Last night about 80 New York women of varied experience with the bitcoin industry met at SecondMarket’s headquarters for what was effectively the largest women’s bitcoin meetup, at least in the US city.
Most of them work in the banking and financial services industries, and a fair few were executives and compliance directors quietly representing industry heavyweights. However, they were all assembled there by Ellevate, the members-only global women’s network dedicated to investing in women’s success and led by Sallie Krawcheck.
Krawcheck, often called one of the most powerful women on Wall Street, is the former head of banking giants Citigroup and Bank of America and one of the most influential industry voices. She moderated a panel, called ‘Bitcoin: The Future of Money’.
The discussion included host, SecondMarket founder and Bitcoin Investment Trust creator Barry Silbert; BitPay vice president of sales and co-founder of Women in Bitcoin Paige Freeman; founder of public policy consulting firm dcIQ and former VP of public policy at Silicon Valley Bank Mary Dent; and Deloitte strategy and operations senior consultant Tiffany Wan.
The attendees came to learn about the basics of the digital currency. “What the heck is a bitcoin and why should I care?” as Krawcheck began the conversation. But the panelists, it seemed, tried to inspire them to forget bitcoin’s price, volatility and bad press for an hour and think instead about its fundamental attributes and what the global economy could do with it beyond today.
“There are lots of reasons for governments to be very fearful about bitcoin […] what I don’t think we’ve unlocked yet is a vision for why this could be transformative,” Dent said.
“What could a global financial services platform do for the world economy, particularly for the developing economies? What could it do for the consumers that are locked out of the existing financial services system?”
While the panelists were bitcoin believers across, more outstanding were the audience members – not merely because they were all women, but because so many of them represented an industry whose attitude toward bitcoin has been largely sardonic if not hostile.
It’s true that involvement in bitcoin and technology is male dominated – which also remains true for the banking and finance sectors despite gender gap improvements over the last decade.
But, while the guests who had previously attended New York bitcoin meetups, or do regularly, were delighted to be in a room filled with women curious about bitcoin, more impressive was watching and speaking with the bankers, financiers and their advisors – and even an employee of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York – who realized the importance of the subject in general and in their careers and decidedly motivated each other to take the first step in educating themselves about it.
Bitcoin can be for everyone
By a show of hands the room seemed split evenly into bitcoin ‘skeptics’ and bitcoin ‘believers’.
Silbert told them that it took him six or seven months of being a skeptic before he became a believer. Though its value is different for each user, he told the audience that it doesn’t have to take over the financial system; it can live alongside the existing currencies.
“I’m not a big believer in bitcoin becoming the global currency,” he said. “But I do believe it can live in everyone’s wallets, in everyone’s portfolio.”
Silbert’s portfolio includes roughly 30 bitcoin-related companies and many of the most well performing ones in the ecosystem. For all his success and bitcoin’s potential to “radically transform our entire financial system”, he stressed for the room’s investors that it’s still early in the game.
“We’re talking trillions of dollar type industries that if bitcoin is really successful will probably be one of the most successful investments you ever make. But, the outcome is likely binary. You are either going to lose all your money – in fact you will probably lose all of your money, it’s still very early. But if you don’t, and if it is successful…”
Value is subjective
At the outset, Krawcheck asked the panel: what is a bitcoin, and why should we care? And “what’s wrong with the dollar”, the euro or the yen? Why do we have to have this?
Silbert spoke about the subjective value that money holds for people across the world. He commented that for people living outside the US, the eurozone and Japan in countries with massive inflation like Argentina, Venezuela and Thailand, access to the US dollar isn’t as easy.
“We have a very US-centric view of money, currency. The dollar is great, we all like it, we all want a lot of them. The reality is in the course of history […] a fiat currency will disappear in 27 years on average. So, if you live outside the US […] the currency you use in your daily life will likely go away in 27 years.”
Responding to the same question, Dent spoke about the Internet of value, observing that no one needs to understand cryptography and the inner workings of mining bitcoin in order to use it and appreciate it.
“How many people understand the protocol that lets you email or lets you surf the web,” she asked. “You don’t, but you do all those things and I think that this is what an Internet of value is.”
“Today we have the Internet of communications and commerce, there’s a lot of talk about the Internet of things, and I think this could be a third Internet: the Internet of value – how you move value as frictionlessly today as we move communications in a way that is as unimaginable to us today as the Internet itself was 20 or 30 years ago.”
Image courtesy of SecondMarket