‘Cryptocurrency’ has become an become an increasingly familiar term since the first emergence of Bitcoin in 2009. Since then, numerous cryptocurrencies have been developed and the combined Bitcoin and crypto market value has continued to rocket – now valued globally at around £2 trillion. With PayPal announcing that they will be supporting cryptocurrency payments, ‘crypto’ is becoming increasingly accessible to the public.
For children who’ve grown up in a digital world, the idea of a non-physical currency is probably something they’ve already got to grips with through playing online games. Many young people are turning to cryptocurrency as a way of making money and a US summer camp for children aged 5-17 even offers an introduction to crypto-trading.
This currencies derive their authority as mediums of transaction from the government or monetary authorities. For example, each dollar bill is backstopped by the Federal Reserve. But cryptocurrencies are not backed by any public or private entities. Therefore, it has been difficult to make a case for their legal status in different financial jurisdictions throughout the world. It doesn’t help matters that cryptocurrencies have largely functioned outside most existing financial infrastructure. The legal status of cryptocurrencies has implications for their use in daily transactions and trading. In June 2019, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommended that wire transfers of cryptocurrencies should be subject to the requirements of its Travel Rule, which requires AML compliance.
Cryptocurrencies are legal in the European Union. Derivatives and other products that use cryptocurrencies will need to qualify as “financial instruments.” In June 2021, the European Commission released the Markets in Crypto-Assets (MiCA) regulation that sets safeguards for regulation and establishes rules for companies or vendors providing financial services using cryptocurrencies.8 Within the United States, the biggest and most sophisticated financial market in the world.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Cryptocrrency
Cryptocurrencies were introduced with the intent to revolutionize financial infrastructure. As with every revolution, however, there are tradeoffs involved. At the current stage of development for cryptocurrencies, there are many differences between the theoretical ideal of a decentralized system with cryptocurrencies and its practical implementation.
- Cryptocurrencies represent a new, decentralized paradigm for money. In this system, centralized intermediaries, such as banks and monetary institutions, are not necessary to enforce trust and police transactions between two parties. Thus, a system with cryptocurrencies eliminates the possibility of a single point of failure, such as a large bank, setting off a cascade of crises around the world, such as the one that was triggered in 2008 by the failure of institutions in the United States.
- Cryptocurrencies promise to make it easier to transfer funds directly between two parties, without the need for a trusted third party like a bank or a credit card company. Such decentralized transfers are secured by the use of public keys and private keys and different forms of incentive systems, such as proof of work or proof of stake.
- Because they do not use third-party intermediaries, cryptocurrency transfers between two transacting parties are faster as compared to standard money transfers. Flash loans in decentralized finance are a good example of such decentralized transfers. These loans, which are processed without backing collateral, can be executed within seconds and are used in trading.
- Cryptocurrency investments can generate profits. Cryptocurrency markets have skyrocketed in value over the past decade, at one point reaching almost $2 trillion. As of Dec. 20, 2021, Bitcoin was valued at more than $862 billion in crypto markets.
- The remittance economy is testing one of cryptocurrency’s most prominent use cases. Currently, cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin serve as intermediate currencies to streamline money transfers across borders. Thus, a fiat currency is converted to Bitcoin (or another cryptocurrency), transferred across borders and, subsequently, converted to the destination fiat currency. This method streamlines the money transfer process and makes it cheaper.
- Though they claim to be an anonymous form of transaction, cryptocurrencies are actually pseudonymous. They leave a digital trail that agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) can decipher. This opens up possibilities of governments or federal authorities tracking the financial transactions of ordinary citizens.
- Cryptocurrencies have become a popular tool with criminals for nefarious activities such as money laundering and illicit purchases. The case of Dread Pirate Roberts, who ran a marketplace to sell drugs on the dark web, is already well known. Cryptocurrencies have also become a favorite of hackers who use them for ransomware activities.
- In theory, cryptocurrencies are meant to be decentralized, their wealth distributed between many parties on a blockchain. In reality, ownership is highly concentrated. For example, an MIT study found that just 11,000 investors held roughly 45% of Bitcoin’s surging value.
- One of the conceits of cryptocurrencies is that anyone can mine them using a computer with an Internet connection. However, mining popular cryptocurrencies requires considerable energy, sometimes as much energy as entire countries consume. The expensive energy costs coupled with the unpredictability of mining have concentrated mining among large firms whose revenues running into the billions of dollars. According to an MIT study, 10% of miners account for 90% of its mining capacity.