Cardano’s extraordinary 2021 success

While Bitcoin and Ethereum still hold the top spots on the crypto leader board, Cardano (ADA) was the top performer in terms of percentage gains, with a staggering 560% return in Q1. It is now the No. 5 cryptocurrency by market capitalization, according to Messari data.

ADA is the native token for the smart-contract blockchain Cardano, and its value tripled in February as traders bet on the success of the so-called “Ethererum Killers.” Ethereum as you know dominates the smart contract space and currently most DeFi projects are on its blockchain. This February success was followed by Coinbase exchange listing ADA in March, making it available to both institutional and retail members.

Significantly, Cardano became a multi-asset chain following its hard fork on 1st March this year, Named ‘Mary’, the hard fork allows users to create tokens that run on Cardano natively, just as ADA does. This is something that sparked a great deal of interest in Ethereum. When it enabled new tokens to be made on its platform, it was one of the first big use cases that caught on for Ethereum. It also made possible 2017’s multi-billion dollar initial coin offering splurge.

Enabling new tokens is a step on the path to full smart-contract functionality, so no wonder Cardano’s CEO Charles Hoskinson called the hard fork “historic.” Hoskinson, who founded IOHK, which runs Cardano, was an Ethereum and BitShares co-founder.

And, on 3rd April, IOHK announced that a further milestone had been reached with the Cardano blockchain now completely decentralized. This means that the community, or the network’s 2200 stake pool operators, are now exclusively responsible for block production on the network. To put this in perspective: Bitcoin’s blockchain, “is largely in the hands of the ten most prominent Bitcoin mining pools, which account for 85% of the network’s block production,” Samyuktha Sriram reports at Yahoo! Finance.

Do the numbers matter? Yes. Diversifying the block production across a larger number of people increases the security of the blockchain. It’s a big part of the argument for decentralisation. Cardano’s product director at IOHK, “Achieving decentralization of block production is significant not just for Cardano but also the wider blockchain industry.” The next steps for Cardano will be decentralization of the other two elements – governance and network. The governance is already in the pipeline with IOHK’s Project Catalyst, an $80 million fund that was funded by the community, which in turn votes on proposals for the improvement of the network.

Whilst Ethereum tends to dominate DeFi news, Cardano’s success in 2021 suggests that it is going to be a strong player in the smart contract sector. If you haven’t considered buying Cardano’s ADA before, perhaps now might be the right time to dip your toes in.

Will cryptocurrency help Mastercard to grow?

It could have been the case that Mastercard ignored cryptocurrencies and the fintech revolution in payments, but the opposite is true. As one of the leading payment networks in the world, it has instead forged relationships with startups, and even added new products to its core range.

Now, as cryptocurrencies are showing strength, Mastercard is once again demonstrating its flexibility by supporting cryptocurrencies.

According to Trevor Jennewine, Mastercard’s data reveals “as many as 20% of consumers now own cryptocurrency in certain countries,” and merchants and financial instotutions are taking notice of this. Last year Mastercard expanded its cryptocurrency programme last year, making it easier for partners to issue crypto payment cards.

In the USA, Mastercard has teamed up with Bitpay – a payment processor that allows merchants to accept digital currencies like Bitcoin at checkout – and launched a prepaid crypto card in June 202o. This card allows consumers to make in-store and online purchases anywhere Mastercard is accepted, with funds loaded from their BitPay wallet. Consumers can load their card with BTC (Bitcoin), ETH (Ethereum) and other cryptocurrencies and BitPay converts those funds into fiat currencies, such as USD, EUR and GBP.

BitPay noticed a spike in transaction in July, one month after the launch, and has recently added support for Apple Pay so that customers can use an iPhone to make contactless payments.

In Europe, Mastercard has partnered with London-based fintech Wirex to launch a crypto debit card. This is a slightly different product to the BitPay card. The Wirex product allows consumers to spend up to 18 digital and traditional currencies in real time, meaning the funds are not converted until the moment a purchase is made. Furthermore, the Wirex card also allows consumers to earn 2% cash back (in cryptocurrency) on any in-store or online purchase.

Although the products may be slightly different, the one thing they have in common is this: at some point prior to completing a transaction, the cryptocurrency is converted to a fiat currency. This means that it’s fiat currency, not cryptocurrency, that’s flowing through the Mastercard network. But that is about to change.

Mastercard’s CEO Michael Miebach recently announced plans to add digital currencies directly to the company’s network. This means no more conversion to fiat currency, which should make it easier for consumers and merchants to adopt crypto payments.

This is an important move for crypto enthusiasts, because it removes one of the biggest arguments against cryptocurrency use, i.e. they are difficult to spend. Plus, for Mastercard, it adds another form of payments to its product range, and this could be a major growth driver for the network, especially if cryptocurrencies keep gaining traction.  It also shows forward thinking on the part of Mastercard.

