Killing 'Cryptocurrency': Why It's Time to Retire the Term

A crypto fund manager argues that the term "cryptocurrencies" is now outdated, proposing another to match the tech's evolving use.

AccessTimeIconJul 7, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 1:57 p.m. UTC
AccessTimeIconJul 7, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. UTCUpdated Sep 14, 2021 at 1:57 p.m. UTC
AccessTimeIconJul 7, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. UTCUpdated Sep 14, 2021 at 1:57 p.m. UTC

Tim Enneking is managing director at Crypto Asset Management, which oversees Crypto Asset Fund, a regulated US cryptocurrency trading fund.

In this opinion piece, Enneking argues that the term "cryptocurrencies" is now outdated, and that new terminology is needed to describe the innovations being imagined and built in the blockchain industry.

No, that headline is not a mistake.

It’s not the cryptocurrencies themselves that should be killed off, but rather the term (hence the quotation marks). Labeling everything going on in the crypto world (space, ecosystem, universe: pick one) "currencies" is dead, passé, OBE… You get the idea.

Two questions logically arise: First, why is the term dead and, second, if it's dead, what should replace it?

As to the first, that's easy. There are two problems with applying the phrase "cryptocurrency" to what's going on in the space traditionally known by that name. First, the "coins" are acting less and less like coins and more and more like something else, perhaps equities.

In fact, for my fund, we divide the cryptocurrency space into "blue chips," "large caps," "mid caps," "small caps," "pennies," ("penny coins" seemed redundant) and "NLT" ("no longer traded").

(Now, before you think I am trying to tout my fund, please realize that we decided to name it "Crypto Asset Fund" for the same reasons as those I'm citing here. For the record, my prior fund was indeed called the "Crypto Currency Fund" – so we are following the same evolution as the crypto ecosystem itself.)

Related to this shift is the fact that, when bitcoin was effectively the only game in town, aficionados touted it as a "dollar replacement", or at least a supplement – but the target was clearly displacing, to one degree or another, fiat currencies. Now, however, with the emphasis on blockchain, ethereum contracts, Ripple bank transfers, etc, etc, cryptocurrencies are becoming more a transaction enabler than the transaction itself. Their use as currencies, per se, is clearly decreasing.

So, cryptocurrencies are rapidly migrating away from being a medium of exchange (one of – probably the most critical of – the purposes of a "currency") into enablers of exchanges.

ICOs, tokens, tethers, exchange lending, the (slowly) growing crypto-derivatives market: all reinforce the strong secular shift of cryptocurrencies to crypto "assets."

What are they?

Which leads us directly to the second question: What should we call all this stuff?

We have voted with our pens and opted for "assets" – a nice, all-encompassing fiat word that is sufficiently vague to cover just about everything that might happen in the crypto space.

Why does this matter? Because perception is reality. If we want to attract more investors and users to the crypto universe, then we need those investors to quickly and easily understand what the space offers. Mislabeling (or, at least, too narrowly labeling) the space doesn't help. The name also inevitably affects how those of us already in the space view it, and ourselves, as well.

Labels matter.

A real-life example: CNBC asked me to appear live on Capital Connection out of Singapore (the interview took place and was broadcast July 5) and to recommend "three cryptocurrencies". I declined to do so, countering with three much more varied investments in the crypto space: one lower risk (whatever that might mean), one moderate risk and one higher risk.

The first is lending (fixed income), the second is a coin (equities) and the third is an ICO (IPO or alts). The italicized terms are the fiat equivalent of these three investments, which, by no coincidence, cover the three "legs" of the typical fiat investment "stool."

So, let’s move to a much more accurate characterization of the space, ecosystem, universe, whatever (do I sense another opinion piece in the offing?) and call the sector (!) we’re working in "crypto assets" or even just "crypto", shall we?

I'd argue it makes much more sense.

Disclosure: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which has an ownership stake in Ripple. 

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