Despite its ups and downs, bitcoin is still on the tip of everyone’s tongue as the currency that will change – and has already changed – the way we make purchases, sell goods, and make money. Now, the chatter is mounting about how the currency can overhaul the business-to-business sector.
A CoinDesk column, “How Bitcoin Could Shake Up B2B Payments,” made waves last month, touting the benefits bitcoin could offer the space: less expensive than wire transfers, faster than ACH transfers and a way to bypass bank fees.
Business owners seem to agree. The CEO of Australian car manufacturer Tomcar, CoinDesk noted, sees a bright future for merchant payments using bitcoin. David Brim claimed the company saved $20,000 simply by paying suppliers with the digital currency. As of now, only 2 percent of Tomcar’s suppliers accepting bitcoin, but as more businesses join in, the potential for additional savings is huge.
One of the essay’s most prominent points is how bitcoin virtually erases international borders, allowing businesses to conduct transactions with their suppliers without the hassle of foreign exchange controls.
On paper, the advantages of cryptocurrency payments are clear. Yet, as bitcoin and other digital currencies have made major inroads in the consumer marketplace – marquee names like Microsoft and Dell now accept it – as adoption in the B2B marketplace is slow. There are two significant roadblocks to companies using bitcoin to conduct B2B transactions, and those obstacles make it far less likely bitcoin will infiltrate B2B payments in a major way anytime soon.
Roadblock No. 1: It’s volatile
The New Year has not been kind to bitcoin’s value. It fell more than 30 percent in January, according to the PYMNTS.com bitcoin price index—a dramatic tumble from record highs in late-2013. This volatility makes bitcoin a tough sell. For cryptocurrencies to work in a business application, its value must be stable enough to wait out standard payment terms and remain stable while it sits on a balance sheet. Imagine businesses agreeing on a cost for goods or services, only to find that value reduced by a third when payment is due.
Unlike the conventional currency, a governing body doesn’t back bitcoin. If the 64-character private key is lost, the money is gone for good. The same goes if you’re hacked, or if the exchange you’re using is hacked—as was the case for Mt. Gox, which lost millions of dollars in value last year. More recently, cybercriminals got away with a reported $5 million from another exchange, Bitstamp.
Roadblock No. 2: There isn’t a complete ecosystem in place…yet
Bitcoin saves businesses time and money by keeping payments outside of the banking model, but most merchants who accept bitcoin usually use a third party to trade it for traditional currency immediately upon receipt. The constant liquidation drives prices down, making the digital currency even less stable (see roadblock No. 1). Cashing out the value of bitcoin can also save businesses from paying additional taxes. In the United States and other countries, cryptocurrencies are classified as property, and as such are subject to the capital gains tax.
In order to maximize the benefits without trading for the monetary value, the entire supply chain would need to accept digital currency—from the maker to the seller.
Frederic Suares, founder of BrickandCrypto.com, a consulting agency with the aim of helping businesses understand the world of cryptocurrencies, believes that day is getting closer. He writes 2015 will bring innovation to the B2B space, citing bitcoin ATM manufacturers as evidence of the impending aggregation of cost-savings down the supply chain and the removal of the middleman, both of which are key elements to the core value of frictionless transactions.
So, is 2015 the year for bitcoin to enter the B2B space? Not yet.
The first step for bitcion to play a major role in B2B payments is encouraging more supply-side businesses to see bitcoin as a viable payment method. For that, the framework is there – ask any business owner if they would like to be paid faster with fewer fees, and the answer will be “yes.” The challenge lies in the long term: establishing pathways for companies to invest not only in cryptocurrency as a payment method, but as currency.