From QR code payments to mobile banking apps, consumers worldwide are increasingly reliant on digital payment solutions, especially as mobile technology becomes more global. Government-led efforts in driving cashless economies have been a key factor, with countries such as Singapore or the Philippines seeing their central banks driving the adoption of contactless payments during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, usage rates for digital payments platforms have recorded promising growth, even as high as 5,000% in the Philippines alone.
This unprecedented increase in cashless payments is also paving the way for the broader adoption of crypto, with the number of crypto users worldwide hitting around 106 million in January. While this marks an impressive 15% month-on-month growth, it is still just a drop in the ocean when compared to the 4.7 billion people who have access to the internet.
But as crypto continues to command headlines, what will it take for mass adoption to happen?
A new model of financial accessibility
Today, billions of people worldwide are unable to access even the most basic financial services via traditional means, and thus are unable to save or manage their money securely. In times of economic devastation, such as this past year in which global economies have been staggered by the impact of COVID-19, the vast gap between rich and poor has become abundantly clear. The global pandemic has only perpetuated the absence of inclusive financial infrastructure, which has led to approximately one-third of the global population having no financial safety net to fall back on.
With crypto wallets, however, anyone can transfer their crypto internationally without needing to maintain a minimum balance in their account, as long as they have an internet connection. As crypto applications are built on decentralised blockchains, transactions are performed on a peer-to-peer basis in the absence of traditional intermediaries such as bankers or brokerage houses. This results in significant savings in transaction costs, as traditional cross-border remittance fees for small amounts can be as high as 7% after taking into account intermediaries’ fees on both the sender and recipient side. Meanwhile, the same fees for cryptocurrencies are often less than 1 percent — regardless of transaction amount.
Furthermore, highly decentralised platforms are permissionless, meaning that anyone with a crypto wallet and internet connection can lend, remit or trade their crypto without validation by a central authority or intermediary. Instead, transactions are executed by smart contracts, which automate them as long as pre-encoded conditions are met. Beyond the cost savings, consider the time savings as well. Remittance transactions can take several days to be processed, whereas cryptocurrencies can be transferred in mere minutes.
However, most crypto platforms still ask for some form of formal identification as part of their identity verification and Know Your Customer (KYC) process. This can range from a phone number to photo ID to proof of residential address. Some platforms adopt a multi-tier approach in which the more information that users provide, the more services they can access. While necessary for KYC and Anti-Money Laundering compliance, this poses barriers to users who do not own any formal identification documents.
Having said that, some decentralised exchanges, or DEXs, still honour the principles of anonymity and trustless working by not enforcing KYC on their users. The elimination of account verification and waiting time for approval has drawn many towards these types of DEXs — such as PancakeSwap, Uniswap and DeFiChain’s DEX — and has made finance truly accessible and inclusive for all.
Beyond simple transactions, recent innovations in the crypto space promise a much more equitable financial system where the unbanked and underbanked can access more means to build wealth. While DeFi products, such as token holding and staking on a DEX, might be a little too advanced for this group of users at the moment, simplified centralized decentralized finance (CeDeFi) services and improvements in financial literacy over time will help to open the door to these inclusive wealth creation opportunities.
Education is key to crypto adoption at scale
Widespread adoption of digital payment technologies, such as QR codes and biometrics, is definitely a promising sign that consumers have become more digitally savvy than ever before. In the Asia Pacific, more than 90% of surveyed respondents said they would consider at least one new payment method in the next year.
In addition to new payment technologies, the proliferation of retail investing has led to a paradigm shift in the investment landscape, with trading activities doubling over the past year. User-friendly platforms such as Robinhood and their well-known crypto counterparts — such as Coinbase — have made investing much more accessible to non-institutional investors.
This historic rise in cashless payments and retail investing saw the public gain more exposure to different asset types. However, in the United States, a staggering 84% of adults are either uninterested in cryptocurrencies or have never heard of them. While this could be attributable to the seemingly intimidating technicalities involved, we are now in a good place to gradually transition towards a more crypto-forward society.
For now, there’s much more to be done to help mainstream consumers gain a better understanding of crypto. Crypto projects, for one, would do well to invest more resources towards creating educational content to bridge the knowledge gap — whether through guides or detailed explainers. Meanwhile, taking on a more transparency-focused approach that looks to debunk misconceptions and ensure that users are aware of the risks associated with crypto, will enable those users to navigate their entry into the space with greater ease and confidence.
Crypto is the MVP in the cashless drive
As conversations on cryptocurrencies evolve, governments are taking note. While cash will not be eliminated any time soon, as many as 86% of central banks around the world are looking into central bank digital currencies in their quest to go cashless. The world’s first central bank digital currency (CBDC) — the Sand Dollar — was announced by the Central Bank of the Bahamas way back in 2018 and officially launched in October last year. The technology team behind this project was led by U-Zyn Chua, who went on to co-found DeFiChain.
Although CBDCs will be regulated by a central authority, their adoption will send a profound message to market participants on the legitimacy of digital currencies. The introduction of CBDCs is thus a much-needed springboard to catalyse large-scale crypto adoption.
In the short term, crypto is not going to replace the existing financial system, but instead will carve out its own ecosystem that is suitable for a new generation of digital-first, financially savvy users. While it will take a while for consumers to warm up to crypto, the nascent technology will prove its worth in due time by offering cheaper, safer and more inclusive financial services for all.