Naysayers love to nay. And the bitcoin skeptics — of which there are many — are at it again. In late June, Citi Research released a report that asked, "Could the Bitcoin Blockchain Disrupt Payments?"
The researchers' short answer — unsurprisingly — was: no. That short answer, however, was shortsighted. Even more troubling is that Citigroup is not alone in its critique of the cryptocurrency.
We have a little secret for all of those who once again have predicted bitcoin's imminent demise: They're wrong. Instead of simply shouting that point over and over again, let's carefully examine some of the faulty arguments cryptocurrency naysayers, when they are naying, seem to be saying in unison.
The U.S. and Western Europe are well served by existing financial systems.
Here, we mostly agree. Existing centralized payment systems can work for those within the established system. But what of the 2.5 billion people excluded from the established system? For the disenfranchised living in places banks cannot or will not serve, bitcoin can change lives.
The naysayer argument here (and well articulated by Citi) is a familiar established financial refrain: "We do not believe bitcoin is superior to existing centralized payment systems." Yet, can we really argue the superiority of a model unavailable to so many?
Indeed, the established financial industry has left over a third of the world's population without access to checking accounts, saving accounts or credit cards. It doesn't have to be that way.
Blockchain technology provides the opportunity to rewrite the financial services sector and create a more global, open and efficient system. Such a system can provide unparalleled access to a stronger economic future for billions across the globe. It can help a woman in Afghanistan who seeks to hold value independent of the men in her life, or a doctor in Venezuela who is watching the bolivar become worthless every day but can secure assets by holding their value in bitcoin.
Bitcoin can't reach parts of the world that lack internet services.
A working paper from the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development is just the latest in a lengthy string of commentary from naysayers articulating the loudest and longest-running argument against bitcoin: limited connectivity. In the paper, researcher Brett Scott writes:
"There remain doubts as to the viability of Bitcoin within countries with poor infrastructure and technology access. Besides the issue of establishing trust in an otherwise poorly understood digital token system, there needs to [be] consistent internet availability and efficient electrical grids."
Let's put this issue to bed once and for all: Connectivity is not an issue. The reason is you don't need a computer connection to be connected. There are at least 7 billion mobile phone subscriptions in the world — that means there are almost twice as many people with cell phones than bank accounts or working toilets. The combination of digital currency and mobile phone connectivity promises to fundamentally overhaul a banking system to the benefit of those excluded from the current so-called superior model.
The "last mile" cost makes bitcoin a last resort.
The naysayers, including Jamie Dimon, argue that bitcoin will never be a major competitor to the U.S. dollar.
Among the reasons often cited, particularly by money transfer operators, is that bitcoin doesn't solve certain cost challenges associated with remittances. While bitcoin can streamline the value transfers, it does not affect what is known as the "last mile" costs of making the conversion into local currency.
Again, we agree. But it's a misguided point because it assumes that conversion is a foregone conclusion, when it's not. Believing conversion is the ultimate goal is a view deeply rooted in the Western banking paradigm. However, in many parts of the world, holding value in bitcoin is preferable to the volatility of local currency. Note the aforementioned Venezuelan doctor who has no interest in converting bitcoin to bolivar anytime soon.
Bitcoin's two "incurable" diseases.
The number of bitcoin obituaries is almost endless. One of the chief causes of death are bitcoin companies' lack of resiliency in such a volatile market. Bitcoin has only been around since 2009 so it's neither time-tested nor stable.
Bill Gates has flagged resiliency/volatility as a bitcoin pitfall. But what the naysayers and obit writers overlook is that youth bears no relation to resiliency, just as age does not suggest security. Don't believe us? One word: Brexit.
In the immediate wake of Brexit, bitcoin experienced record transaction volumes as it became a safe haven for Brits watching the pound tumble. Despite the cryptocurrency's increased use and relative youth, bitcoin's value remained stable because its global nature made it more resilient to geo-political risk.
And yet the naysayers continue to nay. But as we have said, they're getting it all wrong. Is bitcoin perfect? Of course not, though we would argue that it's perfectly accessible — an attribute lacking in our "superior" centralized system.
Could the bitcoin blockchain disrupt payments? The right answer is a resounding yes.
Arthur Levitt Jr. is former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Peter Smith is CEO of Blockchain, a provider of blockchain technology and bitcoin wallets.