Bitcoin’s Relationship to Banking

Bitcoin is a decentralized currency — how does that square with the idea of central banks? Banks are one of the institutions that control global finances, just as elected governments control laws.

When the going gets tough, some governments bail themselves out by fiddling with interest rates and currency devaluations, each of which reduces the wealth of those who have earned that currency.

Take Argentina, for instance. The government there has a track record of devaluing its currency and placing limits on weekly withdrawals. Given the lack of trust placed in the Argentinian government by its citizens, would it be a good place for a currency such as bitcoin? The answer is yes, and in fact Argentina is one place where bitcoin is thriving. It gives Argentinians a place to put their wealth out of the government’s reach, where the authorities cannot devalue it at will for political reasons or otherwise limit citizen access to it.

With its ease of use for both consumers and small businesses bitcoin allows commerce to flourish as well. Companies such as BitPagos provide merchant facilities to businesses, allowing them to transact with confidence and ease. They also allow businesses to move money overseas and pay suppliers quicker and less expensively than banks.

Europe has seen volatile times as well. There have even been “bail-ins” in Cyprus, in which funds in banks were frozen. Greece has seen disruptive changes in governments trying to deal with massive public debt. Outflows of cash from Greek banks resulted in their being all but closed in early 2015 as the country decided its fate with creditors. Bitcoin provided an opportunity to move funds out of the country and avoid bank withdrawal limits.

Bitcoin growth in Europe will be strongest where regulators take a more conciliatory approach to the currency. Bitcoin won’t be replacing any major fiat currency anytime soon, but it does provide some opportunities for growth.

Some countries where bitcoin is likely to do well include Poland and Bulgaria. The regulators there aren’t too hostile to the concept of bitcoin as a currency or tool to move wealth around. Bulgaria was hit by the financial crisis of the last decade and saw a run on one its largest banks. Add to that the movement of people from Bulgaria to other parts of the EU and you have a ready-made remittance market on hand.

Similarly, Poland has a noticeably migratory workforce that has moved freely around the EU. Polish companies such as LOT, the national airline, have been keen to embrace the digital currency. Mobile phone bitcoin top-ups are commonly supported as are bitcoin vouchers on sale for cash over the counter at some retail outlets. The regulators have an open approach, and banks are generally tolerant of the currency —at least in comparison with other countries.