Michael Terpin is the founder and CEO of Transform Group, a diversified blockchain services group based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he is currently sheltered in place.
What more could a burgeoning technology ask for to thrive? Massive global unemployment, cascading in waves as a viral pandemic shutters most parts of the non-digital economy, has put the world on the precipice of the “everything bubble” Satoshi Nakamoto sought to inoculate us against with the creation of bitcoin.
This is both the moment the cryptocurrency community has both eagerly awaited and dreaded. A global pandemic hitting just as sovereign currencies are being architected should serve as an accelerator for rapid issuance and acceptance. This should be true in particular for teetering third-world economies lacking a global reserve currency to inflate their monetary bases without hyperinflationary hell to pay. Additionally, there are undeniable health and hygiene benefits over paper currencies, not just better trackability for tax collection and law enforcement purposes.
The wheels of legislative and regulatory approval grind slowly in normal times, so it is encouraging that a preliminary digital dollar program nearly made it into the congressional aid package for displaced workers and shuttered businesses as a better way to quickly distribute the multi-trillion-dollar creation of magic Federal Reserve money. Sadly, it was pruned from the final bill on the legislative cutting room floor. Instead, we are left to fill out forms downloaded from bank websites that cannot handle the traffic. These loans may take months to process at a time when millions of recently unemployed workers have little to no savings.
Many of the industries where physical contact is required at the last mile are having their legacy supply chains disrupted. Seminars and conferences cannot take place in closed hotels with few planes to fly them in. Restaurants are restricted to take-out in most of the U.S. and Europe, India and large swaths of everywhere else.
Necessity, of course, is the mother of invention and this is where the token foundations and programmers need to step into high gear. They need to finalize and deploy solutions that have been in development for years for smart-contract supply chain management, international global e-commerce payments and remittances, and seamless exchange and wallet onramps and off-ramps to stored value. As the specter of bank runs and closures looms around the developing world, there is substantial demand for reliable asset-backed stablecoins, blockchain-backed precious metals ownership, security tokens sufficiently discounted for risk and for the nascent world of decentralized finance (DeFi), which is currently paying some of the highest interest of any asset class.
Waiting for legacy global fiat off-ramps to embrace the blockchain in a world already hamstrung by multiple redundant KYC/AML approval loops to access one’s own money when the traditional economy is essentially on fire is a banana upon which the banking industry is poised to slip. Just as we now make our own masks and hand-fashioned bandanas for wearing inside supermarkets, we don’t have time to wait for congressional approval to accelerate the adoption curve for cryptocurrency and blockchain-based solutions.
Never has there been a time when Big Tech and Big Consulting are more in need of outside resources to scale solutions to fresh problems in multi-trillion dollar industries. These “too big to fail” firms are already on the pre-approved list for government and Fortune 500 contracts, but they tend to lack the nimbleness, open source ethos, and out-of-the box thinking employed by the cryptocurrency and blockchain ecosystems.
One benefit that has come out of the sudden stoppage of physical events is the rapid rise of virtual events, conferences, seminars, networking lounges. Most of them are free after the price of an email address, others priced far less than online webinars of the past. Zoom and other platforms have done a remarkable job of emulating a real conference, including breakout rooms. Zoom (a company my firm briefly represented in its infancy) had to beat out legacy competitors with much larger funding including Cisco, Microsoft and Facebook with a superior interface and stellar execution to win the race (for the moment) as video webcasting king of the hill.
You can even have drinks together. I am in a WhatsApp group of bitcoin old-timers who created a Zoom cocktail party event every Friday afternoon since the pandemic took hold. I am in another group of tech and media leaders in Los Angeles who have used Zoom to both keep its current physical membership connected virtually but also to reconnect with its past members from around the globe for the chance to hear renowned speakers and network each Saturday morning. It’s still not the ability to hug or shake someone’s hand. But with virtual events, you can still look someone straight in the eye.
Now is the time for bold action by governments and industry to embrace the blockchain and crypto communities. We have not done the greatest job of educating one another about what it is we do and why – sometimes, physical events produce a lot of grandstanding and posturing, which seem harder to pull off in the intimate video closeups of the Zoom format. Let’s all do our part to connect the dots of the new virtual world with sound alternatives to the increasingly virtual fiat monetary supply and its creaky legacy framework.
Let’s see who among us will become the Zoom of easy cross-border payments, of smart contract supply chain management and of clearly superior solutions in a dozen other categories. I, for one, can’t wait.