Many have speculated that 2015 would be the year Bitcoin emerged from the “shadows”
and into the mainstream. Six months into this calendar year, it looks as if that speculation is turning into reality.
While the value of an individual Bitcoin has dropped since December 2013’s peak, growth in private venture capital investment into Bitcoin companies has been astronomical. In fact, all-time bitcoin startup VC investment reached $676 million in the 1st quarter of 2015, and will likely hit $1 billion by the end of this year. The number of new trading venues, products and technology providers indicate that 2015 will also be remembered as the year digital (crypto) currencies and the underlying blockchain technology finally entered the capital markets.
Bitcoin exchanges on Wall Street are rapidly increasing. The Winklevoss twins, who have been active in the industry since the early days, unveiled ‘Gemini’
, a bitcoin exchange for U.S. consumers that they hope will become the "Nasdaq of Bitcoin.” The Winklevii also started a Bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF)
. Using a sizable portion of their Facebook lawsuit winnings to invest, they at one point owned about 1% of the entirety of total bitcoins mined. The Winklevoss exchange, along with others such as Coinsetter and itBit, are bringing real options to Wall Street for digital currencies.
Another test for Bitcoin and digital currencies is regulation. There have been several new developments during the first part of 2015 both locally and nationally that have been met with mixed reviews. The North Carolina House of Representatives recently made some regulatory waves with legislation and an amendment spearheaded by the North Carolina Banking Commission (House Bill 289
). I have read the legislation, amendment and criticism and found it difficult to put out a statement that will not anger one side of the debate or the other.
Billed as the ‘NC Money Transmitters Act’, this legislation regulates Bitcoin processors as money transmitters through state statute. As noted by activists from BitcoinRegs.org, North Carolina would be the first state in the nation to regulate Bitcoin in statute. As a pragmatist, I realize that regulation may be inevitable
, but what I find troubling about HB 289 is that it stands in counter to Bitcoin’s status at the federal level, where Bitcoin is currently not legally defined as money. The I.R.S. classifies Bitcoin as property. But beyond that, this legislation could potentially slow down innovation of Bitcoin and blockchain development in North Carolina because of steep licensure costs and net-worth requirements.
But not all are upset over this legislation. In fact, it has won praise from Duke Alum-founded Coinbase for not duplicating licensing requirements and allowing flexibility in licensing for startups or new business models while still protecting consumers and preventing laundering. Coinbase published a blog post on the legislation here
. I'll note that Coinbase is already licensed in North Carolina and this legislation deals with a number of very practical day-to-day operational issues that may have more of an impact on companies entering the industry.
But to get a third opinion, I contacted Perianne Boring
, who spoke last year at Cryptolina’s regulatory panel alongside former U.S. Mint Director Ed Moy
. Boring is the founder and President of the Chamber of Digital Commerce
, the first DC-based trade association dedicated to promoting the acceptance and use of bitcoin and digital assets to public-policy makers. She didn't address the innovation question directly but provided this statement:
“With multiple states engaging in the regulation of virtual currencies and virtual currency activities – the industry is facing an increasingly complex and burdensome regulatory environment. It is imperative that the industry’s voice is heard in discussions among policymakers to ensure what ultimately becomes law does not impede innovation. Without proper engagement we risk a patchwork of inconsistencies and friction between local, state, federal and international laws. The Chamber of Digital Commerce is dedicated to help bring coordination to this process through the work of our Government Affairs and Public Policy Committee”.
I’d like to note that the new North Carolina legislation does represent a lighter touch than the stiff proposal from the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS), in that it would protect the interest of consumers, but does not impose any additional regulatory burdens or costs on business-to-business transactions. This legislation is by no means perfect, nor is it what a large segment of the bitcoin community wants. But parts of it may be useful as a step forward in making the law work for digital currency companies.
Promoting legislation that protects consumer interests and prevents money laundering is a no-brainer. However, I remain guarded about how the North Carolina Banking Commission will provide long-term regulation to an industry that could someday pose a significant business challenge to the relevancy of commercial/personal banking and lending as we know it. Unless the commission adapts, this seems akin to having a “Taxi Cab Commission” regulate Uber, or a “Hotel Commission” regulate Airbnb. I remain cautious, but optimistic.
As we move into the summer months, mark your calendars two Bitcoin and cryptocurrency industry events that will undoubtedly trigger avid debate and discussions. On June 8th, Eric Martindale
(formerly of the Triangle), an executive with Atlanta-based BitPay
, is speaking at RTP’s The Frontier, alongside local angel investor Bill Warner
of EntreDot, Todd Erickson
of the Bitcoin Foundation
, and Robert Sherwood
and Drago Bratic
. On August 14th and 15th, the Second Annual Cryptolina Bitcoin Expo
is kicking off in Uptown Charlotte, where several national speakers, companies, and industry experts have already been lined up. Check out the details in ExitEvent's
Lastly, I’d like to conclude with a fun, but ironic note. It was announced earlier this month that New York's top financial watchdog Ben Lawsky, the chief architect of the widely criticized BitLicense, is stepping down from his post at the NYDFS in June.
What are his next steps, you may ask? He plans to consult with companies on digital currencies and Bitcoin.