What is the use of cryptocurrencies?

in #cryptocurrencies3 years ago (edited)

This is a post in response to SteemLeo's writing contest. I get to know about this a little late and I think I might have missed the deadline. In any case, I had planned to write about this topic and here goes.

Adapted from voytek pavlik [CC0]

The most common complain about cryptocurrencies is that they cannot be used as a effective mode of payment. This is a valid observation but it is missing the point of owning cryptocurrencies now. Cryptocurrencies, as they are now, are not suitable as a payment method, however, they do have their use cases. But first, let's see why cryptocurrencies are an ineffective mode of payment right now.

Why we do not use cryptos for payments now?


Cryptocurrencies cannot be used for payment at this point for 2 key reasons. First, cryptocurrencies are volatile. The volatility of cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, makes it difficult for merchants to accept them as payment. Taking the recent Bitcoin dump from $8.5k to $6.5k for example, this price action took place within one week (between 16-23 Nov).

Bitcoin chart courtesy of @coingecko


For a merchant who accepted Bitcoin payment on the 16th Nov but did not manage to convert to fiat fast enough, the merchant had effectively lost a quarter of the value in a week. Most merchants do not operate at high enough profit margins to absorb such losses. Hence, it is absolutely understandable for merchants to be reluctant to accept cryptocurrencies. And since merchants are reluctant to accept, naturally consumers will not be able to spend cryptos.

Note that for simplicity, I will omit stablecoins from the discussion in this article. Stablecoins are designed to mitigate the problem of volatility, however, they have problems on their own, which I will explore in future articles.


The usability problem consists of several parts. First, payment speed. Fiat currencies benefited from decades of development and along the way, multiple layers of solutions were built on top of them to make it a speedy payment method. However, even though cryptocurrencies are pure digital currencies, transaction speed is still pretty slow right now. Bitcoin is doing 7 TPS and Ethereum around 25 TPS. Works are still underway to improve cryptocurrencies' transaction speed. While there are other cryptocurrencies that boast a high transaction speed, the lack of network effect is still a problem.

Next, ease of use and acquisition. To start off, it is difficult and/or costly to acquire cryptocurrencies. Today, in many countries, there isn't a cheap way to convert fiat to cryptocurrencies. I live in a place where I can acquire cryptocurrencies in a relatively cheap way. Unfortunately, that is not true for many other countries.

In addition, using cryptocurrencies isn't that easy. Once you manage to get your cryptocurrencies from an exchange, you then have to transfer them to your personal wallet. There are dozens of wallets to choose from, you have to hold your own keys and be responsible of your own funds. All these are very different from the system we are used to.

We are very used to the current system of custodian service, where a bank/credit card/remittance company hold your money for you. We are very used to not be responsible for our own money and if anything goes wrong, we can find someone to complain to 😅. We are very used to relying on third parties. This is a problem on its own and it requires a mindset shift before cryptos will be widely adopted in payment. It is perhaps too late for the earlier generations, such as the baby boomers and Gen X, to change their mindset but we are seeing the millennials shifting our mindset and I am pretty sure this change is going to be much easier for future generations.

Overall, a certain level of technical knowledge is required to start using cryptocurrencies. Such knowledge may not even be present in millennials so it will be even more difficult for earlier generations to use cryptocurrencies. Furthermore, a mindset shift is required. People have to start to doubt centralized custodians and start to take more responsibilities of their own money. All these, in my opinion, make it difficult to cryptos to be used for payments, at this point.

What is the use of cryptos if they cannot be used for payment?

So you might start to question the purpose of cryptocurrencies as it cannot be used for payments now. Humans are very much hardwired for instant gratifications and I can understand why many will feel that cryptos are useless if they cannot be used payment now.

But hear me out, cryptos can still be used in several important ways as we speak.

As a Store of Value - The Lindy Effect

Bitcoin Passage or Time/Lindy Effect from Murad Mahmudov


Remember the chart above from Murad Mahmudov? He is a popular crypto social influencer and analyst on Twitter. When this chart first came out, it was circulated quite often and many YouTubers were also talking about it. Over one year has past and I think many have probably forgotten about this chart.

This chart depicts the possible path for Bitcoin to become a global currency. The Lindy effect basically states that the longer a technology survives, the harder it will become obsolete. In the chart above, Murad believes that Bitcoin having survived for a decade will likely continue to live on. As more people starts to own Bitcoin, it gradually moves up the chart. At this stage, Bitcoin is gradually becoming a store of value without many people noticing.

BTC Logarithmic chart courtesy of @coingecko


If you zoom into specific time frames of a Bitcoin chart, you will see that it is choppy and volatile. However, if you observe from a macro perspective, Bitcoin has proven to be a good store of value. The above logarithmic chart shows quite clearly the trajectory of Bitcoin and how its value has gradually increase over time. At least for now, Bitcoin is continuing to show promise that it can be a reliable store of value in the long-term. Hence, the first use case of cryptocurrencies, is that they can be a store of value.

