Cryptocurrency: Economy of the Future or Just Risky Business?

Cryptocurrency: Economy of the Future or Just Risky Business?

Since its rise in popularity, cryptocurrency’s realistic viability as the future of global currency has been widely debated. Despite the various controversies surrounding it, cryptocurrency, as a concept, continues to be misunderstood. 

Cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin or Ether (more commonly referred to as Ethereum), is described by CNN Business as “a form of digital assets that are secured by a decentralized network of computers”. It was first made available to the public in 2009 through Bitcoin, and aims to democratize economic systems by eliminating the need for a central bank or government involvement. Instead of exchanging traditional or “fiat” currency, cryptocurrencies are exchanged digitally through a blockchain.

Simply put, a blockchain can be understood as a digitally public ledger, which means that transactions can be seen and verified by anyone. Once the transactions are verified by auditors on the decentralized network, it is stored as a link or “block” within that chain of transactions — thus, the term ‘blockchain’. These links or “blocks” can never be altered or deleted, giving further transparency to exchanges.

Given the appeal of how cryptocurrency exchanges work, there have been notable surges — and drops — in cryptocurrency stocks and popularity, particularly the two most popular types, Bitcoin and Ethereum. Cryptocurrency is also commonly and instantly exchanged on physical ATMs, such as those provided by CoinFlip. Daniel Polotsky, the CEO of CoinFlip, “the world’s leading bitcoin ATM operator”, speaks on the differences between the two brands and why cryptocurrency may be a good addition to financial portfolios.

“There’s a reason that Bitcoin and Ethereum have been the best performing investment in the last decade,” says Polotsky. “Bitcoin is a really good, trusted money transfer system. It really decentralized money and gold. It’s better than a bank in terms of transferring money because of its transparency, and it’s better than gold in terms of being deflationary online, it’s very lightweight.” 

He outlines how Ethereum has decentralized the venture capital space by allowing companies to raise money via initial coin offering (ICO). “Before, you had these gatekeepers — venture capitalists will take two per cent of the portfolio and 20 per cent of the gains, and the average person can’t get in on it until the company [opens for] initial public offering (IPO). Now, all you needed to do to get in on these projects that were built on Ethereum, is basically just an internet connection and some Ethereum [or Ether, Ethereum’s own currency] and you can immediately get in on the ground floor of these projects”

While many are optimistic about cryptocurrency’s rise as the future of global financial exchange, others are not so quick to recommend diving in, such as Dr. Jodi Letkiewicz, professor at the School of Administrative Studies at York University. Dr. Letkiewicz, who teaches topics like budgeting, investing, retirement planning, and money behaviours, delves into the risks of cryptocurrency investment. 

“Many people don’t understand how cryptocurrency works and investing in something you don’t understand is never a good idea. There is a lack of transparency and regulation with cryptocurrency which can lead to fraud and other issues for investors. The list of risks goes on and on. Perhaps the biggest risk is that you lose all the money you invested, and that is a big risk”

Today, Investing.com reports that there are over 9,000 different cryptocurrencies, a significant downsize since CNBC reported over 19,000 in June in a report predicting the collapse of thousands of cryptocurrencies. 

Although cryptocurrencies offer optimism when it comes to transparency and venture capitalism, it is clear that, despite their creation over a decade ago, the future of cryptocurrencies remains controversial and uncertain.

Dr. Letkiewicz reminds investors, however, “if you don’t understand an investment or can’t afford to lose the money you’re investing, then you are best hold off until you have more funds to invest or have spent time understanding the investments.”

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