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When Banks Embrace Crypto, Everyone Benefits

Bitcoin may have been born about a decade ago, but the widespread adoption and acceptance of cryptocurrency still seems to be in its infancy.

Bitcoin may have been born about a decade ago, but the widespread adoption and acceptance of cryptocurrency still seems to be in its infancy.

Broadly speaking, people outside the crypto industry are still unsure about acquiring, using, and securing their digital assets, and therefore don’t utilize them on a daily basis. Perhaps that’s why only 8 percent of Americans have purchased cryptocurrency. Issues of price volatility, illegitimate ICOs, and uncertainty around how governments will regulate this new space have further slowed adoption rates.

That doesn’t mean cryptocurrency and its underlying technology is destined for failure; quite the opposite, in fact. Innovations in blockchain technology are advancing in several key areas — and preparing to reinvent the financial sector as a result. These new technologies are changing the way people spend, save, and invest, while also improving the security and simplicity of transactions. If banks don’t pay attention, they’ll have nobody to blame but themselves when disruption takes its toll and they fall behind.

Too Big to Compete

Some believe that large banks are “too big to fail.” Unfortunately, that’s not the case. If anything, they’re too big to be nimble in the face of change, and this can seriously affect their competitiveness in the long term.

Cumbersome processes reduce their ability to pivot, so when a new technology comes into play, it takes banks far too long to integrate it into their systems. Case in point: While tech powerhouses like Facebook FB, Google GOOGL, Microsoft MSFT, and Baidu BIDU shelled out $8.5 billion a year on AI in one year, most financial institutions are lagging — even though AI has been shown to outperform people in key functions like processing insurance claims and offering investment advice.

It’s no secret that American banks are notoriously slow to adapt to change. It took more than 20 years for them to adopt EMV credit cards as standard. Many ATMs are still running Windows XP, and some are even running earlier operating systems. This is exactly why smaller, newer financial technologies like PayPal PYPL and Square SQ have been able to capture significant market share. Being new enables freedom, flexibility, and the capacity to fill underserved niches and demands.

Many banks are currently treating cryptocurrencies the way bookstores treated Amazon AMZN in the early days of the internet — and we all know how that story ends.

Instead, banks should be learning from the crypto industry and looking at ways to incorporate blockchain technology. By leveraging blockchain-based solutions, banks will be able to greatly improve their products and services. Recent volatility caused crypto to lose its luster in the eyes of many investors — both institutional and individual — yet as a whole, the cryptocurrency industry and its underlying blockchain technology have continued to gain legitimacy and sophistication. So it’s high time for banks to begin upgrading their systems.

Made for Each Other

To be widely adopted, any new technology needs to be faster, cheaper, and easier to use than the system it replaces — and right now, blockchain checks one of those three boxes.

It’s potentially cheaper because transactions can take place seamlessly between two cooperative parties, cutting out both bureaucracy and middlemen. Transaction times remain a challenge, though. On some blockchain networks, it still takes quite a bit of time to complete a transaction — as much as 10 minutes. While it’ll still be a daunting task at present to process as many transactions as quickly as a large bank currently does, the potential certainly exists for blockchain to provide similar speed. On some networks, it can already be done very quickly.

Lastly, ease of use also remains a challenge, but only because blockchain hasn’t been adopted on a large scale. At present, end users need to be relatively tech-savvy if they want to make use of blockchain technology, but there is no reason the process can’t be simplified. In fact, in the case of banks, the user experience will likely remain similar to what we know today. Banking will be underpinned by a new technology, but the day-to-day aspects of banking will be largely the same. It will be up to individual banks to create a user experience that is simple and pleasant.

Several fintech-focused blockchain projects are in development, including Hyperledger Fabric, an enterprise-grade initiative backed by IBM IBM, Deutsche Bank DB, and HSBC HSBC. This scalable project aims for secure international payment transactions. HSBC also joined Credit Suisse CS, Barclays BCS, and others to back the UBS UBS Utility Settlement Coin. The Royal Bank of Canada RY is also looking at blockchain to facilitate payments between Canada and the United States.

A recent study found that, thanks to blockchain, banks could be saving as much as $27 billion annually by 2030, which means absolutely no institution can afford to ignore this technology. Financial institutions have an opportunity to embrace cryptocurrency and blockchain and to introduce them to the mainstream.

When banks start treating digital currencies like traditional fiat currencies, consumers, businesses, and institutions that were once on the fence will become everyday users. And once banks start making use of blockchain, transactions can become simpler and more secure. Imagine, for instance, being able to instantly send currency through your bank to anywhere in the world. The current transaction barrier can be broken down by blockchain, provided banks are willing to commit to this new technology.

There’s sure to be some disruption, and banks will undoubtedly be forced to let go of certain revenue streams, but organizations that don’t embrace this change will find themselves becoming increasingly irrelevant in the future.

Cale Moodie is CEO and director of Neptune Dash, a leading cryptocurrency company that constructs and operates masternodes of Dash, a digital currency built on the blockchain that’s designed to enable instant, private payments online or in-store. Cale’s 10-plus year career in public market finance has included roles as founder, CFO, director, and audit committee chair for publicly traded companies. He’s been an avid follower and investor in the digital currency and blockchain space since 2013.

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