The current status of Bitcoin is cloudy, to say the least. Though the market for the digital currency is booming, with new hedge funds launching at a rate of two per week, mainstream institutional investors are still staying away. And the CEO of the Royal Bank of Canada has even said that Bitcoin “doesn’t solve a main need in society right now.” Then again, Steve Wozniak sees a promising future for Bitcoin, stating that it’s better—and more reliable—than both gold and the US dollar. So which is the truth?
As with most things, it’s a matter of perspective.
Bitcoin began as a gleam in the eyes of “cypherpunks” who were looking for a whole new system of currency that would give an individual the ability to format their own security rather than having to rely on a bank. As Bitcoin developed, however, it caught the eye of some of the leaders in Silicon Valley. Companies like Andreessen Horowitz, Union Square Ventures, and Institutional Venture Partners took up the mantle of Bitcoin experts and served as keepers of the keys, both literally and metaphorically. Today, many people using Bitcoin do so by going through one of these companies, which are often advised by Silicon Valley’s biggest bigwigs, including long-time investment banker Thom Weisel and investor Chris Dixon.
Basically, larger businesses have hopped on the Bitcoin train.
While this trend has made Bitcoin more available to more people, it’s also caused a clash between different voices in the Bitcoin world. Whereas the “cypherpunks” still see Bitcoin as a small, semi-secret currency built on the idea of personal autonomy, financiers are seeing it as the future of currency, period.
Roger Ver, one of the largest Bitcoin holders, notes the desire of many “to build a currency that’s going to replace the Euro, the dollar, and the yen, and every other government-issued currency around the world.”
There are currently barriers to that kind of growth, however: “in order to do that, Bitcoin needs to scale massively,” Ver says.
Nevertheless, that seems to be what Bitcoin is doing these days. Its price recently hit a new record, surging to $6,194.88, with market capitalization briefly reaching more than $100 billion.
Yet something is still missing. Mainstream institutional investors are mostly avoiding the cryptocurrency market, noting that it’s too lightly regulated and volatile. Bitcoin’s limited track record doesn’t help, either.
“While cryptocurrencies are probably here to stay, they are difficult to analyze, wildly volatile, and some may be prone to fraud,” says Trevor Greetham of Royal London Asset Management.
And despite the increased value—not to mention the increased number of related hedge funds—Bitcoin has still had a topsy-turvy year, hitting a record high in September and then plummeting after losing about a third of its value in less than two weeks.
For now, though, the future looks bright: prices have doubled again, totaling nearly $6,000. But how long will that last? Will larger financial institutions see fit to invest? And what effects will the continuing argument regarding the best Bitcoin structure have on the industry at large?
That remains to be seen.