Challenges and Friction in Crypto Land
As I reflect on where we are in crypto land, I see two classes of friction: systemic and extrinsic.
The systemic challenges are internal to the system. The extrinsic challenges are imposed by external players or factors.
Internal challenges range in variety, but the principal ones relate to the overall quality and progress of blockchain-related projects, especially in its underlying technology, new protocols and the supporting middleware components that would allow software engineers and entrepreneurs to develop the next generation of applications.
Blockchain middleware is still in its infancy, and we will need to see much easier to use tools that can attract the millions of mainstream web developers. For these developers, they want to write to the blockchain as easily as they are writing web applications without excessively worrying about scalability or security issues. I’ve already lamented last year that we need further evolution in the area of blockchain standards and basic API calls, in The Blockchain is Still Waiting for its Web, Here is a Blueprint for Getting us There.
With the web, you can’t fake it. Either the app runs on the web or it doesn’t. On the blockchain, how can you be sure that you are using the blockchain, and using it properly? We are still learning how to prove this. Of course, each blockchain has its set of explorers and tools, but they are very technical and are not appealing yet to a general purpose user audience.
With external factors, the key ones relate to the friction between the existing financial system and its players during interactions with the blockchain-enabled financial system and world that are emerging and developing. This includes pressures from existing regulators who prefer to impose their current regulations rather than try to go the extra mile in regulatory innovation that goes outside of their old boxes.
Along with that comes the friction of moving money between fiat and cryptocurrency accounts. I don’t understand why traditional large banks continue to frown at legitimate businesses and individuals who are making bona fide earnings in crypto land, and won’t let them make fiat deposits that originated in cryptocurrency. Citing AML uncertainty is an excuse more than a reason, because we have made some good advances in AML and KYC practices for blockchain networks.
This is why new alternative jurisdictions with friendlier fiat-to-cryptocurrency practices are emerging in Liechtenstein, Malta, Gibraltar, Caymans and Estonia. In the US, Silvergate Bank, Cross River Bank, and Metropolitan Bank are other smaller banks that are also friendly to cryptocurrency originated accounts, although their bar is high for on-boarding institutional clients. In Switzerland, Falcon and Vontobel are two banks that are also friendly to cryptocurrency, in addition to Zuger Kantonalbank, the regional cantonal bank in Zug (assuming your company is based in Zug).
Cryptocurrency custodial practices is another area with friction, and we have just written-up about the many solutions (and their characteristics) that exist in this sector, Where Are All The Cryptocurrency Custody Solutions?
Over the long term, the blockchain financial system will grow on its own as an alternative financial system to the current one. These friction points will eventually fade away, or become less of an issue, as the blockchain financial system matures and gains wings of its own. Eventually, I am sure that some cryptocurrency exchanges will start to become like banks, and that should be an interesting development to see.
In the meantime, let us continue to work on lowering the blockchain evolution friction points via:
1) the development of easy-to-use blockchain middleware
2) stronger blockchain infrastructure and protocols
3) more acceptance of attempts in bridging the cryptocurrency and fiat worlds together