Bitcoin and crypto: From niche novelty to everyday utility
The game-changing white paper "Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System" was published in 2009 by the pseudonymous Bitcoin inventor and developer Satoshi Nakamoto. In it, Nakamoto presented an idea for a peer-to-peer, decentralized, internet-native payment infrastructure that would compete with traditional, government-issued money.1
Since then, the cryptocurrency space has experienced massive advancements. Developers, builders, and inventors of all stripes have expanded on Satoshi's original vision, producing a wide range of creative and practical use cases. Fast-forward to 2023, and society at large is still in the early innings of crypto access and adoption—but things are starting to accelerate.
The demographics of cryptocurrency ownership are changing, and established businesses are adopting blockchain technology more quickly than ever before.2 As cryptocurrency access and utility expands, brands and businesses that understand the origins, underpinnings, and applications of crypto will be well-positioned for the future.
Why crypto? The evolution of access and ownership
Bitcoin first gained popularity among tech enthusiasts and innovators, subsequently catching the attention of news outlets, financial institutions, and even pop culture. Famed cryptographer Hal Finney was the first person to ever receive a Bitcoin transaction, with his out-of-the-box techno-futurist philosophy exemplifying early adopters.3
“Bitcoin has a couple of things going for it," Finney observed in the early days. "One is that it is distributed with no single point of failure, no 'mint,' no company with offices that can be subpoenaed and arrested and shut down."4
Fintechs, institutional investors, and international audiences — especially millennials and tech aficionados — are now taking note as cryptocurrency moves beyond its early niche beginnings. User-friendly platforms and exchanges like Coinbase and Kraken emerged over time, making crypto more accessible to those retail investors, beyond developers and IT specialists.
Crypto's borderless appeal: Uniting diverse demographics
Cryptocurrency adoption today is undeniably global, spanning continents and cultures. Triple-A reports a staggering 420 million plus crypto users worldwide in 2023. This expansion extends from Asia to the Americas, affirming the inclusive potential of digital assets.5
Regionally, Latin America stands out, with El Salvador leading the charge by adopting Bitcoin as legal tender. Vietnam and the Philippines also showcase burgeoning crypto markets. These instances underline cryptocurrencies’ unique potential to reshape national economies. For instance: all three countries mentioned are home to large populations of unbanked people.6 In El Salvador alone, 70% of the population lacks access to traditional finance systems.7 The introduction of crypto has provided these individuals with alternative means of accessing and managing funds, empowering them to partake more fully in the economic marketplace and enriching the overall financial landscape.8 Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to explore its stance in the rapidly changing space.9
Recent data also highlights a promising trend toward economic inclusivity within the cryptocurrency sphere. With a reported 24% of Asian adults and 21% of Black or Hispanic adults engaging with digital assets, surpassing the 14% usage among white adults, digital currencies appear to offer a robust platform for broad financial engagement.10
Since its beginning, the story of cryptocurrency paints a trajectory of rapid growth and development, spanning a diverse spectrum of owners and users. Today’s unfolding narrative of cryptocurrency holds promise for redefining digital value and inclusivity.
Understanding crypto ownership and access mechanisms
Crypto's capacity to reduce socioeconomic gaps is now drawing attention from businesses seeking to establish themselves as key players in the future of culture, tech, and finance.
Moving forward, more efficient transactions with lower fees will offer practical advantages to more diverse demographics and use cases. For brands, participating in this evolving ecosystem becomes more than an option—it's a strategic imperative.
Decoding crypto exchanges and access points
Over 250 exchanges globally provide crypto access, with centralized and decentralized types offering unique advantages.11 Centralized exchanges (CEXs) entice newcomers with user-friendliness and diverse services, while decentralized ones emphasize privacy and autonomy. Acquiring crypto today has evolved beyond direct purchases, mining, and payment acceptance. One in five crypto owners have earned crypto via apps or video games; 15% have redeemed it through a loyalty program; some report having received it as a gift, or as compensation for a job.12 Platforms must continue to diversify their offerings and capabilities to meet evolving demand in the market.
