Cryptocurrency: Redefining the Future of Finance - Visual Capitalist
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Cryptocurrency: Redefining the Future of Finance

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Cryptocurrency: Redefining the Future of Finance

Cryptocurrency is a thriving ecosystem, quietly encroaching on conventional finance’s territory.

Over the last five years, Bitcoin users and transactions have averaged a growth rate of nearly 60% per year. Similarly, private and public investors have deepened their commitment to cryptocurrencies including Ethereum, Ripple (XRP), and Stellar—and a number of others across the industry.

Today’s infographic unpacks a cross-section of cryptocurrencies, stakeholders, and core applications across a sector that’s continuing to grow in importance.

The Evolution of Cryptocurrency

Cryptocurrency has erupted into a $200 billion industry, sparking a wave of global disruption.

At the heart of cryptocurrency is a rich history of innovation. It extends back to the 1980s with advances in the field of cryptography—eventually leading to the technology that forms encryption techniques designed to protect the network.

Since then, a series of key events have continued to shape the sector.

Year
Event
2009Satoshi Nakamoto mines the first Bitcoin on a decentralized network
2011Litecoin launches
2012Ripple is founded
2013The price of a single Bitcoin reaches $1,000
2015Ethereum launches, introducing smart contracts into the crypto ecosystem
2017Over 1,000 cryptocurrencies listed
2017Bitcoin's price rockets past $10,000, reaching a peak just shy of $20,000
2018EOS offers a blockchain-based infrastructure for decentralized apps (DApps)

Now, there are over 5,000 cryptocurrencies in circulation, with many built on innovative applications and use-cases as the ecosystem rapidly evolves.

The Value of Cryptocurrencies

Today, crypto offers cutting-edge advances that are diverse and transformative. In addition, it could also be considered an investment in tomorrow’s financial system—decentralized finance (DeFi).

DeFi is an emerging alternative financial system that is built on a public blockchain, which enables greater accessibility because anyone has the ability to connect to it. Additionally, transactions are publicly visible, enabling greater transparency across the system.

Here is a refresher on some of the practical advantages being applied across cryptocurrencies.

Use CasesNameDescription
PaymentsBitcoin
Ripple (XRP)
Stellar
Dash
Used for purchasing goods without the need of a trusted third-party
Value Storage
Bitcoin
Litecoin
As the total supply of many cryptocurrencies are limited, this scarcity influences their value
Stablecoins
DAI
USDC
GeminiUSD
Digital money that is typically pegged to a currency or commodity, such as gold
Privacy Monero
Zcash
Cryptography, the technology behind crypto, can enable the anonymity of its owners
Digital Ownership
Bitcoin
Ripple (XRP)
Stellar
Can empower those without access to a bank to enter the financial system
Digital Gold
BitcoinBitcoin shares similar attributes to money: a medium of exchange, unit of account, and store of value
Decentralized Apps (DApps)
EOS
Tezos
Ethereum (ETH)
Enable individuals to create apps without a central authority, directly connecting the user and creator

The Key Players in the Crypto Landscape

The cryptocurrency ecosystem is growing rapidly. Worldwide, private and public actors recognize its potential across many domains.

Who are the primary participants in the field today?

Private Actors

  1. Institutional Investors
    Harvard Endowment Fund, Crypto Hedge Funds
  2. Cryptocurrency Exchanges
    Coinbase, Bitstamp
  3. Banks & Finance
    J.P. Morgan, Fidelity Investments, Swissquote
  4. Tech
    IBM, Microsoft
  5. Power & Utilities
    RWE

Public Actors

  1. Governments
    Venezuela
  2. Central Banks
    China, Sweden, Saudi Arabia
  3. Organizations
    Crypto Valley Association, Global Digital Finance

The rising popularity of crypto is bolstering new policies and adoption, as evidenced by the many players trying to break into the space.

The Big Picture:

As crypto continues to gain momentum, its longer-term implications will come into focus. Crucially, its cryptographic foundation sets the stage for future advances in finance.

  1. Privacy
    Anonymized transactions protect users data through cryptographic techniques
  2. Access
    Providing a new financial model for 1.7B unbanked individuals around the world
  3. Efficiency
    Steep reductions in settlement time and efficacy could save consumers $16 billion annually
  4. Security
    Providing immutable, traceable records of security-rich transactional networks
  5. Programmable Money
    Smart contracts could drastically eliminate manual and administrative work⁠— ultimately bypassing them altogether

Rooted in decentralized and autonomous systems, cryptocurrencies are creating second-order effects in the financial world. Ultimately, cryptocurrencies are helping to transform finance as we know it—unlocking countless investment opportunities across the global economy.

