Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Bitcoin Is A Disruptive Technology

A financial network is a technological platform that people build businesses on top of. And the traditional banking and credit card networks are closed platforms. If you want to build an e-commerce site, a payment network like Paypal, or any other service that deals in dollars, you need to convince incumbent financial institutions to do business with you. Getting such a partnership is difficult and involves a lot of red tape.

There’s a good reason for the high barrier to entry: electronic transactions in the conventional banking system are generally reversible. If someone makes a fraudulent charge to your credit card, you can dispute the transaction and in most cases the bank or the merchant, not the customer, will cover the cost. That’s convenient for consumers, but it requires the financial system to be a fairly close-knit web of trust. Allowing a new member into the club creates risks for everyone else. So the incumbents are understandably reluctant to deal with anyone who isn’t well-known and well-capitalized.

Bitcoin is different. Because transactions are authenticated cryptographically and cannot be reversed, there’s no need to restrict access to the network. There’s no risk to accepting payments from complete strangers. That means people don’t need anyone’s permission or trust to go into business as a Bitcoin-based merchant or financial intermediary. Accepting Bitcoins also allows merchants to avoid much of the administrative overhead, like dealing with chargebacks, that come with a conventional merchant account.

Of course, what looks like a plus for merchants can look more like a minus for consumers. Consumers generally like the conventional banking system’s strong consumer protections. We like the fact that we’re not on the hook for fraudulent banking transactions, and that the FDIC will make us whole if the bank holding our money goes bottom-up.

And Bitcoin looks inferior to the conventional banking system in other ways too. Visa and Mastercard are accepted at millions of locations around the world. Only a handful of merchants accept Bitcoins. Conventional banks have elaborate websites with features like direct deposite of paychecks and automatic bill-paying. Dealing with Bitcoin is too intimidating for all but a tiny minority of tech-savvy enthusiasts. - Read more here:

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