Cryptocurrencies have only been around for a decade, but their impact on global and local economies is palpable. Last month, a pilot project launched in Uganda provided 1,000 farmers with cryptocurrency loans. In a country where almost half the population is underbanked, the project allows farmers to buy necessary tools to scale their businesses without depending on banks.
But many of today’s cryptocurrency tools do not commit to making blockchain technology easily accessible. Consumer products are still far too technical, placing an overwhelming responsibility on the user to educate themselves on how to navigate this new landscape safely.
A recent report revealed that while 93 percent of British people are aware of Bitcoin, they don’t know how it works. Only 4 percent understand it.
If we are to see mass adoption of distributed ledger technologies, we need to make them as accessible as possible for every person — from unbanked communities in emerging economies to populations with established financial infrastructure. Blockchain inclusion — the idea that the technology will only make a meaningful difference when everyone, regardless of their culture, demographic or technical know-how is empowered to use it — must be the industry’s focus.
The first users of cryptocurrency were technically proficient. They were drawn to blockchain technology’s potential to disrupt the financial, social and political realms.
A nod to the cypherpunk era, Satoshi Nakamoto’s original Bitcoin whitepaper appealed to those who already sought to challenge traditional finance, which in the wake of the 2008 economic collapse had proven that the system was failing. Blockchain’s consensus mechanism was a promising alternative; it effectively withdrew power from centralized financial authorities and shifted trust into a self-governed network built to resist human-driven misconduct.
Due to the rising market price of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies from 2015 to 2017, we saw the next major wave of users enter the space. While the core philosophy of bitcoin was not founded on promise of financial returns, the initial coin offering (ICO) boom attracted countless new players to the space. Luckily, ICOs now seem to be a thing of the past — their popularity fading as fast as they arrived — giving the industry a chance to shift the focus to its consumers.
But for many people, simply storing crypto can be a daunting process, and this hinders its mass adoption. Corporate solutions are, for the most part, years away from being placed in the hands of consumers. Wallets still require technical acumen and are typically inaccessible for making everyday purchases. Online wallets are far easier to use. However, they are not designed with security strong enough to resist hacks or phishing attacks. Usability and accessibility often comes at a great cost to security.
As we now enter a new stage of cryptocurrency adoption, it is up to companies and teams to make the use of crypto as simple and safe as possible. Projects face a number of challenges as they try to blend this nascent, complex technology with both usability and security. While users should take the initiative in educating themselves, the tools and products they use should provide a smooth and effortless transition.
In the same way that entire unbanked communities have grown from rigid, traditional banking processes, we run the risk of crypto finance solutions creating an exclusive ecosystem. The World Bank’s Global Findex database estimates that 1.7 billion adults do not have bank accounts. However, more than one billion of these unbanked adults have mobile phones, which opens up an avenue for convenient access to financial services.
Blockchain inclusion depends on the teams building the technology, not their users. In an ideal world, the phrase “build it and they will come” would resonate with us all. The reality is far less encouraging; as with any new technology, it’s the creators and innovators who bear the burden of engineering products that are easily adoptable.
According to the Technology Acceptance Model, user adoption depends upon two core factors: perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use. In theory, the combination of these two factors pulls users in and pushes crypto into the mainstream.
Developing blockchain tools that are both useful and easy to use is challenging, but it is within our reach. In order to drive the mass adoption of cryptocurrencies, we need solutions accommodating all users regardless of technical ability, simplifying the process of both storing and using crypto.
As cryptocurrencies begin to filter slowly into the global economy, we need to ensure that their entry into the mainstream is as fluid as possible. As with all new technologies, there are multiple barriers to entry such as accessibility, cost and education.
Products such as wallets and payment options should be so simple that individuals can make cryptocurrency transactions without understanding the mechanics behind them. Our technologies should be made blockchain agnostic, meaning they can operate on top of any blockchain.
We can also engineer crypto products that look and feel like traditional banking products. These include classic payment cards and banking mobile apps. They can easily be embedded within our current financial infrastructure, and signed to be used at ATMs and POS terminals.
Products do not have to rely on third parties; we can process payments, transfers and just about anything else to do with crypto. This will ensure faster transmission and lower transactions costs.
The barriers to both technological and financial inclusion will crumble if we make it simple to use cryptocurrency. We need to place users at the heart of our solution. We should be committing ourselves to blockchain inclusion, while still having a chance to build the products that will define our new digital economy.
Do you think bad user experiences are contributing to problems of adoption? How far away from more “blockchain inclusion” are we?