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Mar 04
2020
Op-Ed: Bridging the Bitcoin Gap: Why the American Crypto Landscape Is Ripe for Disruption

This opinion piece by Binance.US' CEO Catherine Coley first appeared on Nasdaq on March 4, 2020. 

The United States has traditionally been known as the world leader in discovery, radical investment ideas and entrepreneurship. We’ve been idolized by other countries for our first-to-try attitude and track record in innovation, and Bitcoin is no exception. We have lots of crypto-enthusiasts, but as far as crypto adoption by the masses is concerned, the U.S. has a lot more work to do.

While 55 percent of Americans own stocks, only about 6 percent own Bitcoin. On top of that, an overwhelming number of Americans — 68 percent — say they do not own and do not plan to buy Bitcoin in the future. That’s around 200 million people writing off Bitcoin before they’ve even given it a chance. 

Here’s why:

  • Crypto has a huge misunderstanding gap fueled by the media and the general American perception that crypto is not a tangible asset like cash. To many Americans, Bitcoin could be a spaceship — they don’t fully understand it and don’t care to find out.

  • The ways in which consumers find digital assets (i.e. crypto trading and holding) are confusing and opaque. People hear about having to put Bitcoin onto a piece of hardware for security and are immediately turned off. 

  • Decentralization, the core attribute of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, is great for building a network that is fair and equitable, but it does a poor job of marketing itself. It only works if people everywhere know about it.

Despite all this, America has the opportunity to better utilize blockchain and crypto to create smoother processes and transactions across our country and in turn, create better financial management and opportunity for Americans.  

You don’t know what you don’t know

It goes without saying that American media has a polarizing effect, and the current impression of crypto in the media is skeptical. Shows like ‘Crypto Craze’ and headlines like ‘Criminals love Crypto’ create the false narrative that only crazy criminals buy and use crypto. The truth is that people have paid for sketchy, illegal, and immoral products and services since the beginning of time, only they used cash  and there wasn’t a record of it. With crypto and blockchain, there is a record, for better or worse. Indeed, Bitcoin’s public ledger can be useful for busting criminals

There is also a false narrative that Bitcoin is an investment where real money goes to die. For years, since the recession, Americans have been fortunate enough to experience a huge bull run in the stock market. But despite that, even Bloomberg News noticed that Bitcoin was the best performing asset of the last decade. When the markets’ upward waters turn negative, investors will begin to look for returns elsewhere. Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are not tied to banks or monetary policy, and instead are only tied to the integrity of its network, which provides a different opportunity for asset diversification. We need more journalists, inside and outside of crypto, to recognize the value of crypto and look for ways to educate consumers without bias and with thorough research. 

Disconnect between Crypto Enthusiasts, Crypto Curious and Crypto Confused

Much like the financial system in America, there is also a disconnect between the few financially savvy and the majority who are financially unsure. While there is one financial advisor for every 100 Americans, only 17 percent of Americans actually use a financial advisor, and the majority of Americans (75%) manage their money on their own. Americans don’t just have a crypto literacy problem — they have a financial literacy problem.

The industry as a whole has made initial movements to allow more people into crypto. Being able to buy crypto with a debit card is perhaps the biggest foray into crypto adoption, and this is a relatively new phenomenon. For years, Bitcoin was purchased on the now-defunct Mt. Gox exchange, and placed in online and mobile cryptocurrency wallets. It wasn’t until three years after Bitcoin was introduced did exchanges even enter the picture, and from there debit transactions were more than eight years away. 

Today, exchanges like Binance.US are more sophisticated and focused on the audiences that will use them. In the early days of Bitcoin, the idea was limited to those with knowledge of coding and encryption, but that’s no longer the case. Today, any American can sign up, log in and use a debit card to buy crypto — but that development only happened within the last year. 

Crypto doesn’t have a home turf in a country where we all have hometown teams

As a decentralized currency, crypto lacks a defined home. Some would say ‘it doesn’t exist anywhere,’ and therefore, it’s confusing to the general consumer. It’s not a euro or a Swiss franc, it's a digital currency. When are Americans supposed to use it? Sadly, there is no Tom Brady for crypto, bringing only Bostonians to the Super Bowl every year. 

While the Star Wars fan in me wants to say that crypto is solely for outer space, crypto is really a natural extension of the cyborg lives we already lead. Our smartphones are already our keys to the world, allowing us to access anything we want in seconds. Americans already use their smartphones to access so much of the world, so we should think of crypto as the currency of the future — one where we do not have to wait for banks to wake up, or turn on, and where our transactions are secure and accounted for on the blockchain. 

Moving toward crypto-positivity

Not all is lost for mass digital adoption, but this is the conversation the crypto community continues to have with itself over and over and over again. How do we get more people buying, selling and hodling crypto? 

In my view, we need clearer ways for more people to get involved and clearer regulation, more outspoken advocates to share their expertise and Americans to feel like they have a home base for crypto trading. 

What's encouraging to hear is that more Americans are getting involved in the digital asset community. In the last year, the number of Americans who own a cryptocurrency has almost doubled from 7.95% in 2018 to 14.4% in 2019 — an increase of 81% in one year

As we’ve seen in recent weeks, when physical cash can provide a germy problem, crypto can act as a geopolitical safe haven for consumers to hold on to their capital in a secure way. We started Binance.US out of a need for a U.S.-native exchange that understands the nuances of the American crypto landscape, and we’ve already seen impressive movements from our work. We believe the benefits of becoming a crypto-positive country are unprecedented. There will be clearer transactions for businesses and a greater opportunity for financial wealth and growth for general consumers.