Bitcoin technology is the latest development in the digital finance market, but many experienced financial managers like Anton Casey are skeptical. According to Market Watch, the dynamic is nothing new and can be traced all the way back to tulips in the Dutch flower trade of the 1600s – it’s a mania based on assigned value and the buzz on the street.
While the buzz about tulips spread through the taverns and inflated the price of bulbs to the equivalent of a craftsman’s weekly salary, bitcoins have caught on in Internet chat rooms and caused a great deal of speculation about their worth.
According to Asia Briefing, bitcoins are a ubiquitous digital currency that is unregulated by any government and not considered legal tender. Nonetheless, the market has assigned it value and merchants are willing to accept them as currency. They provide an alternative to government-issued cash that is useful when consumers transact foreign business.
Singapore now has eight bitcoin ATMs, according to Asia Briefing, seven of them operated by Tembesu and the latest one operated by Coin Republic. The first machine from Tembesu came out a month ago, and the new machine from Coin Republic offers a new dimension. Whereas the Tembesu machines allowed users to change cash into bitcoins, the Coin Republic ATMs allow for a two-way exchange. Users can also withdraw Singapore dollars from their bitcoin accounts.
Experts like Anton Casey, a financial services and fund management professional with international experience, note that privately-owned and -operated digital currency is not new to the marketplace. Many college campuses throughout the U.S. allow students to purchase meal plans with campus-generated currency, and merchants not affiliated with the campuses – like pizza joints and grocery stores – are set up to accept the currency due to their dependence on the college community. Bitcoin transactions have many similarities in that they provide a convenience for travelers dealing with foreign merchants.
The managers and brokers of Singapore’s financial district, like Anton Casey, feel that it is part of Singapore’s ongoing effort to stay on the forefront of technology and be innovators rather than just followers in the marketplace. Asia Briefing explains that the circulation of bitcoins has increased dramatically to US$8 billion today, which is sixteen times the circulation of US$490 million a year ago.
Financial investors like Casey are optimistic about Singapore’s advances in bitcoin ATM technology, believing that Singapore has a well-regulated market that can handle the challenges of this advance in international currency. According to Asia Briefing, however, there is a great fear that there will be a backlash created by illegal business that is attracted to the unregulated and untraceable aspects of bitcoin technology. The medium could easily attract terrorist groups and money launderers who wish to fly under the radar with their business transactions.
Asia Briefing goes on to explain that bitcoins have already been the cause of a hacking scheme that forced Mt. Gox, a leading bitcoin exchange in Japan, to file for bankruptcy. Mt. Gox claimed that hackers stole over $400 million dollars in bitcoins and the company is now battling a class action lawsuit in the U.S.
To combat fears of a potentially disastrous effect on the marketplace, Singapore’s government has already announced plans to roll out laws that will strip away much of the anonymity in bitcoin trading by requiring bitcoin operators to verify their customer’s identities.
Predictions and speculations about how bitcoin technology will eventually fare in the in the international marketplace can go back to the analogies presented by Market Watch. It is very possible that we will see a parallel between the bitcoin market and the computer boom of the 1980s. It’s hard to say which specific companies will come out on top in the bitcoin game, in much the same way that no one knew about the impact that Microsoft would have when Novell was being touted as the software technology that would drive the industry.
While the specific companies and the details are still being fleshed out, Casey and others in the financial sector are looking for advances in the digital market that solve the problems of traditional money in a world where commerce is increasingly global and virtual.
Bitcoin technology may only be the prototype of an advance in technology that solves the problems created by doing business in foreign currencies. Bankers, investors and money managers are looking for solutions in global finance that translate across national borders.
Bitcoin ATMs may seem like a novelty, but they show Singapore to be a technologically-savvy nation ready to lead in the technology and finance sectors for the country’s investors like Anton Casey.