Governments and businesses around the world are exploring different approaches to regulating, integrating and adopting cryptocurrencies.
El-Salvador has made a major step to lead the way on crypto usage, recognising Bitcoin as legal tender. Austria has been well set up in terms of regulations for a few years already, being one of the very few countries that already offers crypto payments in-store and online in e-commerce. Other nations are more cautious, looking into how digital currencies might be regulated and fit into the broader financial ecosystem before taking the dive into crypto.
While cryptocurrencies are on a steep upwards trajectory, their global rise has by no means been a linear process. Instead, cryptocurrencies are being used for different purposes in different countries. Niall Murray, in charge of Global Business at SALAMANTEX, explains how digital assets are evolving across various parts of the world and what this means for cryptocurrency usage in 2022.
Asia and Africa
Global adoption of cryptocurrencies skyrocketed in 2021, with the Chainalysis Crypto Adoption Index estimating that usage of digital currencies increased by 881% in 2021 alone. According to Chainalysis, Vietnam, India and Pakistan have the highest rates of peer-to-peer crypto activity, with Nigeria and Kenya close behind.
The Crypto Adoption Index shows that Africa and Asia hold the largest proportion of individual cryptocurrency users, so why is this?
Asian and African countries often have the sharpest limits on the amount of national currency that can be legally transferred out of the country. Cryptocurrencies therefore offer residents in these markets a way to circumvent those limits so that they can meet their financial needs; which in turn benefits the country’s economy in parallel as the spending power increases. For instance, in trading between two African countries, businesses are increasingly using Bitcoin for cross border settlement.
Likewise, the economic impact of the pandemic has been acutely felt in developing economies. The financial fallout triggered by Covid in emerging African and Asian markets has led merchants in these countries to turn to crypto in the face of the devaluation of their own national currencies. The adoption of crypto over fiat currencies has therefore enabled residents in the hardest-hit markets to preserve their savings and continue trading.
The story in Europe, however, is different. While Africa and Asia lead the way in terms of number of cryptocurrency users, the Chainalysis Index finds that Europe holds the largest volume of cryptocurrency trading, and is poised to become the next crypto capital of the world on a corporate level.
The growth in corporate usage of crypto has been driven by so-called “whales” – large institutional investors shifting huge sums of cryptocurrencies. Out of the €870 billion in crypto that Europe has so far received in 2021, the UK has seen the largest volume of institutional-sized transactions at around €145 billion – followed by France, Germany and the Netherlands.
The spike in interest from European investors suggests that large corporates are beginning to take advantage of one of the primary benefits that digital currencies offer: their transaction speed and efficiency. Unlike traditional money, cryptocurrencies are not associated to a central bank. As a result, they offer far more efficient cross-border payments through their ability to bypass the added fees and administrative costs that come with international third parties.
All eyes on the Middle East
One region which warrants its own spotlight, for marked momentum across crypto, is the Middle East.
Although Europe is widely perceived to be the trailblazer for exploration of digital currencies, the Middle East is carving a role for itself as a strong contender and has been host to a number of industry ‘firsts’. Dubai recently issued a first in the industry and the Middle East regarding crypto assets. Earlier this year, the Bitcoin Fund became the Middle East’s first listed cryptocurrency fund. Similarly, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority was also among the first in the world to deploy blockchain technology for money transfers.
More broadly, Middle Eastern governments have played a pivotal role in driving economies in the direction of exploring digital assets. The United Arab Emirates government, for example, this year launched its Emirates Blockchain Strategy. The initiative is a commitment to transition half of all government transactions onto the blockchain by 2021.
Statistics show that institutions and end users across the Middle East are displaying a strong appetite for crypto as a means of payment. A survey from July 2021 showed that half of UAE residents plan to use cryptocurrencies within the next year. It is perhaps no wonder, then, that the United Arab Emirates Stock Exchange (UAESE) calls blockchain the ‘fourth industrial revolution’.
The Middle East is emerging as a key player in the crypto and digital assets world and should not be overlooked in conversations around the future of the sector.
What does this mean for 2022?
As digital payments on both a peer-to-peer and corporate level become the norm, it is vital that businesses across the world stay ahead of the curve. This doesn’t mean waiting for cryptocurrencies to enter mainstream adoption, because the signs are showing they will. Instead, the time for businesses to future-proof their payment models is now. This can be done by implementing the right software to accept payments in crypto as well as training staff to handle digital assets in the same way as fiat. For banks, this means including cryptocurrencies and digital assets in their existing portfolios, as the demand from customers is set to grow rapidly.
Crypto is no longer an innovation of the future, but a viable transfer and settlement option being used by merchants and businesses across a variety of countries and industries. While reasons for increased adoption differ around the world, what is clear is that the prevalence of cryptocurrencies shows no signs of slowing. Digital assets are set to exist alongside traditional money as the appetite for crypto continues to grow. Adapting to this new era of payments is no longer an option, but a necessity for the success of businesses in 2022 and beyond.