Cryptocurrency has been getting a lot of attention this year. Bitcoin is now valued at $14,000 -- doubling since the start of the year. And US investors are taking notice, with 55% reporting an interest in bitcoin. That's 19% more than last year, according to a study by Grayscale Investments and 8 Acre Perspective.
Easier methods to trade, buy, and sell cryptocurrency could be behind the change. With major apps like Revolut and Square making crypto more accessible, more users are taking interest.
One of the most popular tools for using crypto is Square’s Cash App. The app is designed to make it easy for anyone to participate in the cryptocurrency market. Through a couple of clicks, users can buy, sell, and hold bitcoin. Users are increasingly using Cash App to trade bitcoin. The app’s bitcoin revenue in Q2 brought in $875 million, a 600% increase compared to last year.
“[Digital currency] is creating a more ubiquitous way of transacting, and for the public I think it’s exciting,” said David Donovan, VP and managing director at Publicis Sapient.
In October, PayPal announced it would release the ability to trade crypto in its digital wallet in 2021. Beginning in the US, this new feature will eventually spread to PayPal’s 300+ million global account holders, allowing them to sell, hold, and purchase a select number of cryptocurrencies.
Challenger banks are also rolling out crypto functionality. Revolut expanded its crypto services in the US in July. The new cryptocurrency feature within the Revolut app allows users to convert US dollars, as well as 27 other fiat currencies, to cryptocurrencies.
With cryptocurrency becoming easier to use, it could be on its way to becoming mainstream. But security concerns remain a problem.
Cryptocurrency platforms still have a reputation for being accessible to hackers, money-launderers, and double spenders. Proper background checking for users is also an issue. Globally, over 50% of digital currency service providers have poor security checks for new users, according to a report by security firm CypherChase.
To circumvent these problems, top banking and payment apps are turning to third party players to launch their crypto capabilities. Firms like Revolut and PayPal have partnered with crypto-brokerage firm Paxos. Paxos offers APIs that allow firms to integrate new crypto services into their existing platforms.
“Traditional institutions with hundreds of billions in customer assets and high-profile reputations to protect tend to be risk averse. Crypto markets have historically been too risky and complex for these companies' appetites (...)” said Charles Cascarilla, CEO and co-founder of Paxos. “But this dynamic is shifting because crypto offers significant customer retention benefits and new revenue streams. Paxos has built a regulated, lightweight solution that takes the complexity out of crypto.”
Crypto platforms may also have to make significant changes. These firms need to prove themselves as secure storage units for people’s finances. Kraken, a popular crypto exchange, is already doing this; the firm recently became the first crypto platform to receive a bank charter. This license will let users hold crypto assets in the safety and security of a regulated bank.
Coinbase, meanwhile, is launching a cryptocurrency-based Visa card. Users will be able to make purchases with cryptocurrencies and fund their cards directly through their Coinbase account. The product launch reflects a willingness on Visa’s part to tap into crypto assets. And Visa’s stamp of approval could lead to more people feeling confident about using digital currencies.
But for cryptocurrency to become more popular with the masses, opening, funding, and cashing out of bitcoin accounts will have to be as easy as opening a bank account or paying your friend via Zelle. And for that to happen, bankers need to be onboard.
Right now, that doesn’t seem to be the case. 63% of respondents who worked in the banking industry said they still see security as a major concern in cryptocurrency adoption, according to a September study by The Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists and the UK’s Royal United Services Institute. As a result, few banks offer access to cryptocurrency. MVB Bank’s relationship with Kraken is an exception. The $2 billion bank offers its customers the ability to fund Kraken accounts directly from their dollar-denominated bank deposits using a wire.
This may change though, as the public seems to be more open to adopting cryptocurrency use as a part of their financial lives. This year, the IRS will be adding a cryptocurrency question to Form 1040.
“If the public is interested, then the banks and other institutions are going to be interested as well,” said Donovan.