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Visualized: FTX’s Leaked Balance Sheet

As Sam Bankman-Fried’s crypto exchange FTX files for bankruptcy, this graphic visualizes FTX’s balance sheet leaked by the Financial Times.

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Visualizing FTX’s Balance Sheet Before Bankruptcy

In a difficult year for the crypto space that has been full of hacks, failing funds, and decentralized stablecoins going to zero, nothing has compared to FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried’s (SBF) rapid implosion.

After an astronomical rise in the crypto space over the past three years, crypto exchange FTX and its founder and CEO SBF have come crashing back down to earth, largely unraveled by their misuse of customer funds and illicit relationship with trading firm Alameda Research.

This graphic visualizes FTX’s leaked balance sheet dated to November 10th, and published by the Financial Times on November 12th. The spreadsheet shows nearly $9 billion in liabilities and not nearly enough illiquid cryptocurrency assets to cover the hole.

How did FTX wind up in this position?

How FTX’s Bankruptcy Unfolded

FTX’s eventual bankruptcy was sparked by a report on November 2nd by CoinDesk citing Alameda Research’s balance sheet. The article reported Alameda’s assets to be $14.6 billion, including $3.66 billion worth of unlocked FTT and $2.16 billion of FTT collateral.

With more than one-third of Alameda’s assets tied up in FTX’s exchange token FTT (including loans backed by the token), eyebrows were raised among the crypto community.

Four days later on November 6th, Alameda Research’s CEO, Caroline Ellison, and Sam Bankman-Fried addressed the CoinDesk story as unfounded rumors. However, on the same day, Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao (CZ) announced that Binance had decided to liquidate all remaining FTT on their books, kicking off a -7.6% decline in the FTT token on the day.

Back and Forth with Binance’s CZ

While Ellison publicly offered to buy CZ’s FTT directly “over the counter” to avoid further price declines and SBF claimed in a now-deleted tweet that “FTX is fine. Assets are fine.”, FTX users were withdrawing their funds from the exchange.

Less than 24 hours later on November 7th, both SBF and CZ tweeted that Binance had signed a non-binding letter of intent for the acquisition of FTX, pending due diligence.

The next day, the acquisition fell apart as Binance cited corporate due diligence, leaving SBF to face a multi-directional liquidity crunch of users withdrawing funds and rapidly declining token prices that made up large amounts of FTX and Alameda’s assets and collateral for loans.

FTX’s Liabilities and Largely Illiquid Assets

In the final days before declaring bankruptcy, FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried attempted a final fundraising in order restore stability while billions in user funds were being withdrawn from his exchange.

The balance sheet he sent around to prospective investors was leaked by the Financial Times, and reveals the exchange had nearly $9 billion in liabilities while only having just over $1 billion in liquid assets. Alongside the liquid assets were $5.4 billion in assets labeled as “less liquid” and $3.2 billion labeled as “illiquid”.

When examining the assets listed, FTX’s accounting appears to be poorly done at best, and fraudulently deceptive at worst.

Of those “less liquid” assets, many of the largest sums were in assets like FTX’s own exchange token and cryptocurrencies of the Solana ecosystem, which were heavily supported by FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried. On top of this, for many of these coins the liquidity simply wouldn’t have been there if FTX had attempted to redeem these cryptocurrencies for U.S. dollars or stablecoin equivalents.

While the liquid and less liquid assets on the balance sheet amounted to $6.3 billion (still not enough to equal the $8.9 billion in liabilities), many of these “less liquid” assets may as well have been completely illiquid.

Relationship with Alameda Research

When looking at FTX’s financials in isolation, it’s impossible to understand how one of crypto’s largest exchanges ended up with such a lopsided and illiquid balance sheet. Many of the still unfolding details lie in the exchange’s relationship with SBF’s previous venture that he founded, trading firm Alameda Research.

Founded by SBF in 2017, Alameda Research primarily operated as a delta-neutral (a term that describes trading strategies like market making and arbitrage that attempt to avoid taking directional risk) trading firm. In the summer of 2021, SBF stepped down from Alameda Research to focus on FTX, however his influence and connection with the firm was still deeply ingrained.

A report from the Wall Street Journal cites how Alameda was able to amass crypto tokens ahead of their announced public FTX listings, which were often catalysts in price surges. Alongside this, a Reuters story has revealed how SBF secretly moved $10 billion in funds to Alameda, using a bookkeeping “back door” to avoid internal scrutiny at FTX.

While SBF responded to the Reuters story by saying they “had confusing internal labeling and misread it,” there are few doubts that this murky relationship between Alameda Research and FTX was a fatal one for the former billionaire’s empire.

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