Cryptocurrencies as a Hedge

People often seek the "Holy Grail" of investing but it is elusive. However, the world-renowned investor, Ray Dalio, has an answer for that. Ray Dalio believes that to achieve the investment "Holy Grail" is to reduce your portfolio risk level to one which is below your consistent returns. This can be achieved by owning multiple asset classes of low to no correlation.

Risk diversification through owning uncorrelated assets


As illustrated in the chart above, if you own 6 uncorrelated asset classes, your risk will be reduced by up to 60%. The more uncorrelated assets you have in your portfolio, the lesser risk is your portfolio. If you can achieve a return on the portfolio which is higher than the risk you take, you basically found the "Holy Grail" because in theory, your portfolio should make you money regardless of the market cycle.

The key thing here is to find uncorrelated assets. In this hyper-connected world of ours, that is extremely difficult. However, in a recent study by Binance, Bitcoin is found to be largely uncorrelated with traditional assets.

Three-year weekly return correlations among asset classes


As you can see from the table above, Bitcoin is one of those rare assets which exhibits near-zero correlation with other asset classes. This means that if you add Bitcoin into your portfolio, you improve the diversification of your portfolio which thereby reduces risk. This is one step towards the "Holy Grail" which Ray Dalio mentioned.

Aggregated results for monthly rebalanced portfolios


In the same Binance study, they back-tested and simulated the "BlackRock Multi-Asset Income" and "Vanguard Managed Payout Fund" by adding Bitcoin into those portfolios. True enough, portfolios with Bitcoin did better than portfolios without Bitcoin as seen in the table above. In particular, if Bitcoin forms 1% of those portfolio, the maximum draw-down and volatility is similar while the overall returns improved significantly. Hence, the other important use case of cryptocurrencies is to use them as a hedge and portfolio diversification tool.

Participate in a New Kind of Economy

Finally, owning cryptos allows you to participate in the new kind of economy. The traditional economy is centralized and filled with middlemen/custodians. We are at a juncture where a new kind of decentralized economy is emerging. As more people own cryptocurrencies, more people have the opportunity to participate in this new economy and naturally, more people will participate in this new economy. Based on Metcalfe's law on network effect, this new economy will therefore be growing stronger and spreading faster over time.

So what is this new economy I am talking about? First off, we have DeFi, or Decentralized Finance. I have talked about this before in one of my earlier posts. DeFi is a rising movement and as of today almost $665m worth of value is locked into this new kind of financial system.

Total value locked in DeFi


To participate in DeFi, you need cryptocurrencies like Ethereum. There is no other way for you to do that. DeFi, as it is now, is a permissionless system with prudent risk management. It is basically the opposite of the traditional financial system. Naturally, this gives DeFi a strong selling point and I am pretty confident that this movement will continue to progress.

On top of DeFi, there are other decentralized economical phenomena that are on the rise. One is the decentralized attention economy. Our attention is worth something, each time we read an article, write a comment/post and view an advertisement, value is created somewhere. The idea of the decentralized attention economy is to capture this value and return it to the person who created this value. Social media is an example of attention economy.

Traditional social media like Facebook captures the value of what the users have created but the value is not returned to the users. Instead, value created by users are turned into revenue and profits for centralized companies. Sound unfair? Fret not, platforms like Steem and Basic Attention Token are here to overturn this by starting a decentralized attention economy.

Gods Unchained - An example of digital collectibles trading card game

Another rising phenomenon is digital collectibles. Collectibles like arts and antiques worth a lot in the physical world. Before we have open and decentralized blockchains, the idea of digital collectibles are not possible. This is because no one can make sure that digital items cannot be duplicated. Now, with blockchains like Ethereum, it is possible to own digital collectibles as non-fungible tokens. These collectibles are provably rare and cannot be duplicated, enabling the digital collectibles economy to be possible. An example is Gods Unchained, which is a trading card game which allows you to own digital collectibles and trade them.


By focusing on using cryptocurrencies of payment, people are mostly missing the point. At this stage, cryptocurrencies cannot and should not be used for payments. We should view them as a store of value, a hedge against traditional financial system and a ticket to participate in the new decentralized economy.

We are still early in adoption. If you happen to be reading this post but not owning any cryptocurrencies, consider buying some for the reasons I mentioned. And if you already owned some cryptocurrencies, congratulations to you! You are one of the early adopters driving a much needed movement 😎.

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Great post although i dont agree on a lot of points and think you omitted quite a few things regarding the inner working of the market.
Id just say that i definitely dont think Bitcoin is a good store of value. I find it to be quite the opposite. The volatility side of Bitcoin should be enough (even though theres much more) to disprove that statement and even if you take the macro view you cannot claim with any level of certainty that Bitcoin past performance can in any way be taken as a pointer of future performance.

