Davos elite still mixed on cryptos, but elated over blockchain

  • By Tom Cleveland

  • February 6, 2019
  • 2:19 am BST

This year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) has concluded. Its attendees have boarded their private jets and have departed Swiss airspace. Last year at this time, crypto valuations were cresting, and Bitcoin was on everyone’s lips, but times have changed. Crypto Winter has come and gone. Some still believe that the Bear has no plans of hibernating any time soon, but valuations appear to have bottomed. Opinions this year regarding cryptocurrencies were mixed, but blockchain technology is still a favorite.

One important development was the formation of the Global Council on Blockchain. The general feeling was that mass adoption of blockchain systems would accelerate as soon as a major government picks up the technology. According to Sheila Warren of the WEF: “Whether we like it or not, governments are some of the most successful distribution platforms. If we can find a way to use government to actually deploy and use blockchain technology, we’re going to move a long way towards adoption.”

Jamie Dimon, the ebullient CEO of JP Morgan Chase, seems to have shifted his mood on the crypto ecosphere. He is known for his negative remarks, calling Bitcoin a “scam” and comparing the frenzy among investors as nothing more than a digital “Tulip Mania”. He must have checked with his internal strategic planners, since word on the street claims that blockchain is a key component in JP Morgan’s long-term roadmap. His positive take: “Blockchain is a real technology — it’s just a database we can all access that’s kept up-to-date.”

There also were the regular detractors in the crowd. Huw van Steenis, the adviser to Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, blurted out during an interview with Bloomberg that, “I’m not so worried about cryptocurrencies. They fail the basic tests of financial services, they’re not a great unit of exchange, they don’t hold value and they’re slower.”

Dan Schulman, CEO of PayPal, echoed more negative sentiment: “We’re not seeing many retailers at all accept any of the cryptocurrencies. But I think the underlying technology is interesting. I have always thought that crypto was more of a reward mechanism for implementing blockchain, as opposed to really a currency.”

And then there is always someone that believes that cryptocurrencies will dissolve down to nothing and fade slowly away in the western sky. Jeff Schumacher, founder of BCG Digital Ventures, during a CNBC panel discussion, espoused: “I do believe it will go to zero. I think it’s a great technology, but I don’t believe it’s a currency. It’s not based on anything.”

There were a few forward thinkers in the group. One in particular was Jeremy Allaire, the CEO of Circle, the Goldman Sachs-backed payments and tech company. Allaire said: “Crypto is fundamental to the future, and so crypto computing, which is what these blockchain platforms really are, they’re open computing platforms — we need tamper-proof, resilient, decentralized infrastructure if we want society to survive the digital age.”

Allaire went further by adding: “We’re huge proponents of central-bank digital currency, and we believed in that for a very long time. Our view is that the creation of cryptocurrencies that are based on central bank money is happening in the private-sector first.”

Whose opinion do you believe? If 2019 transpires, as most experts believe, we would expect next year’s summit to once again embrace cryptocurrencies and the blockchain technology behind its development efforts. Until then, we wait.