Financial

Crypto-currency firm urges patience

Bitcoin has shed about 80% of its 2017 value when it traded at $20 000.
Bitcoin has shed about 80% of its 2017 value when it traded at $20 000.

The need for instant gratification is one of the biggest reasons why the majority of investors are venturing into crypto-currencies.

So says Marcus Swanepoel, CEO at Naspers-owned crypto-currency firm Luno, giving his insights into the future of Bitcoin and how digital currencies are going to evolve.

Formerly BitX, Luno facilitates Bitcoin storage and transactions such as buying, selling and paying through its Bitcoin wallet services. Luno also operates exchanges between traditional currencies and Bitcoin.

The company was founded in 2013 and the exchange was set up by Timothy Stranex, a BSc graduate from the University of Cape Town.

The price of Bitcoin, the world's most popular crypto-currency, has shed about 80% of its 2017 value when it traded at $20 000. At the time of publishing, Bitcoin was trading at $3 546.

Bitcoin fell to $3 500 as $5 billion was wiped out of the crypto market, and major digital assets like Ethereum recorded a 6% drop against the US dollar.

The 4.8% drop in the combined valuation of all crypto-currencies in the global market comes after a strong sell-off on 11 January.

More stories of doom and gloom have appeared about Bitcoin over the past couple of days, with predictions of a fall to $1 500.

This month, Bitcoin celebrated its 10th anniversary and analysts believe the price fluctuations of the digital currency will continue.

"One big challenge we believe the industry still faces is that of instant gratification," says Swanepoel.

"Everyone wants crypto-currency to be the same or better than the existing financial system overnight. The reality is that the existing financial system was built over hundreds, if not thousands, of years, and we're not going to build a new financial infrastructure overnight. While we believe that crypto-currency will one day be all of these things (and more), we need to be patient and take it one step at a time.

According to Swanepoel, the stakes are high, and it would be irresponsible and potentially dangerous to rush things.

He points out that despite talks of a "crypto winter", which tend to be fixated on the price, the industry is gearing up for an exciting year ahead.

Swanepoel believes 2019 will be "exciting" for the industry because more regulators around the world are providing clarity for crypto-currency companies to operate either within existing frameworks, or with new licences.

"This will help increase trust, weed out most (if not all) of the bad actors, and form the foundation for large-scale institutional money to come into the crypto ecosystem.

In December 2014, the South African Reserve Bank issued a position paper on virtual currencies, declaring that virtual currency had "no legal status or regulatory framework". The South African Revenue Service classified Bitcoin as an intangible asset.

"While we don't believe we'll see mass institutional adoption in 2019, we do believe that there will be some early movers, like Fidelity, and Bakkt (who, interestingly, also attracted investment from our own lead Series A investor, Naspers) that will get the momentum started."

Bakkt is building an open, global network to enable users to buy, sell, store and spend digital assets. It recently raised $182.5 million in its first round of funding.

Last year, Fidelity Investments, which administers more than $7.2 trillion in client assets, announced a new and separate company called Fidelity Digital Asset Services to handle custody for crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin.

Swanepoel adds: "We do, however, see smaller fintech and other tech companies entering the space via partnerships with existing crypto-currency companies like Luno."

Swanepoel believes the "real use cases" of crypto-currencies will start showing some skin in 2019. He notes the increase in real use cases will be driven, to a large extent, by the amount of infrastructure that was built by major crypto-currency players across the world in 2018, as well as addressing many of the scaling issues of the past.

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