paved the way for the common public to use crypto as a form of payment. While many experts are still skeptical about the use of crypto as a form of payment, given its price volatility, recent market trends and data indicate that crypto is increasingly being used to buy daily-use items.
A recent report from fintech payment infrastructure provider checkout.com that surveyed 33,000 business leaders revealed a rise in consumer interest in paying in crypto. The report indicated that 40% of 18–35-year-old consumers want and plan to use cryptocurrencies to pay for goods or services within the next year. That’s up from less than 30% last year.
The rise of digital payments aided by the COVID-19 pandemic has only made it easier for crypto to become more mainstream. People are more familiar with QR code payments today, which makes it easier for mainstream payment processors such as Visa and Mastercard to introduce crypto payments on its network without having to build a separate infrastructure.
Miles Paschini, CEO at fintech bank FV Bank, told Cointelegraph:
"The use of cryptocurrencies as a form of payment has progressed in the past year but primarily into the area of settlement layers, advancements have been made with stablecoins, in particular with USDC and to some extent Ripple (XRP). The developments we have seen in the settlement layer are not exactly visible to the retail customer. For example, stablecoins denominated in national currencies can be very efficient in moving funds between institutional parties."
The growth of crypto payment networks and public interest
According to a report from Visa, its network processed over $1 billion in crypto transactions in the first quarter of 2021, which increased to $2.5 billion by the first quarter of 2022. The report highlighted that crypto payments have become increasingly popular with the rise in the use of stablecoin payments.
Mastercard partnered with USD Coin (USDC) stablecoin issuer Circle to facilitate crypto-based payment options for millions of users.
With the rise in crypto-linked debit cards, Nexo has come up with its crypto collateralized credit card in association with Mastercard. Nexo has issued 55,000 cards since its launch in April that could be used at around 92 million merchants worldwide, allowing investors to spend up to 90% of the fiat value of their crypto.
Antoni Trenchev, co-founder and managing partner of Nexo, told Cointelegraph about the rise of crypto as a form of payment, claiming crypto-linked cards are making it easier for retail customers to spend their digital assets just like fiat. He explained:
“The concept of HODLing is well understood in crypto, but with crypto-backed cards, it is now possible to hodl your digital assets while also using these to spend on day-to-day transactions. This, in turn, has carved a pathway whereby crypto can be both an investment and a form of payment, increasing its utility as an asset class.”
He added, “Crypto cards offer the possibility of spending your crypto directly, which automatically converts your crypto from a linked wallet into the fiat currency needed to pay.”
Many analysts also like to point to the rise in stablecoin adoption as a key metric of crypto payments. Brandon Rochon, a data scientist at Web3 infrastructure provider Covalent, explained how the stablecoin USDC has managed to see over a 10% rise in adoption year-on-year (YoY) despite a downturn in the market. He explained:
“Looking at USDC, its supply grew from $373 million in July 2019 up to $1.0 billion in July 2020, representing a ~168% increase in the one-year time frame. This same 168% growth was achieved in the first three months by October 2020. Over the next year, the supply grew at a rate of 2500% to ~$25 billion, at which point Mastercard stepped in and launched its simplified payments card offering with Circle in July 2021. Since this point, stablecoin supply has continued to grow at a pace over 120% YoY despite the market downturns in the -50%+ range, signifying strong utility.”
Omid Malekan, adjunct professor at Columbia Business School — where he teaches crypto — believes that stablecoin is a fair metric to measure the payment use of crypto at present. He told Cointelegraph:
“One way to measure crypto use in payments is to track stablecoin volumes since those serve a much more limited function than pure crypto coins. On-chain volume for payments has been very strong lately. Most of that is to accommodate speculative activity (people buying and selling crypto, borrowing in DeFi, etc) but payment is a payment, and a substantial part of the traditional system’s payments volume is also related to capital market activity.”
Crypto payments beneficial for merchants and consumers alike
While the infrastructure side of crypto payment has seen tremendous growth, it would not be possible without the willingness of merchants to accept it. Several surveys and reports have highlighted that merchants have benefited equally from the crypto payment integration despite technical barriers and complexities.
Another report from PYMNTS highlighted that more than 75% of the customers in the United States are looking forward to using crypto as a form of payment in 2022. While 85% of businesses with over $1 billion in annual sales are integrating crypto payments to gain more customers, many other merchants have said their overseas transactions increased and they found a new customer base after crypto payment integration.
The key reasons listed by merchants for accepting cryptocurrencies as payments include significant cuts in transaction costs, elimination of middlemen and on-boarding of new customer bases from around the world.
Stablecoins form a significant chunk of expenditure by consumers. However, many analysts also point toward significant growth of layer-2 networks over the past year. For example, the Lightning Network, the secondary layer on top of Bitcoin, has seen tremendous growth over the past year. Bitcoin Lightning Network capacity grew past 4,000 BTC, first breaking the 1,000 BTC barrier in August 2020 and the 2,000 BTC barrier in July 2021. The capacity has doubled in the space of 18 months.
Andry Lebedev, co-founder of Web3 payment infrastructure firm Swipelux, told Cointelegraph:
“At the moment, there is a rerolling of transactions from L1 to L2 thanks to the introduction of zk-rollups and optimistic rollups. Consequently, we see significant growth in transactions for the protocols and stabilization of transactions for Ether and Bitcoin at 125,000 and 240,000 transactions per day, respectively.”
He added that there has been an “upward trend in the structural change of cryptocurrency, which instead of transfer of value becomes a form of payment in the emerging Web3.”
Crypto payment’s popularity depends on the overall adoption of cryptocurrencies; the more people that are aware of and understand the nascent financial asset class, the more people will adopt it, as proven by several studies mentioned above. The volatility aspect of cryptocurrencies could be further dialed down by converting them into stablecoins.