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The challenge of the institutionalisation of cryptocurrencies

While the wave of buzz and hype around cryptocurrencies, or virtual currencies, is running out of steam among people in general,[1] the movement that has emerged remains robust. The versatility of the technology, its deployment in a digital context which can quickly reach millions of people, its potentially anonymous character and the place it could take in the global financial system, cause people to dream or to tremble depending on the circumstances and the role that they have.

The dream, for many, is nourished by the fact that this network is full of innovation[2], promises of fluidification of society, disintermediation… It attracts a large number of investors from all directions; from financial institutions to individual citizens attracted by its potential uses and/or price volatility.

This technology promises a new world based on what we could call an augmented transaction; one which carries within itself the legal and contractual characteristics of a peer-to-peer transaction that relates to services or goods used or acquired in real life or the virtual world.[3]

More than that, as we mentioned in the GEAB 123, it is now possible to co-finance, through ICOs (Initial Coin Offerings), the creation of new services that can then be used thanks to the tokens that were received at the time of co-financing. Further, the ownership of these tokens will, in many cases, enable to offer the user a right to influence the development of the service via a system that allows them to vote on which new features to implement. We often express the notion that companies would benefit from listening to their customers. Here, the design of the system already permits this type of approach – and in a global context!

Not only does the system carry these attractive elements, but, even more, it records ad vitam æternam all transactions in a log duplicated thousands of times and accessible to anyone.

Make no mistake about it: This technology, that allows saving and tracing all transactions, is certainly the dream of any tax administration wishing to exploit the systemic nature of such technologies to raise taxes and build up the public treasury. Similarly, it meets the dream of any taxpayer wishing to know and/or make sure his tax contributions are well used and not diverted for other purposes. Finally, for others, it is a great tool for imagining new peer-to-peer exchange systems, far from any central authority and any state control.

It is important to note that initiatives are emerging from all sides to turn this potential into reality; closer to the needs and habits of users/consumers. What’s more natural than trading for the most commonplace goods? Hence the challenge, even if we are forced to be very careful about the realisation of this initiative, of a tripartite association of three giants, namely the New York Stock Exchange, Microsoft and Starbucks, who are working together to promote the use of cryptocurrency to buy… a cup of coffee![4]

This is an excerpt from the GEAB 127. Register and read the full issue

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[1]    The trend in prices has been generally negative for several months for all cryptocurrencies. We continue to advise against investing in cryptocurrencies, or investing very small sums which may allow you to understand the mechanisms of this ecosystem a little better. Source: CoinMarketCap, price trajectories between April and September 2018.

[2]    Several dozens of blockchains exist with different technical characteristics, of course. A blockchain can be the ledger of several cryptocurrencies. This is the case of the Ethereum which supports many cryptocurrencies.

[3]    To be more specific, here is an example. When we buy something (car, appliance …), we receive an invoice or statement relating to the general conditions of sale and any special conditions that together constitute the legal and contractual basis of the relationship. These two elements printed and delivered by hand or sent immediately by email, will be associated in the blockchain’s registry with the corresponding transaction.

[4]    Starbucks, Microsoft and NYSE are joining forces to develop cryptocurrencies for our daily transactions. Digital cash is also being discussed. See the article of Intercontinental Exchange, which is the parent company of the New York Stock Exchange. Source: CNBC, 03/08/2018

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