Reaching the peak interest among those in a particular industry just before it goes mainstream is something that’s happened on more than one occasion. Ranging from the housing bubble in the late 2000s to the dot-com bubble of the mid-’90s and the tech bubble of today, there have been myriad instances throughout history where being on the cusp of something new has greatly inflated the intrinsic value of the commodity itself.
Rising up over the last few decades, the latest to possibly join the bubble club has come in the form of cryptocurrencies. Stemming from eCommerce's increasing popularity, the notion of paying without physical cash has become synonymous with online payments. As with any new way of doing something, there are bound to be those in that particular industry who seek to improve upon what some may call the beta version.
In a sense, digital currencies began via online payments, which have then shifted into the creation of cryptocurrency like bitcoin, Ethereum and dogecoin.
Over the last year, cryptocurrency has been experiencing a heightened level of interest from multiple parties. From reported mainstream uses like Overstock's announcement that it would accept all cryptocurrenciy, to bitcoin’s value teetering back and forth like a see-saw this year and even billionaire investor Mark Cuban taking off his bitcoin-skeptic glasses, the digital money arena seems to be gaining significant steam.
Within that lead up to the potential bubble, tax automation company Avalara's CTO and EVP of engineering, Peter Horadan, shared with PYMNTS that it’s likely we are heading into one for the encrypted digital currency. While he says it’s unlikely the finance industry is heading into a cryptocurrency tech bubble, due to its seemingly unlimited supply, he says these specific types of digital currencies are a more pure expression of supply and demand.
“The supply of a cryptocurrency is fixed in a very hard way. Cryptocurrencies are far more like a commodity (limited supply) than fiat currency (governments create more supply all the time), Horadan said. “It is certainly possible that speculators are hoarding cryptocurrencies and will later dump them and prices will drop. However, it seems entirely plausible that what we are seeing is simply that demand is rising sharply, as people realize just how much you can do with these new tools. With supply fixed, the demand-versus-supply ratio is changing very quickly.”
That demand for cryptocurrency is likely driven by the fact that, in terms of bitcoin, there is still some debate as to exactly how popular the digital currency is among top retailers. While some experts in the field may tout that there are anywhere between 50,000 merchants to 100,000 merchants accepting bitcoin, others share that out of the top 500 retailers, only three accept bitcoin, and people are writing about all the different types of bitcoin wallets available today.
One thing about cryptocurrency that may be certain for now is its inability to become the de facto currency around the world (at least for now). Horadan shared that we're not likely to see these types of digital currencies push out traditional forms of finance interactions. “Managing currency is one of the strongest tools that governments have, and it is very hard to see governments being willing to give that up,” Horadan said. “For example, in the U.S., although there are many people who would argue that we should return to the gold standard we left in 1933, for eight decades now we have been unwilling to agree to that. Over the long term, it would make a lot of societal and government change for this idea to be considered.”
Although it doesn't appear that cryptocurrency will overtake currency as we know it now, it’s definitely not a passing fad and is something that should likely remain on the business room table. “Just the top five cryptocurrencies alone have a market cap of $115 billion,” said Horadan. “While that number is tiny in world economic scale (U.S. GDP is $19 trillion), it also is a statement that people in aggregate are willing to trust and invest in these systems with billions of dollars and real value.”
Today, the approximate number of those with globally active cryptocurrency wallets is between 5.8 million to 11.5 million, according to the joint study conducted by the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Financing and University of Cambridge, Global Cryptocurrency Benchmarking Study. Whether or not the cryptocurrency bubble is upon us is something that we’ll likely be closely monitoring for the next five to 10 years.