Those who are comfortable and familiar with traditional stock and fixed income investing platforms will likely find CEXs easiest to adopt. The ecosystems tend to stand out as being a more polished and intuitive option for the average user, bridging the gap between the “Wild West” of crypto, and more traditional financial institutions and players.
While DEXs that store coins in non-KYC crypto wallets may offer higher levels of security, users weigh that benefit against transaction fees which can be substantial depending upon network traffic or congestion. Limited built-in KYC/AML processes force users to take extra steps to verify their identities. Relatively low levels of liquidity when compared to CEXs have the potential to elongate wait times. And transaction wait times for DEXs operating on blockchain networks are reliant on blockchain congestion and network speed.
Institutions typically ensure security and regulatory compliance by acquiring crypto custody solutions via licensed and registered third parties, allowing for an even and transparent playing field. Within the rapid evolution of crypto access methods, qualified custodians remain a fundamental arena on top of which other solutions and use cases can be built.
Of course, the basics of security and good management must be attended to before anything else. Bakkt® Custody employs multi-party computation (MPC) wallets, blending both 'warm' and 'cold' storage for an optimized layer of protection. Under continuous oversight from a dedicated team, it ensures the secure management of digital assets around the clock. Adherence to stringent security standards and frameworks, along with approval from the New York Department of Financial Services, further instills trust.*
*Bakkt® Custody operates under Bakkt Trust Company LLC, a NYDFS qualified custodian.
And it’s clear that trust is needed in thus space; nearly half of consumer complaints (40%) regarding crypto asset platforms was “fraud or scam”.13 Furthermore, more than one in five individuals with interest in crypto state that they do not trust traditional crypto exchanges.14 This indicates that work must be done to repair the industry’s reputation, and it’s more vital than ever for well-regulated and compliant crypto companies to remain as transparent as possible.
Offerings like these signify a key stride towards enhanced institutional access to cryptocurrencies. As the industry matures and becomes more risk-averse, credentials such as and BitLicenses can help sift the wheat from the chaff, empowering businesses to choose the custodian that’s right for them.
The role of consumers and traditional finance in crypto access
Increased access to crypto necessarily boosts adoption, creating a self-perpetuating cycle. The advent of fresh acquisition methods and settings is helping to transform the landscape, making crypto more attractive to a wider demographic, and diversifying avenues for interaction.
Traditional players such as financial institutions and loyalty programs entering the crypto sphere lend credibility and familiarity. These established institutional infrastructures present a unique opportunity to improve crypto access—benefiting businesses, consumers, and the broader crypto ecosystem. Revenue from crypto trading activity only tells part of the story for companies entering the space; principles such as the potential boon to customer acquisition and retention deserve equal consideration. Brands that embrace crypto weigh these factors.
Burgeoning solutions exemplify technology’s role in enhancing crypto accessibility. Offering a secure portal for consumers to buy, sell, and hold cryptocurrencies, Bakkt® Trade APIs integrate seamlessly into existing applications—and into ecosystems that customers access every day. The engagement strategy facilitated by Bakkt Trade benefits both businesses and consumers. Businesses can expand their reach and attract new audience segments, while consumers enjoy the simplicity of accessing cryptocurrencies through familiar interfaces—something they have demonstrated strong interest in.
The relationship is symbiotic. Customers attracted to crypto offerings present an appealing profile for brands trying to court them: on average they tend to be young and high-earning15, in their prime investing years. And there’s reason to believe their loyalty can be won. A 2022 study by JP Morgan Chase found that 20% of Millennials and 11% of Gen-X have interacted with crypto.16 As consumers continually express a preference for engaging with digital assets through trusted environments such as fintechs, banks, and loyalty programs,17 this cohort will be on the lookout for brands that can offer them sophisticated crypto offerings. Successfully drawing in these audience segments could mean decades of loyal business for brands that get it right.
