For many years I read only the headlines relating to Cryptocurrencies and especially Bitcoin, as often the stories were negative or geared towards warning readers. During a trip to the Netherlands five years ago, I was killing time in the hotel when I turned on the television and watched a well-known financial reporter and advocate of Bitcoin talk about cryptocurrencies. The featured story immediately engaged my interest, and I went on to spend months reading and researching as much as I could about the various cryptocurrencies. I was both surprised and excited by the opportunities for businesses, from the Blockchain to innovative solutions that have a wider application than just within the cryptocurrency space. Many of the solutions are inexpensive and can benefit and help small-to-medium-sized businesses even today.
The first thing I learnt was that there are many cryptocurrencies, as of April 2020, there are a total of 5,392 cryptocurrencies. Not all cryptocurrencies are designed as a means of exchange, and I found that by comparing many of these cryptos to traditional finance it helped, so I grouped them into three distinct categories: -
- Exchange/currency – cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Monero, Dash, Litecoin and many more are the truest definitions of a store of wealth, similar to assets such as commodities (gold, silver etc.) or money held in a bank account. These types of cryptos all have different purposes (use-cases) and target audiences, however, they are all a means of exchange, as payment for goods and services
- Stocks and Shares – cryptocurrencies such as Cardano, Golem, SingularityNET and many more are creating solutions and infrastructure that has a greater application, and that will ultimately be adopted inside and outside of the cryptocurrency sector. When you purchase these types of crypto, you are effectively buying into the company and service, similar to a stock or share
- Crowd Funding/Start-Ups – the final group relates to what is known as Initial Coin Offerings or ICOs. The ICOs relate to new coins or start-ups in either of the categories listed above
That is a high-level overview of the types of cryptocurrencies, now let us look at one of the most interesting components of many cryptos, the Blockchain. The majority of older cryptocurrencies at some point were forked off, a process whereby they were separated from an established crypto and made into a new cryptocurrency, each having with their unique development approach, strategy and use case. It is important to note that not every cryptocurrency uses the Blockchain, however many of the most well-known do. For those that do use it, the Blockchain is important and is one of the main reasons Bitcoin and other cryptos offer such a high level of security, so let us look at what makes the Blockchain secure. The Blockchain is made up of six components: -
- Your private encrypted key – a unique electronic key assigned to your wallet (think of it as similar to an electronic safety deposit key)
- Your wallet – this is an address where the cryptocurrency will be stored (similar to a bank account)
- Every transaction – cryptocurrencies are unique in that there is no governing body, authority or organisation that owns the process. Instead, transactions are managed through and within the Blockchain
- Blocks in the Blockchain – all transactions that are taking place fill up a block, once the block is full or achieves a specific file size, two things occur. The first thing is that a unique code is assigned; the code is generated based on the transactions within the block. The second step is that the unique code is recorded in a new block, and the process repeats. Every block in the Blockchain works in this way, and the Blockchain has a complete record or chain all the way back to the first-ever transactions within the cryptocurrency
- Many versions of the truth – the entire and frequently updated Blockchain is syndicated to all those that mine (the individuals or companies that process the transactions). If someone were to attempt to falsify a transaction within a block, they might be able to manipulate one block. However, when syndicated to the rest of the network, all of the other versions would quickly be able to identify that the unique code has been amended within the block, and that particular block would be ignored
- Miners – these are the individuals or companies that process the block, similar to what a bank would do. The miners are rewarded with cryptocurrency, and the process can be carried out by anyone, anywhere around the world with the right equipment
There is no one organisation or group solely responsible for transactions like a bank
When reading about Bitcoin, you will frequently see headlines like ‘Bitcoin Scam’, ‘Millions stolen in Bitcoin Heist’ and ‘Organised crime using Bitcoin’. It is true all of these things are happening or have happened; however, it is also happening in existing fiat currencies such as US Dollars, Euros etc. Many criminal organisations hold large amounts of cash, even filtering it through onshore and offshore accounts, so it is not a problem unique to Bitcoin or crypto. Bitcoin is a lot securer than people realise, so let us look at some of the things you may have heard: -
- Untraceable – the wallets are anonymous, as there are just a string of text and numbers. As there are no banks or single authority regulating cryptos, no one knows who owns a physical wallet. Like cash, it is when it is exchanged or spent that you can follow the trail to find out the identity of who owns a specific wallet
- Sent to the wrong address – like with cash, once you hand it over it is hard to get it back if you make a mistake. So, when sending crypto, it is always important to check and double-check an address before sending
- Easy to steal – like cash, it depends on where you store it. If you keep your crypto in a private wallet and you keep your private key secure, it becomes difficult for someone to hack and steal your crypto. Most of the hacks, where large sums are taken, are often where the money is held on an exchange or central service. So, in effect, it is the exchange or central service that are being hacked rather than the wallet or private keys
- Transaction Fees – the fee you pay will vary, however typically fees are a fraction of what you would pay a merchant or gateway provider
- Decentralised – unlike most currencies that are linked to a country or region, many cryptocurrencies are decentralised. By being independent means that they only go up and down with supply and demand. Unlike traditional fiat currencies that are influenced by all of the factors that affect a country such as economic outlook, interest rates etc.
