Two Sides of Bitcoin - 1

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With 2015 is coming to a close, it seems like an appropriate time to check in on the state of Bitcoin from a global and local perspective. 

This year was a time of growth, regulation, mergers and expansion for the industry. The price volatility was much more stable in comparison to what we saw in 2013 and 2014. But perhaps the most significant milestone was, as CNN reported, when the industry hit a record $1 billion in total VC investment in early November. Funding continues to outpace many other fast-growing startup sectors including crowdfunding, drones, private space travel and photo sharing. 

The latter part of 2015 was especially good because the digital currency reached yearly highs in both volume and price over the course of September and October, and again in December as I write this. There were some regulatory wins too, especially in North Carolina last week. I'll detail those below.

The wave of interest may be because of the hefty quantities of capital being pumped into the digital infrastructure. But 2015 will also be remembered as the first year in which a number of major banking and financial institutions began exploring the blockchain, one of the biggest being Goldman Sachs, which invested $50 million alongside IDG Capital Partners into Bitcoin startup Circle Internet Financial.

Deutsche Bank also weighed in, stating that blockchain technology will become more widespread over the course of the next decade. The comments come after the German banking giant carried out a blockchain-based experiment that concentrated on programmable bonds. 

The interest from large-scale financial institutions became very obvious to me at Charlotte’s ‘Cryptolina 2015’ in August. The biggest difference from our 2014 Raleigh expo was the large number of financial professionals, FinTech developers and bankers in attendance. 

In 2014, financial institutions, banks and credit unions wouldn’t touch our conference. But in 2015, we had several senior vice presidents, investment bankers and institutional investors in attendance. Granted, Charlotte is a much more financially-oriented market. But it was very noticeable at just how big a difference 12 months made. 

The growth of Bitcoin blockchain technology is clearly percolating in the Queen City.

On September 1st, I moderated a very constructive panel discussion at RTP's The Frontier that focused on the state of Bitcoin and money transmitter legislation In North Carolina. It was put together by the newly-formed NC Triangle Bitcoin and Business Meetup

By all accounts, this was the first public forum in which staff members of the North Carolina Office of the Commissioner of Banks (NCCOB) shared the stage with Bitcoin advocates. This discussion was significant in that it represented a willingness of ‘both sides’ to come to the table for a candid discussion on perhaps the most disruptive industry we have seen to date. 

I’ve voiced my opinions in the past on whether a governing agency specializing in banking should be the regulatory vehicle for Bitcoin blockchain technology, but this forum really provided the NCCOB staff a chance to field challenging but fair questions on the future of money transmission and how it will affect digital currency in North Carolina. 

These conversations must continue as the industry matures. But we've already begun to see the fruits. On December 10, the NCCOB announced that it would make several regulatory exemptions for select bitcoin and blockchain businesses not involved in money transmission. 

This is a great step, and a move many industry supporters say avoids the knotty provisions that other U.S. states have in place. The Commissioner’s staff revitalized an FAQ section on its website regarding money transmitters. The most significant updates include an exemption for digital currency miners, non-custodial/multi-sig wallet providers and non-financial blockchain services from the state's Money Transmitters Act (MTA). Check them out here

It was a wise move to exempt non-financial blockchain services. This is because the underlying blockchain technology behind Bitcoin has tremendous potential and many more uses beyond just finance or currency. Blockchain technology will eventually become very appealing to consumers, merchants and governments because of the security afforded by public key cryptography and protocols using asymmetric key algorithms. 

These revised NCCOB FAQs are a great step, but we need to make sure these are written into law during the upcoming short session. 

The FAQ reconsiderations by the NCCOB can be credited to many different minds and collaborators, specifically the Chamber of Digital Commerce, which worked with government relations consulting firm Gide and law firm Buckley Sandler LLP, and the forum at The Frontier, which brought the conversation out in the open.

2016 will be a critical year in the development of the technology and expansion of regulatory framework surrounding Bitcoin and the blockchain. As the industry continues to mature, I am hopeful that our home state embraces the opportunities. North Carolina has a real opportunity to be a leader in this emerging sector—through technological advancements, entrepreneurship and economic development.