Studies have supported the notion that crypto owners and non-owners alike feel more enthused about acquiring crypto through their bank or loyalty program, as opposed to from an exchange.18 In fact, according to a 2023 Bakkt study, more than one in four consumers who have become disenchanted with crypto say that the ability to purchase it directly from their bank would revive their interest.19
As traditional and emerging platforms converge, the crypto landscape continues to evolve, opening exciting opportunities for all stakeholders. Possibilities for crypto’s future are near endless as new use cases proliferate, from innovative gamification platforms to revamped remittances, and everything in between.
The global crypto market is projected to grow to an astounding 1,902.5 million dollars by 2028.20 As improved access and diversified ownership expands crypto’s reach, the demand for innovative market offerings grows. This evolution signals a turning point, transforming crypto from a niche novelty into a cornerstone of global finance.
Building public trust and basic utility
Cryptocurrency's utility relies in many ways upon its accessibility and widespread adoption, making it essential to mitigate factors causing fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) among potential users. Overcoming barriers such as lack of understanding necessitates easily digestible educational resources that demystify cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology more generally.
Security concerns, including fears of hacking, loss, or theft, intensify user hesitancy. These can be allayed by developing stringent security protocols, promoting safe usage habits, and advocating for balanced regulation that protects users without stifling innovation.
A comprehensive educational approach is required: consumer outreach that emphasizes how blockchain technology can enhance security when compared to traditional financial systems. The consensus algorithm that underlies this bolstered security and defangs bad actors should be elucidated in plain terms. Bakkt’s 2023 crypto tracker revealed that 64% of those who haven’t yet invested in crypto (but are curious about it) named a lack of understanding as a major barrier; 41% said they don’t know how to invest in it. In contrast, only 5% were discouraged by transaction fees.21 A firm grasp of basic principles such as the Byzantine Generals Problem can alleviate fear, empower users, and promote broader adoption.22
Convergence of adoption and utility
Cryptocurrency adoption and utility are inextricably linked. Lowering barriers to entry by improving accessibility, streamlining technology, and putting user-friendly platforms in place can greatly increase adoption rates. An ecosystem with greater inclusivity promotes greater involvement, which in turn grows the user base.
The benefit of cryptocurrencies is amplified by their increased acceptance, which usually results in a profusion of use cases. New needs arise as the user base expands, stimulating creativity and presenting chances for fresh technological applications. The growth and development of blockchain technology is sustained by this cyclical relationship between acceptance and utility.
Increasing adoption and access
Innovative acquisition methods, such as cryptocurrencies integrated by banks and fintechs, the utilization of crypto paychecks in the gig economy, and blockchain-based loyalty rewards systems are increasing in prevalence.
An expansion in the user base can enhance security significantly. Logic dictates that as more individuals adopt cryptocurrencies, the network further decentralizes and builds resilience, fortifying itself against potential attacks. This "Network Effect" propels growth and cultivates safety, creating a positive feedback loop of greater adoption and enhanced security while simultaneously bringing in new minds and innovators to create new protocols and projects.23
Crypto usage and culture: past and future
Historically, cryptocurrencies primarily served as alternative investment assets and means of transaction in niche communities. However, a shift toward mainstream use cases like DeFi, remittances, and digital ownership rights (NFTs) has become evident in recent years.
The human side of crypto culture, fueled by openness, collaboration, and a forward-thinking ethos, has bolstered its positive aspects. These traits contribute significantly to the growth and evolution of the industry, fostering a community that constantly innovates and pushes the boundaries of what's possible.
Increased adoption has garnered significant interest in crypto's practical applications from both the private and public sectors. Corporations, governments, and financial institutions are delving into and investing in these use cases, enhancing crypto's perceived value beyond being a mere store of wealth.
