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.
|2009||Satoshi Nakamoto mines the first Bitcoin on a decentralized network|
|2012||Ripple is founded
|2013||The price of a single Bitcoin reaches $1,000
|2015||Ethereum launches, introducing smart contracts into the crypto ecosystem|
|2017||Over 1,000 cryptocurrencies listed
|2017||Bitcoin's price rockets past $10,000, reaching a peak just shy of $20,000|
|2018||EOS 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.
|Used for purchasing goods without the need of a trusted third-party|
|As the total supply of many cryptocurrencies are limited, this scarcity influences their value
|Digital money that is typically pegged to a currency or commodity, such as gold
|Cryptography, the technology behind crypto, can enable the anonymity of its owners
|Can empower those without access to a bank to enter the financial system
|Digital Gold||Bitcoin||Bitcoin shares similar attributes to money: a medium of exchange, unit of account, and store of value
|Decentralized Apps (DApps)||EOS|
|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?
- Institutional Investors
Harvard Endowment Fund, Crypto Hedge Funds
- Cryptocurrency Exchanges
- Banks & Finance
J.P. Morgan, Fidelity Investments, Swissquote
- Power & Utilities
- Central Banks
China, Sweden, Saudi Arabia
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.
Anonymized transactions protect users data through cryptographic techniques
Providing a new financial model for 1.7B unbanked individuals around the world
Steep reductions in settlement time and efficacy could save consumers $16 billion annually
Providing immutable, traceable records of security-rich transactional networks
- 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.
Visualized: The State of Central Bank Digital Currencies
Central bank digital currencies are coming, but progress varies greatly from country to country. View the infographic to learn more.
Visualized: The State of Central Bank Digital Currencies
Central banks around the world are getting involved in digital currencies, but some are further ahead than others.
In this map, we used data from the Atlantic Council’s Currency Tracker to visualize the state of each central banks’ digital currency effort.
Digital Currency – The Basics
Digital currencies have been around since the 1980s, but didn’t become widely popular until the launch of Bitcoin in 2009. Today, there are thousands of digital currencies in existence, also referred to as “cryptocurrencies”.
A defining feature of cryptocurrencies is that they are based on a blockchain ledger. Blockchains can be either decentralized or centralized, but the most known cryptocurrencies today (Bitcoin, Ethereum, etc.) tend to be decentralized in nature. This makes transfers and payments very difficult to trace because there is no single entity with full control.
Government-issued digital currencies, on the other hand, will be controlled by a central bank and are likely to be easily trackable. They would have the same value as the local cash currency, but instead issued digitally with no physical form.
Central Bank Digital Currencies Worldwide
105 countries are currently exploring centralized digital currencies. Together, they represent 95% of global GDP. The table below lists the data used in the infographic.
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||Launched||Retail|
|Antigua and Barbuda||Launched||Retail|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||Launched||Retail|
|United Arab Emirates||Pilot||Wholesale|
|Trinidad andd Tobago||Research||Undecided|
When aggregated, we can see that the majority of countries are in the research stage.
We’ve also divided the map by region to make viewing easier.
What are the Benefits?
A major benefit of government-issued digital currencies is that they can improve access for underbanked people.
This is not a huge issue in developed countries like the U.S., but many people in developing nations have no access to banks and other financial services (hence the term underbanked). As the number of internet users continues to climb, digital currencies represent a sound solution.
To learn more about this topic, visit this article from Global Finance, which lists the world’s most underbanked countries in 2021.
Just 9% of countries have launched a digital currency to date.
This includes Nigeria, which became the first African country to do so in October 2021. Half of the country’s 200 million population is believed to have no access to bank accounts.
Adoption of the eNaira (the digital version of the naira) has so far been relatively sluggish. The eNaira app has accumulated 700,000 downloads as of April 2022. That’s equal to 0.35% of the population, though not all of the downloads are users in Nigeria.
Conversely, 33.4 million Nigerians were reported to be trading or owning crypto assets, despite the Central Bank of Nigeria’s attempts to restrict usage.
Status in the U.S.
America’s central bank, the Federal Reserve, has not decided on whether it will implement a central bank digital currency (CBDC).
Our key focus is on whether and how a CBDC could improve on an already safe and efficient U.S. domestic payments system.
– Federal Reserve
To learn more, check out the Federal Reserve’s January 2022 paper on the pros and cons of CBDCs.
How the Top Cryptocurrencies Performed in 2021
Cryptocurrencies had a breakout year in 2021, providing plenty of volatility and strong returns across crypto’s various sectors.
