In 2015, in a quaint yet well-known town (which felt more like a village) in Switzerland, I began my tenure at a renowned commodity trading company. Reflecting on the year before moving to this charming, gray town at the edge of Lake Geneva, I remember the excitement surrounding blockchain and cryptocurrency that I had been eagerly following in London, the US, and notably parts of Asia.
Conversations on Crypto
At events, dinner parties, and any social gathering, I would enthusiastically discuss how, in the next decade, the entire infrastructure of our world was set for dramatic change thanks to blockchain technology, and even more so with Bitcoin and the growing field of cryptocurrencies trailing in its wake. Even in 2015, there was a growing narrative that painted Bitcoin as a dubious asset, supposedly made for drug dealers and other criminal elements. By the third quarter of 2015, my invitations to dinner parties had stopped.
Bitcoin, launched on January 3rd, 2009 by an anonymous inventor, started as an open-source project built by a community of volunteers and operated on a peer-to-peer network. For the first five or six years, it was ridiculed, dismissed, and largely ignored. That’s not the case anymore. People are starting to take notice, much like they did when the internet was first introduced. Interestingly, those same people from the dinner parties in Geneva in 2015 now claim to be ‘BITCOIN Experts.’
It’s amusing—ask them what Bitcoin is today, and they can provide a well-crafted explanation. However, if you ask them to define ‘money,’ the response is often hesitant, filled with awkward laughter, eventually ending with, “It’s money, what do you mean what is it?”
Many still don’t understand what money is or how it functions. Money is such a fundamental part of our culture that it has become invisible, taken for granted until it fails us. When money stops serving its purpose effectively, as some countries have experienced, then everyone starts to question its nature and value. But what is money, really? At its core, money itself doesn’t hold value. We use money to exchange for things of value, like goods or services, but the money itself isn’t valuable. Money is not merely a symbol of authority, though it might seem that way since it usually comes from authoritative entities. If a figure of authority declares something as money, we accept it as such. But imagine a scenario where money could be created without traditional authority, simply through its usage and acceptance in society.
It turns out, money is essentially a language. It’s one of the fundamental tools of civilization that allows us to go beyond what’s known as the Dunbar number. The Dunbar number represents the limit of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships—relationships in which an individual knows each person and how each person relates to every other person. This number caps the size of a tribe that can interact based on personal knowledge and relationships. But for two tribes to cooperate, they need some form of common ground. This has historically included shared culture, language, religion, and notably, money. Money serves as a crucial system enabling us to transcend the limitations of a single tribe, facilitating trade and interaction on a much broader scale. As money has evolved, it has expanded its scope, allowing for increased collaboration and commerce on a global level. Yet, paradoxically, money also acts as a mechanism of control.
Control over money grants immense power to those in charge of it. Historically, kings and governments have maintained strict control over currency, much like their control over religion, for similar reasons. However, this dynamic shifted dramatically on January 3rd, 2009. On this day, an individual introduced a peer-to-peer protocol that established a decentralized network without central servers, comprised entirely of equal participants. This innovation made it possible to conceptualize money as a type of content. For those familiar with software development, the notion of money as a content type might resonate, indicating a revolutionary way to think about and use money beyond traditional confines.
Money, when stripped down to its essence, becomes purely data that can be sent through any means capable of transmitting information. A Bitcoin transaction, for instance, doesn’t have to be conducted over the Bitcoin network, even though it’s a convenient method. This concept of money as pure information on an open network is revolutionary—uncensorable, accessible to everyone, neutral, and without geographical limitations. This new technology knows no borders, mirroring the boundless nature of the internet. It’s not a product or a company; it’s an open platform.
The moment you download a certain application, you’re plugged into a global economy that welcomes anyone, regardless of race, religion, creed, ethnicity, or age, from anywhere in the world. This idea, though profound, has not fully registered with many people yet.
A New Generation of Banking
The generation being born today will grow up in a reality far removed from the concepts of traditional banking or physical currency, much like many young individuals in the tech sector today can hardly imagine life before the internet. This shift marks a significant transformation in how future generations will understand and interact with the concept of money.
Since its launch on January 3rd, 2009, cryptocurrency has reshaped the digital world. Beginning with Bitcoin, the landscape has seen the rise of over a thousand cryptocurrencies, each contributing to diverse sectors of the digital economy. This wave of innovation has opened new markets and created funding opportunities for startups across the globe. Meanwhile, thousands of developers are sharpening their skills in this rapidly expanding field. The internet itself is transforming, now housing autonomous financial entities that operate beyond the reach of traditional regulatory frameworks. Major corporations are caught in a bind: either adopt this open, decentralized, and censorship-resistant technology or try to tame it into a controlled, proprietary network, sacrificing innovation and security. Despite attempts by some to monopolize blockchain technology, the true power of cryptocurrency lies in its ability to achieve distributed consensus without central authority, heralding a future where trust is decentralized and creativity thrives freely.
The Cost of Traditional Banking
Even after 25 years of the internet, transferring money internationally—outside of Europe—remains slow and expensive, taking days and costing significant fees, especially when sent to less affluent countries. The current system, centralized and opaque, disproportionately extracts wealth from the world’s poorest. As of 2017, two and a half billion people lacked access to banking services, relying solely on cash, and that figure only accounts for household heads, not including their families.
Mobile Banking for All
Now, consider the potential impact of transforming a smartphone into a banking platform accessible via a simple app on a $20 Android device. With three and a half to four billion people online today, but only over a billion having access to comprehensive financial services, the opportunity to extend these services to the remaining six billion is both vast and urgent. This shift promises to revolutionize global finance more rapidly than the adoption of mobile phones, turning a basic smartphone into not just a means of communication but a full-fledged bank. This device could facilitate wire transfers, lending, and even provide disaster relief funding, connecting every individual globally. Achieving this level of financial inclusion within the next decade could dramatically alter the global landscape.
The Challenge for Banks
The world is poised for a radical transformation with the advent of widespread economic inclusion. One might assume that banks would be eager to facilitate this change. However, that assumption misses the mark. Serving individuals with limited financial resources, poor connectivity, no access to identification, and those living under oppressive regimes in countries with ineffective governance is not seen as profitable by traditional banking institutions.
Finance Goes Digital
Today, we find ourselves in an era where the world is interconnected as never before. Finance has evolved into an application, and money has transformed into a type of content. This digital revolution redefines what is possible, making financial services accessible to everyone, everywhere, and challenging the traditional paradigms of how we think about and engage with money.
Looking Back, Moving Forward
As I reflect on the path from those dinner parties in 2015, where my views on blockchain’s future were met with skepticism, to today’s reality, where digital currency is foundational, I’m drawn to imagine a conversation in 2050. In this future, as a child inquires, ‘Papa, what was money like before blockchain?’ I realize the once-distant future I envisioned is now a lived history. My predictions, once dismissed as fantasies by dinner guests who no longer extended invitations, have woven into the fabric of everyday life. As the digital revolution reshapes our understanding of value and trust, I wonder if those skeptics remember our debates.
More importantly, I see a world where such questions underscore the profound transformation we’ve undergone, a testament to how far we’ve come. Indeed, as we navigate this digitized financial landscape, expanding global participation, it’s clear: the future I spoke of has arrived, turning once speculative discussions into lessons for the next generation. And so, in answering that child’s question in 2050, I’ll not only recount the evolution of money but also share a story of belief, vision, and the relentless march of progress.