Mainstream banks and financial institutions are warming up to Bitcoin and digital blockchain-based fintech, often with a surprisingly positive and open-minded attitude.
In a recent research paper titled “One Bank Research Agenda,” the Bank of England said that Bitcoin could reshape the financial industry and called for further research to devise a system that could use distributed ledger technology without compromising a central bank’s ability to control its currency.
A recent Goldman Sachs report titled “The Future of Finance: Redefining the Way We Pay in the Next Decade” states that Bitcoin is a megatrend that could shape the future of finance. “Innovations in network technology and cryptography could change the speed and mechanics of moving money,” the report says.
A Wall Street Bitcoin Alliance has formed to cater for the growing interest in digital fintech shown by Wall Street operators, and innovative financial institutions such as German Fidor Bank are openly embracing Bitcoin as part of their operations.
Credit Suisse, the large Switzerland-based multinational financial services holding company that operates the Credit Suisse Bank and other financial services investments, has published an article titled “Bitcoins – Money Without Physical Form.” The article takes a lukewarm position on Bitcoin, which, according to the company, should be combined with the traditional financial system.
After providing a short and simplified introduction to Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, the article analyzes the advantages and shortcomings of Bitcoin as both a security and a currency. The low transaction costs and easy transfer around the globe indicate that Bitcoin should be considered a legitimate currency, as does the fact that many online providers accept bitcoin. The Credit Suisse analyst wonders whether Bitcoin has the potential to become commonplace and to dislodge the money monopoly from the central banks.
But the author thinks the advantage of Bitcoin over traditional currencies – decentralization – is also its biggest drawback, because there is no authority that guarantees the value of the currency.
“A currency is only worth what you believe you will be able to purchase with it tomorrow,” notes the analyst, who considers the huge fluctuations in the exchange value of bitcoin a result of the absence of a central bank able to stabilize the currency and provide confidence.
“If this confidence is removed, the value of the currency can decline rapidly, which is what happened with bitcoins at the beginning of 2014. The opposite is also harmful: The increase in value bitcoins experienced in 2013 would have corresponded to an economically crippling deflation if they had been the general means of payment. These fluctuations in value are what is stopping bitcoins from becoming more widespread as a means of payment.”
These considerations seem to point to the desirability of new implementations of digital currencies controlled by governments and central banks, similar to the FedCoin proposal by the U.S. Federal Reserve and the digital currency framework that IBM is rumored to be developing for use by central authorities.
Such a centrally controlled cryptocurrency would combine the advantages of Bitcoin – cheaper and faster transactions, permanently recorded in a tamper-proof ledger – with the value stabilization and user monitoring that a central bank can provide.
“Who do you trust more, your own central bank or an anonymous online network?” asks the author.
“Nevertheless, bitcoins have a future in certain areas and countries,” states the Credit Suisse article. “When combined with the traditional financial system, bitcoins could have cost advantages over credit cards or providers such as Western Union when used as a transaction system.”
Echoing opinions expressed by Finance Minister of Greece Yanis Varoufakis, the article concludes that “In countries such as Argentina and Zimbabwe, where confidence in the country’s own currency retaining its value is very low, bitcoins are an alternative that is being used with increasing success.”