It seems like Bitcoin has been the only thing worth following in the mainstream for the last week or so. Granted, good news has been in short supply for the digital currency. Yet, before the massive leaps and bounds of Bitcoin’s price over the last few days, the mainstream has been sure to ignore Bitcoin, only to befriend its online ledger brother, Blockchain. Well, according to Fortune magazine, executives in the highest places of economic industry have had plenty to say about Bitcoin. Let’s see where executives stand on “The Honey Badger of Money.”
Some surprising commentary from Uphold CEO Anthony Watson
Bitcoin is short on friends these days, except when its price blows the markets away. After reviewing all of the commentaries, the most surprisingly negative comments came from Uphold’s Anthony Watson.
Uphold recently changed its name from BitReserve, and handled over US$400,000,000 in Bitcoin transactions, but has changed its focus away from Bitcoin solely, and towards a more varied economic market strategy. These comments reflect that disconnect rather profoundly. Given Watson’s banking background, formerly of Barclays, his movement being in lockstep with the banking industry may not be such a surprise after all. He said:
“I’ll be surprised if bitcoin is here in five years. The value of bitcoin isn’t the currency, but the technology.”
MasterCard has proven to be much more interested in Bitcoin than most money exchangers, making news by producing anti-Bitcoin videos last year. Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga is actually more circumspect in his assessment of Bitcoin and its impact on the global economic scene. He maintains a level of interest, but it will remain from afar. Banga:
“My view of bitcoin is that the concept of a digital or a virtual currency is interesting if I could figure out what it does for everybody. If all it does is allow you to anonymize your money movements, I’m not so hot about that. If I’m buying something and you’re selling it to me, you want to know that if you sold it to me for $10, you don’t have to run somewhere to change the $10 into gold because you’re not sure the 10 will stay a 10. Bitcoin doesn’t do that for me. And who’s behind it? What system is behind it? Those aspects are worrisome.”
The last part of that indicates a lack of understanding in Bitcoin’s technology and protocol, echoed by Mastercard’s Ed McLaughlin. He is Mastercard’s head of Emerging Payments, and he had this to say:
“Innovation in payments is needed and necessary. New ideas, technologies and applications can drive toward a better experience for people and merchants. But innovation for its own sake is not the answer. The bottom line for any payment system and currency is that it must be safe, stable and reliable for consumers. We believe there needs to be a level playing field for how digital currency is approached, regulated and monitored.”
Visa has been more curious with Bitcoin in 2015, working with startups in Visa’s European Collab initiative, and adapting cars to the use of Bitcoin’s Blockchain tech through mobile apps. Sam Shrauger, the company’s senior VP of digital solutions, had this to say about the future of digital currency:
“I think from a virtual currency standpoint, the way we look at it is, ‘What’s the problem it’s solving? Who’s it solving it for? And how well does it do the job of solving that problem?’ There are a lot of use cases where virtual currencies make sense. But if you think about it, it’s kind of a way of abstracting real money from the context. And I think for most things that consumers do—with the exception of things like gambling and gaming, where virtual currencies work really well—people want to use real currency.”
“And they want to use a currency that they know and they trust. I don’t think most consumers have a problem with currency. I think there are definitely interesting things in the blockchain and in the cryptocurrency structures that are worth looking at from a technical standpoint. But is everyone going to start paying for everything with digital currency? You’d have to have a problem with currency right now that needs a solution.”
What have we learned from the views of the standing economic elite?
Suffice to say, those within the Bitcoin space see many problems inherent in current economic systems that need addressing. Bitcoin fills a need in micro-payments, banking the 4-6 billion unbanked people worldwide, potentially replacing inflationary fiat currency with the appreciating value of sound money, taking debt out of global economics, removing identity theft risk from transactions, and much more.
It appears that the understanding of Bitcoin as a currency is limited, at best. Generally, the more people learn about Bitcoin, the more they appreciate its unique skill set, not unlike the nascent technology of the Internet from twenty years ago.
When you send your first US$100 in bitcoin to someone on the other side of the world via a Skype video conference by simply raising your smartphone and showing a QR Code, in fully encrypted security, these questions of Bitcoin’s value to the marketplace tend to fade into the background rather quickly.
While not as dismissive as the hubris of a mogul like Jamie Dimon, the lack of Bitcoin understanding is palpable. Reminds one of an old saying, “Best to remain silent, and be thought of as a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.”