Four months after Circle pivoted to stablecoins, the startup’s new business model has received an unexpected boost from the global coronavirus crisis, said co-founder and CEO Jeremy Allaire.
U.S. dollar-backed blockchain tokens are surging in popularity around the world, and this time much of the demand is for payments in normal business transactions, not just to move money quickly between cryptocurrency exchanges, Allaire claimed.
“Over the past several weeks, we have seen explosive interest and growth in USDC,” he said, referring to the stablecoin Circle issues in partnership with Coinbase. “There is clearly very significant global demand for digital dollars, and the use of digital dollars as a new payment medium.”
New signups have come from e-commerce marketplaces, advertising networks, luxury goods producers, recruiting platforms, digital content markets, peer-to-peer lending platforms, payment companies, software firms, professional services firms, rewards businesses, mobile banking providers and other internet companies, Allaire said.
“We are getting feedback from Asian market participants that there is more and more demand for USDC from SMEs seeking both the safety and utility of digital dollars,” he said, using a term for small and medium-sized enterprises.
The company saw the number of Circle Business Accounts – introduced last month for corporate clients to conduct business using USDC – grow 700 percent over the past few weeks, with more than two-thirds of these businesses coming from outside the crypto space.
According to CoinMetrics, USDC’s market capitalization, which equals the amount in circulation since it trades at par for dollars, has jumped 65 percent, from $444 million on March 1 to $734 million at press time.
Allaire's explanation for the surge suggests the crisis is accelerating mainstream adoption of blockchain technology, albeit a relatively tame variant. As a stablecoin, USDC is designed to hold its value against the dollar, not gyrate in price like bitcoin. It's backed by real-world dollars held in a bank, for which it can be redeemed on demand.
“We believe we are seeing a real turning point in the adoption of digital currency,” Allaire said.
This much is clear: Dollars, digital or otherwise, have been in hot demand over the past several weeks as the pandemic has prompted investors to flock to safe havens.
“We’re seeing record amounts of transaction volume,” Allaire said, adding that adoption “is relatively evenly distributed across Western and Asian markets.”
Nor is USDC alone in achieving double-digit growth.
According to CoinMetrics, over the past six weeks, the Paxos Standard (PAX) grew 22 percent, from $198 million to $258 million; tether (USDT) grew 36 percent from $4.6 billion to $6.3 billion and the Gemini dollar (GUSD) grew from $3.9 million to $6.2 million, or up 6 percent. The Binance dollar (BUSD) issued with Paxos saw the fastest growth, from $68 million to nearly $200 million, or up a whopping 194 percent.
Stablecoins issued on the Ethereum blockchain are seeing enough of a boost that value transfer on the network is equal to the values on the Bitcoin network.
This apparent boom in dollar substitutes comes as Libra, the consortium set up last year by Facebook, has walked back its plan to create a global digital currency, refocusing on stablecoins tied to individual national currencies.
The concept of a digital dollar has been gaining traction elsewhere. On Thursday, a group of U.S. lawmakers introduced a bill proposing a digital dollar (though not a blockchain-based one) as a tool for distributing stimulus payments to U.S. residents.
This is at least the fourth bill introduced to Congress suggesting a digital dollar, and was co-sponsored by nearly a dozen representatives.
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