There are a huge number of things that can happen.
The halvening for example could kill of mining pools in the rest of the world with only Chinese mining pools remaining (already make up something like 60% of hash power) that use cheap electricity. That could create a perception that the coin is being centralized under the watchful eye of the communist regime.
The price of the token could go up and as we have seen, the higher the price the worse bitcoin performs. Your point about tech remaining the older it is.. Well the VCR got killed off by CDs and CDs by USBs, etc. Even though the analogy isnt water proof the base characteristics of Bitcoin, if done better and surrounded by enough hype and external money, could definitely raise up a competitor that could usurp its spot.
A new player that could enter the market that could tackle the adoption problem. I mean Steem tackles the adoption problem better then any other token out there.

The state of the market right now shows that the price movements are generally affected by whale manipulation and hype. That kind of environment isnt attractive to many people.
As time goes by that will be obvious to more and more people.
Its not only that Bitcoin is a terrible payment option or that due to volatility and manipulations its a terrible store of value. Its that as time goes on and the existence of cryptocurrencies becomes common known, the fact the space is controlled by a few whales that got rich off the backs of stupid inexperienced investors and because the space is so obviously corrupt, manipulated and riddled with schemes, the realization will hit that even though the underlying technology does revolve around decentralization, the power to make or break a token, the power to move the market via extramarket activities is in the hands of the very few.
And thus, so are your funds.

While you have the government on one side that has control over your resources, here you just replaced them with corrupt centralized exchanges and whales.
This is a very dangerous space to be in and i try and discourage anyone thinking to use it as a store of value.

The only cryptocurrency that its worth getting into right now is STEEM. Nothing else. The low risk of entry into the space it provides has no rival and on that point alone it puts itself above all else. From there you can build your knowledge and understanding.
Otherwise you risk ending up in the meat grinder like so many have.

Id just say that i definitely dont think Bitcoin is a good store of value. I find it to be quite the opposite.

Based purely on the size of the BTC market it is a stronger token than STEEM. There is also the pure number of miners compared to STEEM protecting the network. Its an order of magnitude difference.

The only cryptocurrency that its worth getting into right now is STEEM.

I disagree with this whole heartedly. If I was going to suggest an alternative token (and blockchain) it would be Horizen ($ZEN). I think this token and application is farther ahead and the applications that are coming will be more useful in an anti-fragile, long term distributed, holder of value than STEEM.

However, its the black/white of your arguement that I really take exception to. The world is grey, and while I see a lot of potential with STEEM there is a LONG way to go before it can be a reliable store of value or the dApps get mass adoption.

I read a post on this blockchain today saying how #appics is better than instagram! That's ludicrous. It may have a lot of potential compared to Instagram, but I can't even download it from the AppStore.

We need to be realistic as to where we are in the life of STEEM and stop thinking that we are farther along. There are a lot of good here and that is why I've moved some of my BTC into SP and am working to curate more of the type of content that I want to see.

And speaking of whales

The state of the market right now shows that the price movements are generally affected by whale manipulation and hype.

There are plenty of whales on this platform that would rather discourage minnows from posting by downvoting without actually producing content themselves; and it is these people that can move the value of STEEM up or down as they wish.

Impressive comment @noloafing

Hey, thanks for your comment! It does help to balance the argument a little. Appreciate that!

@culgin, Without any doubt most of the people see and measure Cryptocurrencies with the Point Of View of Medium Of Exchange and in my opinion most importantly many Businesses are feeling that this is not the right time to adopt Cryptocurrency for Business because of it's highly Volatile nature. Stay blessed.

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Thanks for reading!

Dear @culgin

Finally I found some time to calmly read your publication with fresh mind :)

The most common complain about cryptocurrencies is that they cannot be used as a effective mode of payment

Personally I'm glad that crypto aren't trying to compete so much with current banking system and are not being used as a form of payment as much as many people would like it.

It seem that is' way better for crypto to be used as store of value or tokens providing some sort of utility. Less 'awful' regulations to follow.

transaction speed is still pretty slow right now. Bitcoin is doing 7 TPS and Ethereum around 25 TPS.

I've been always wondering - how is it possible that STEEM is so much faster than Bitcoin. It has always been blowing my mind. Any idea?

Great read. Upvoted already :)

STEEM uses the delegated proof-of-stake consensus which is arguably more centralized, however, it has greater speed

Exceptional post.

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Thank you!

Excellent write up - I especially like the Hedge section.

I like to sell Steem as an investment to people as a hedge against mainstream social media - the more people they annoy, the more people should head to Steem.

Great article!

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On Steem, your followers and your interactions with them are stored on a blockchain and no single entity has the power to cut you off of them like on centralized social media/digital publishing platforms. Also, no single entity has the power to demonetize you.

Very well said, I think this is one of Steem's biggest selling points!

True that!

Thank you! Steem is indeed a good alternative to mainstream social media. Given the #YouTubeIsOver tag is trending on Twitter, it is a good time to spread good words on Steem :)


I find your post very informative and quite educational about the situation and the possible future of cryptocurrencies.

I liked it a lot and I will share it on different networks, because it is worth it to be disseminated :)

Thanks! Glad that you enjoyed it 😊

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