The Big Conversation - Deep Dive Interviews
Episode 4: The evolving user case for crypto
The world of cryptocurrencies and decentralized finance is now reaching the mainstream audience. But as the number of products starts to grow at breakneck speed, it's hard for the average observer to keep pace with this potentially bewildering array of user cases. Asher Tan, CEO of one of the world’s oldest cryptocurrency exchanges Coinjar, summarizes the world of crypto from what people think it is, to what it has now become, and how its user case will now evolve over the coming years.
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If you think about cryptocurrencies, it’s basically the money of the internet. I believe that at every level, not just finance, but every other industry will have to consider how this new technology impacts them. Just like the internet, there are boundless use cases and we’re only limited by our creativity.
The world of cryptocurrencies and decentralised finance is now reaching the mainstream audience. But as the number of products starts to grow at breakneck speed, it’s hard for the average observer to keep pace with this potentially bewildering array of user cases. Asher Tan, CEO of one of the world’s oldest cryptocurrencies, Coinjar, summarises the world of crypto from what people think it is, to what it has now become, and how its user case will evolve over coming years. This episode’s not for the crypto experts and afficionados. It is for those who are still struggling with the basic notions of how crypto fits into the landscape, and the ever-increasing impact it will have across the financial sector.
My name is Asher Tan. I am the CEO and co-founder of Coinjar, one of the world’s longest-running cryptocurrency exchanges, started in Melbourne, Australia in 2013. We create cryptocurrency products for over half a million users. We have a debit card, a wallet, and we continually are making experiences for our users as well.
And there is a joke in the crypto world that for every world problem, Bitcoin solves this. And I think that is quite a evidence of how polarising cryptocurrencies are as a topic. You either think that they are the solution for all the world’s problems, or causing all the world’s problems at the same time. If you think about cryptocurrencies, it’s basically the money of the internet. And we’ve had the internet for quite a while, and the internet hasn’t solved all of the world’s problems, but it does play a big part in our lives and in solving those problems itself. So the same way, when we look at cryptocurrencies, yes, they are a very important part of the future of finance and other industries, but I don’t think specifically the technology does solve any of the problems. It’s just an extension of human creativity and ability to organise ourselves a lot more efficiently than what we do now.
Cryptocurrencies being internet money, exist in the internet world, and for the rest of us who exist in the regular world, and there’s definitely some tensions between going in a digital world where everything is open and free, and the current constraints to our regular world. So, what we’re seeing is a bridge of trying to join some of the ideals of how we want to live our lives digitally, and also how we currently live our lives in our current, present way. So, we’re looking at technologies to help bridge that gap between old ways of doing things and how we envision ourselves living in a more digital sense.
People have voted on how they want to live their lives of their data, their finances. And that has a degree of ownership in it, people want to be owners, people want to take part. And they see cryptocurrencies and this technology as some way of enabling that. So, in the same way, you’re looking at companies, both traditional and new, trying to serve these customers in this context, providing options of services, products and I guess, networks as well, that embody these sort of values. So you’ve seen it again, early in finance, how there are more options for people to self-serve, self-custody and have more control over their finances.
Going back to the internet and how the internet means different things to different people in different industries, I think the same way, cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology has come as a way of rethinking some of the structures that exist in the real world. The first thing, money is a first generation, I guess, application of this technology. Everyone uses money to some extent. We trade, we share, we buy, we sell. So I guess applying the technology to money specifically, and having those same qualities as the internet does, it’s open, it’s mostly easy to access, there is a level of pseudo-anonymity involved, where you have ability to express yourself. At the same time there’s also a higher degree of transparency and governance that is missing from current-day systems.
So, conceptually, they’ve taken mathematics to help solve some of these problems, and the interpretation and how it’s realised in the real world right now is through cryptocurrencies and finance. But we’ve also seen that branch into other industries such as sports, where sports teams may have fan tokens. Or even art, which a new rise in NFTs has helped artists monetise their work a lot easier. So, just like the internet, there are boundless user cases and we’re only limited by our creativity.
Early user cases centre around payments and finance and how we can make those things more efficient, but at the same time we’re currently being challenged about new ways of thinking, whole new categories of crypto-enabled industries and products as well. So, I don’t think it’s a specific product or use case, but rather a new technology that can be harnessed to create new things or make current processes more efficient.
Coinjar is the bridge between cryptocurrency and cash, and we’ve done that in a number of ways. Recently, we’ve partnered with industry stalwarts like Mastercard, to create a crypto debit card which allows you to spend your cryptocurrencies anywhere you could spend a Mastercard. We’ve worked with companies like Refinitiv to make onboarding and customer compliance to the highest level. And we’ve seen that the bridge between traditional companies looking for new opportunities in industries like this, to create products and services that work to the benefit of users.
Again, the financial sector is probably the first to be aware of the improvements and efficiencies that can be achieved with cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. Many companies have looked at how to add this element to their system. Certain banks, such as the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, has announced cryptocurrencies will soon be available in their banking app, even though other features such as purchasing of stocks isn’t incorporated in that app as well. So not only are we seeing banks, traditional institutions, even Central Banks, look to cryptocurrencies as a new way of gaining efficiencies in their payment systems and their economies. So, I believe that at every level, not just finance, but every other industry, will have to consider how this new technology impacts them.
Again, some will just be efficiencies, some industries will come up with new products and experiences which are crypto-specific. But right now, I guess, cryptocurrencies being a movement of people, essentially, people are voting with their feet, telling companies and products that we want more ownership and more control of our products. And that’s how companies will start to serve them. Either reinventing current experiences to tailor to that, or getting creating new experiences and products which are crypto-specific.
So, as this industry progresses, I think we demand more control over our digital identities and self. So, aspects of how you’re portrayed on the internet, your digital self, your finances, we hope to have more control, more transparency over them. And definitely from your identity, your finances, how you live your everyday life online, we look to have more control and more say over who owns that data. And hopefully, that will fall in the hands of the users themselves. I think more and more, everyone has seen the benefits of ownership and investing, owning part of an asset. And I think as the technology allows, being able to be more of a participant in your favourite music, sports, every aspect of life, not only will you be a viewer, but you’ll also be an owner in those experiences. So let’s hope for a future that has that.
Asher has been deeply involved in the evolution of the crypto space, and is now seeing its user cases expand. There’s still a lot of cynicism, but much of this is the result of being intimidated by the complexity of the underlying technology or the rapid proliferation of applications. And even the experts are struggling to keep up. Asher points out, however, that these technologies are increasingly being deployed for everyday uses. This is the weigh front between old and new finance, helping to reduce transaction costs in many traditional areas of finance, whilst creating ownership schemes in which pretty much anyone can take part.
The technologies behind cryptocurrencies may seem daunting, but we don’t need to understand how today’s car engines work, in order to know that they will take us from A to B. Likewise, new technologies in finance are being put to uses which creates accessibility at lower costs. The growth of so many mainstream uses is in fact the clearest sign that these technologies are now embedding themselves in our financial future.