By Chris Crawford
Inscrutability has always been a hinderance for the widespread acceptance and integration of cryptocurrency, both from the general public and the broader financial industry. When it comes to money, both businesses and people generally prefer things to be simple, easy to understand, and easy to use – for good reason. When something seems too difficult or obscure, people become wary and lose interest.
Until recently, cryptocurrency occupied a tech-obsessed niche and not much beyond, but all of that has begun to change. 2020 saw a surge of digital integration throughout everyday life, and cryptocurrency became a household interest for anyone willing to download easy-to-use trading apps like Robinhood or Coinbase. As transparency and accessibility around digital currency increases, the population’s interest continues to pique.
This week, in a recent breakthrough for cryptocurrency confidence, PayPal announced the imminent arrival of its new “Checkout with Crypto” feature, which will allow Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, and Litecoin held in PayPal crypto wallets to be seamlessly converted into fiat currencies¹ during checkout. This feature promises to further demystify cryptocurrencies for general users, improve cryptocurrency utility for both customers and businesses, and boost legitimacy for cryptocurrencies as a transactional funding source for customers and merchants alike.
As major fintech institutions like PayPal continue to legitimize and integrate cryptocurrency into daily transactions, we must look deeper into understanding the rapidly changing role of cryptocurrencies and blockchain based assets across global markets. What is it that establishes confidence in these digital assets, and how might their adoption through payment platforms like PayPal disrupt or advance traditional financial institutions?
What is PayPal’s “Checkout with Crypto?”
The process is straightforward: for users with enough cryptocurrency in their wallets to cover an eligible purchase, the option to use digital coins will automatically appear alongside other payment methods such as a bank account or credit card/debit card. Behind the scenes, users are essentially selling PayPal their coins, then PayPal covers the purchase in the applicable fiat currency. In the words of PayPal’s CEO and president, Dan Schulman, “This is the first time you can seamlessly use cryptocurrencies in the same way as a credit card or a debit card inside your PayPal wallet.”
It would seem PayPal is prioritizing two important aspects by implementing “Checkout with Crypto,” accessibility and convenience. Both are critical requirements for mainstream adoption and acceptance and are further emphasized by the company’s claims that no transaction fee will be charged for using cryptocurrencies at checkout.
“We think [this] is a transitional point where cryptocurrencies move from being predominantly an asset class that you buy, hold and or sell to now becoming a legitimate funding source to make transactions in the real world at millions of merchants. – Dan Schulman, President and CEO, PayPal“
Establishing Confidence in Crypto
Financial services require trust. Showing potential for growth or improvement isn’t enough to establish trust in a system poised to overhaul the global financial industry as we know it. Actions speak louder than potential, and confidence must be built along a variety of verticals and across numerous financial sectors.
As one of the most recognizable online payment services in the world, PayPal’s popularity promises to instill confidence in any platforms for cryptocurrency exchange. That popularity is further propelled by one of the primary founders behind PayPal, Elon Musk. His celebrity status in the tech world, and his extensive support of cryptocurrency, have already been the catalyst behind many cryptocurrency surges. His support will likely further coax PayPal’s general user base to take an interest in digital currencies.
While PayPal’s “Checkout with Crypto” service is another step toward establishing the legitimacy of claims made years ago, there are many more mechanisms at work driving the general interest and confidence in cryptocurrencies, blockchain technology, and crypto based assets like NFTs.
Exposure and Education
It may feel like it happened overnight, but Crypto is everywhere we look these days. Bitcoin ads cover city busses. NFTs are selling for millions on online marketplaces. Every day, news outlets run headlines covering the soaring price of cryptocurrencies like Ethereum, Bitcoin, and Litecoin. Trading those coins can be done in moments from any smartphone with internet access, and mining crypto is as simple as watching a 30-minute video on YouTube.
People are beginning to realize that cryptocurrency isn’t dark web dirty money only used in the shadows. While it does have the potential to be used for nefarious purposes, according to reports from Chainalysis, criminal activity only made up .34% of the $2 trillion dollars’ worth of the cryptocurrency transaction volume in 2020.
With a $2 trillion transaction volume, the money flow surrounding crypto is too great to dismiss as just young tech nerds trying to start a fad and rebel against big banks. Crypto investors of the 2020s are varied across socio-economic, educational, and industry backgrounds. As interest begets growth, and development leads to breakthroughs, people from all walks and experience are beginning to see crypto as a compelling investment and alternative to standard fiat currencies. Furthermore, some of the brightest minds in fintech and banking are driving crypto technologies, bringing people from all ages and backgrounds together.
An estimated 1.7 billion people around the globe lack access to basic financial services. The unbanked population (whether due to poor infrastructure, rural locations, struggling or developing economies, or simply personal convictions) sees cryptocurrency as a potential solution providing more control over their finances. Cryptocurrency allows small business owners smooth payments across borders, and provides any user an alternative, easily accessible store of wealth outside their national fiat currencies, all of which can be managed from their mobile devices.
PayPal can’t drag the world into accepting digital currencies all by itself, and the release of “Checkout with Crypto” likely wouldn’t find stable footing without the rising interest in cryptocurrency technologies. Even during the pandemic, a poll of over 10,000 people in 2020 showed that 66% of them felt that cryptocurrencies would still exist in 10 years’ time.
The globalization of the economy, combined with the radical development and popular embrace of technology, suggests that widespread adoption of digital currency is nearly inevitable. Still, there are a myriad of reasons to be wary of this path. While there is no doubt that confidence in cryptocurrency is on the rise, many obscurities must be removed, questions answered, and steps toward stabilization taken, before we can make out a clearer picture of its future in financial technology.
¹Fiat Currencies are government issued money unbacked by commodities such as gold.