The Returns of Top Cryptocurrencies in 2021
2021 saw the crypto markets boom and mature, with different sectors flourishing and largely outperforming the market leader, bitcoin.
While bitcoin only managed to return 59.8% last year, the crypto sector’s total market cap grew by 187.5%, with many of the top coins offering four and even five-digit percentage returns.
2021 Crypto Market Roundup
Last year wasn’t just a breakout year for crypto in terms of returns, but also the growing infrastructure’s maturity and resulting decorrelation of individual crypto industries and coins.
Crypto’s infrastructure has developed significantly, and there are now many more onramps for people to buy altcoins that don’t require purchasing and using bitcoin in the process. As a result, many cryptocurrency prices were more dictated by the value and functionality of their protocol and applications rather than their correlation to bitcoin.
|Ethereum||Smart Contract Platform||399.2%|
|Binance Coin||Exchange Token||1,268.9%|
|Solana||Smart Contract Platform||11,177.8%|
|Cardano||Smart Contract Platform||621.3%|
|Terra||Smart Contract Platform||12,967.3%|
|Avalanche||Smart Contract Platform||3,334.8%|
|Polkadot||Smart Contract Platform||187.9%|
Sources: TradingView, Binance, Uniswap, FTX, Bittrex
Bitcoin wasn’t the only cryptocurrency that didn’t manage to reach triple-digit returns in 2021. Litecoin and Bitcoin Cash also provided meagre double-digit percentage returns, as payment-focused cryptocurrencies were largely ignored for projects with smart contract capabilities.
Other older projects like Stellar Lumens (109%) and XRP (278%) provided triple-digit returns, with Cardano (621%) being the best performer of the old guard despite not managing to ship its smart contract functionality last year.
The Rise of the Ethereum Competitors
Ethereum greatly outpaced bitcoin in 2021, returning 399.2% as the popularity boom of NFTs and creation of DeFi 2.0 protocols like Olympus (OHM) expanded possible use-cases.
But with the rise of network activity, a 50% increase in transfers in 2021, Ethereum gas fees surged. From minimums of $20 for a single transaction, to NFT mint prices starting around $40 and going into the hundreds on congested network days, crypto’s retail crowd migrated to other smart contract platforms with lower fees.
Alternative budding smart contract platforms like Solana (11,178%), Avalanche (3,335%), and Fantom (13,207%) all had 4-5 digit percentage returns, as these protocols built out their own decentralized finance ecosystems and NFT markets.
With Ethereum set to merge onto the beacon chain this year, which uses proof of stake instead of proof of work, we’ll see if 2022 brings lower gas fees and retail’s return to Ethereum if the merge is successful.
Dog Coins Meme their Way to the Top
While many new cryptocurrencies with strong functionality and unique use-cases were rewarded with strong returns, it was memes that powered the greatest returns in cryptocurrencies this past year.
Dogecoin’s surge after Elon Musk’s “adoption” saw many other dog coins follow, with SHIB benefitting the most and returning an astounding 19.85 million percent.
But ever since Dogecoin’s run from $0.07 to a high of $0.74 in Q2 of last year, the original meme coin’s price has slowly bled -77% down to $0.17 at the time of writing. After the roller coaster ride of last year, 2022 started with a positive catalyst for Dogecoin holders as Elon Musk announced DOGE can be used to purchase Tesla merchandise.
Gamifying the Crypto Industry
The intersection between crypto, games, and the metaverse became more than just a pipe dream in 2021. Axie Infinity was the first crypto native game to successfully establish a play to earn structure that combines its native token (AXS) and in-game NFTs, becoming a sensation and source of income for many in the Philippines.
Other crypto gaming projects like Defi Kingdoms are putting recognizable game interfaces on decentralized finance applications, with the decentralized exchange becoming the town’s “marketplace” and yield farms being the “gardens” where yield is harvested. This fantasy aesthetic is more than just a new coat of paint, as the project with $1.04B of total value locked is developing an underlying play-to-earn game.
Along with gamification, 2021 saw crypto native and non-crypto developers put a big emphasis on the digital worlds or metaverses users will inhabit. Facebook’s name change to Meta resulted in the two prominent metaverse projects The Sandbox (SAND) and Decentraland (MANA) surge another few hundred percent to finish off the year at 16,261% and 4,104% returns respectively.
With so many eyes on the crypto sector after the 2021’s breakout year, we’ll see how developing U.S. regulation and changing macro conditions affect cryptocurrencies in 2022.
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