A look at the Money-verse in 2028

Today money is going through an evolutionary process as I write. The choices the finance sector, and the consumer, make today will shape the future of money, and we can already see that the world’s sovereign currencies are under siege from cryptocurrencies and stablecoins.

Bitcoin has not yet brought about the massive revolution that some expected on the one hand, but on the other, if “governments and central banks can’t offer a sound version of the sovereign money for the digital age, their downfall could be tragic,” Marcelo M Prates writes at Coindesk.

Prates envisages a ‘ future fantasy’ scenario in 2028 that may become reality. Amongst other things he sees, “ see drones dropping bags of money in the neighborhoods most affected by the latest cyber-attack on the e-Gov platform.” Regardless of whether the attack is foreign or domestic, “nobody can transfer digital dollars or even check their FedAccount balance.”

In his view, this kind of disaster could happen if the government decided not to offer an offline account option. Why not? The government might believe “people would finance domestic terrorism with an offline FedCoin that could be transferred from person to person without identification.”

As a result, every time the e-Gov platform is attacked, the government has to send out bags of old dollar bills so that people can make payments.

There may also be a global Big Tech Alliance offering its own digital asset that launches before a government-backed one, and it could potentially result in a fall in demand for dollars, especially if inflation is rising at a record pace.

Governments will have to deal with the fallout from the huge expansion in spending during 2020. Nations’ debts will be soaring, and it’s foreseeable that printing more money might well become a response.

Banks will also be affected if an organisation, such as Prates’ Big Tech Alliance offers customers a compelling reason to empty deposits in traditional banks, and use it for the consolidation of other debts, thanks to favourable loans. The result would possibly be multiple bank closures.

This entire scenario is likely to happen due to central banks’ ambivalence about digital currencies. In Prates’ world, “Many believe that the breaking point came when the government insisted on having exclusive control over the digital ID scheme created to provide every American citizen and corporation with a single digital identity. The goal was to keep track of the vaccination progress amid different coronavirus variants and better target the relief money sent monthly.” However, centralization is rejected, as it “was seen as a further step toward the growing surveillance state.”

What is clear, even now, is that the technology available makes a multi-faceted Money-verse entirely possible, because as Prates says, “Money does not need to be controlled by a government or limited to a sovereign territory anymore.”

Central banks need to get their digital strategy right, or face the consequences in the not too distant future.

Dogecoin passion could prevent government crypto bans

Dogecoin, which has existed for a few years, is not a cryptocurrency of the usual kind. It’s a fun, ‘meme’ coin and Elon Musk, Gene Simmons, The Jonas Brothers and Snoop Doge have been having some fun with it recently. However, although it has no utility, Noelle Acheson, says “it embodies two key themes impacting institutional interest in crypto assets: the role of “fundamentals,” and the likelihood of successful government bans.”

Acheson asks if fun should drive value (Dogecoin is up 1,350% in 2021, and answers her own question with, why not? She points to GameStop (yes, again!) saying that the market’s understanding of ‘value’ is shifting. Matt Levine at Bloomberg summed it up: “Money and value are coordination games; what we use for money depends on the channels that we use to coordinate social activity. Once society was mediated by governments, and we used fiat currency. Now society is mediated by Twitter and Reddit and Elon Musk, so, sure, Dogecoin.”

Even Dogecoin’s founders have no idea why its success has continued some seven years after launching it. But they can’t remove it, or close it down, because Dogecoin runs on a public, decentralized blockchain that no one controls. So, it will probably continue to exist so long as people value its fun element.

It’s about passion

GameStop and Dogecoin both exemplify what community passion can achieve, and how it may potentially block government bans on crypto. For example, India tried to ban cryptocurrencies recently, but the community mobilised, created a hashtag and rallied its members to lobby government representatives. They pointed out that the country has 10-20 million crypto users, plus 340 startups and 50,000 employees in the crypto space.

Something similar happened in Nigeria where the central bank ordered banks to close the accounts of cryptocurrency users. There was a public outcry, and the central bank had to issue a press statement “reminding the public that the rule was not new, and that it was for their own good.” The central bank had to unblock accounts of 20 people involved in the #EndSARS movement, which was about the dissolution of a federal police unit with a reputation for fierce brutality. Acheson says, “The fact that the accounts were frozen in the first place is one of the many reasons seizure-resistant cryptocurrencies are rapidly gaining in popularity amongst Nigeria’s young.” It is also the case that Nigeria is gaining recognition as Africa’s Silicon Valley, and trading crypto assets is a way of life for many young people. They have new tools to work with and a growing disrespect for institutions. Because of the central bank directive, they are simply moving from exchanges to peer-to-peer channels. As a result, the politicians have taken notice,, and some prominent voices in government have spoken out against the ban. Other countries will be watching this with interest, because as Acheson warns, “the very act of attempting to repress cryptocurrency’s use could light a fire under a generational understanding of why it’s necessary.”