Cryptocurrencies generally do not carry much more risk than currencies that you hold and process today
Security is a big concern for many businesses when deciding whether or not to accept cryptocurrencies; however, managed the right way, the whole process can be secure and is often safe. With encrypted personal keys and a sophisticated blockchain design, getting hold of your cryptocurrency would be difficult for most criminals. Here are some tips for safeguarding Cryptocurrencies: -
- Avoid leaving your money on exchanges – transfer your crypto to your private wallet as frequently as possible
- Invest in hardware such as Trezor (https://trezor.io/) and Ledger (https://www.ledger.com/). These companies manufacture inexpensive equipment to secure your wallet; units typically cost between $50 to $300
- You will be given backup codes – in case you need to reinstall or lose access to your private key. Make sure that you keep the backup codes somewhere secure and in a different location to where you store your hardware
- Never share your private keys with anyone
Many cryptocurrencies have seen phenomenal growth over the years; however, many are still somewhat volatile. As a decentralised currency, the Bitcoin rate, for example, is often compared against all major fiat currencies. Though over the years it has seen a dramatic swing with regards to the price, it ultimately depends on what you plan to do with your crypto. If you want to transfer any cryptocurrency you receive directly into your country’s fiat currency, you will likely get an amount close to your desired/requested amount. If you store your cryptocurrency and treat it as an investment, you could see it significantly grow or fall over time. Like most business assets, it will have value; however, it is when it is realised (or converted) that you have made an actual profit or loss.
With many countries around the world suffering recessions or devalued or fluctuating fiat currencies, many are storing part or all of their wealth in cryptocurrencies. Offering customers, the ability to pay you in a cryptocurrency does not have to be complicated or even require you to introduce new infrastructure or pay hefty fees. Typically, companies offering payment solutions will provide an end-to-end service.
Here is how it typically works: -
- You would set your prices or the amount you wish to receive in your regular/fiat currency. However, some companies may opt for a fixed cryptocurrency price, so it really will depend on your preferred approach
- If customers pay for your goods and services via your website, you would only need to set up a Cryptocurrency Payment Service (CPS). Many of the available services integrate into the main checkout plugins and tools, so they are typically easy to integrate
- When customers use your website and go to check out, they will be presented with the usual payment methods as well as the CPS you have setup
- When selecting the CPS method, the customer would be required to follow the instructions provided by the CPS and transfer over the required crypto
- Once transferred you will either receive the exact requested amount in your chosen fiat currency or an equivalent amount in the crypto, minus any service fee
Many well-known CPS companies offer low-cost solutions. These services are often hassle-free, enabling you to accept, but never see any crypto, if that is your preferred approach. The CPS will not only manage the process but also automatically convert or transfer the crypto on your behalf. CPS fees are usually lower than conventional merchant payment services, so you could end up seeing greater profits by integrating crypto into your sales process. Companies such as BitPay (https://bitpay.com/), Coinbase Commerce (https://commerce.coinbase.com/), Venmo (https://venmo.com/), Square Payments (https://squareup.com/gb/en) and Coinomi (https://www.coinomi.com/en/), all offer payment solutions for cryptocurrencies.
Accepting cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash not only gives customers around the world access to your products and services, but it can also become a unique selling proposition for your business. By using a CPS, you can offer crypto as a payment option and not only receive the right amount in your preferred currency, but you will also see the cost of processing transactions significantly reduce. Cryptocurrencies are no different from any other form of payment you accept, and with the right measures and controls, your money will be safe and secure.
Even if you decide that accepting crypto is not the right approach for your business, right now, it is worthwhile carrying out research and keeping an eye of developments, as the adoption of cryptocurrency will inevitably increase in the future.