Bitcoin, huh? Just about every day, I see articles in The Wall Street Journal or news magazines regarding this new type of currency. But even after reading the lead article in this issue, I still don’t quite understand what it is or how it works. “Peer-to-peer” “decentralized” “cryptocurrency”… my eyes glaze over just thinking about it. Even the author of the article (who was once a computer programmer) admits he doesn’t fully grasp the concept.
As a small business owner without a background in finance, I’ve long depended on my accountant to keep my books straight and help me understand changing tax laws. As I glide ever so gracefully toward that elusive “retirement age,” I depend on my financial advisor to help me make wise investment decisions, and when it comes to estate planning, I utilize the expertise of my attorney.
So… Bitcoin. How do I put that in my “shoebox” of receipts to hand over to my accountant when he prepares my taxes? Do accountants, bankers and financial advisors understand this new currency? I’m guessing most do not. It seems you’d need an advanced degree in math or computer science to grasp the concept. So how do we use something when we don’t even understand what it is? Not to mention the price volatility, the hacker attacks, the ties to criminal activities, the radical political agendas—it sounds like something out of science fiction or a John Grisham novel.
As for digital wallets… well, that makes a little more sense, but I’ve never even used PayPal! I’m aware you can just show your smartphone to the barista at Starbucks to earn rewards, but I’ll be sticking with my “real” plastic card for the foreseeable future. Though the concept of a “line-free” shopping experience is appealing, I like the feel of “real” dollars in my wallet, the jangle of coins in my purse. I think I’ll wait awhile before I get on board with all this virtual stuff. And by then, will Bitcoin even exist? Can the digital world give rise to a payment method that doesn’t require a PhD to understand?
Of course, few of us understood mortgage-backed securities, credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations—an alphabet soup of financial complexity—and look where that got us! A global financial crisis from which we’re still recovering even today. I must admit to being more than a little skeptical about Bitcoin as well.
I recently attended Junior Achievement’s Business Hall of Fame ceremony to honor three local business leaders. One of that organization’s missions is to teach young people how to manage their money. I’m guessing Bitcoin is not in the curriculum? iBi