The transition of cryptocurrency from simply a store of value to an asset with intrinsic value represents a monumental shift in perception. The uncertainty that propels the industry simultaneously presents substantial opportunities, paving the way for an exciting, transformative future.
Crypto utility and infrastructure are now expanding globally. El Salvador's Bitcoin adoption, detailed earlier, exemplifies this trend. Large corporations like Tesla and Microsoft now accept bitcoin, signaling mainstream acceptance. These instances showcase the expanding practical applications of cryptocurrency in today's world.
Crypto utility solutions: Payout and rewards
Avenues for institutional involvement are plentiful. Businesses that play a part in increasing access can do so from a diverse variety of vantage points, depending on the industry. The gig economy, for instance, presents fertile ground for increasing access due to the unique payments model it relies on. Gig workers are more likely to embrace crypto as compensation in part due to the instant transfers and global accessibility it offers. There is a growing demand for these types of flexible, crypto-based payment solutions, and this surge has the potential to revolutionize the industry.
Loyalty rewards are another arena through which smart-minded companies can benefit from offering crypto. The ability for program members to redeem points or miles for crypto has the potential to not only increase engagement, but also to facilitate customer acquisition, creating a mutually beneficial ecosystem for all parties involved.
Solutions like these showcase how crypto is positioning itself favorably over fiat currencies. The rising fungibility, ubiquity, and utility of cryptocurrencies enhance their suitability as a payment method, broadening their potential in wide-ranging financial transactions.
To encapsulate, the trajectory of cryptocurrencies suggests a movement beyond merely being a store of value. The potent combination of security, ubiquity, and utility positions crypto to become a widely accepted and extensively used method of payment across diverse sectors.
Crypto: Beyond transactions and into transformation
As we venture further into the realm of cryptocurrency, we uncover a potential that extends far beyond simple transactions. The driving force behind this transformative journey are frontier technologies like the Lightning Network and smart contracts, both of which significantly broaden the horizons of crypto utility.
Frontier technologies: Lightning Network and smart contracts
In many ways, the Bitcoin Lightning Network represents the vanguard of crypto utility expansion. Lightning’s enablement of faster and cheaper transactions makes it particularly valuable for facilitating micro-payments, a previously challenging area for cryptocurrencies due to scalability issues and prohibitive fees.
Ethereum, as we know, has changed the crypto space through the introduction of smart contracts. These self-executing contracts, with terms directly written into code, enable the creation of decentralized applications (dApps) and foster the emergence of decentralized finance (DeFi). This capability has transformed Ethereum into a fully-fledged transactional ecosystem, going beyond conventional cryptocurrency transactions, and offering a glimpse into finance’s potential future.
The Lightning Network utilizes these smart contracts to enhance Bitcoin transactions, offering instant, scalable, and low-cost payments and enabling millions to billions of transactions per second across the network (without needing on-blockchain settlements for individual payments). This technology also facilitates secure, off-chain transactions across different blockchains, significantly amplifying potential use cases.24
Looking to the future, these technologies promise an array of new use cases. The Lightning Network could potentially handle billions of transactions per day, making Bitcoin a truly scalable payment network. Ethereum's smart contracts, with their adaptability, are giving rise to a multitude of “Layer 1" networks and protocols, facilitating even more experimental and niche applications in various industries.
Regulation: maturing the crypto landscape
The maturing of the cryptocurrency industry is evidenced by strides in regulatory advancements. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is ardently working towards establishing a safer environment for crypto investors and enthusiasts, making the industry more secure and transparent.25
Meanwhile, the European Union's proposal for a comprehensive crypto framework highlights the global shift towards acknowledging crypto's potential. These anticipated regulations are not mere constraints, but tools to enhance trust, reduce scams, and foster a space where innovation can thrive, molding the trajectory of the digital asset industry.26
Crypto's horizon: Future use cases and opportunities
As we delve into the long-term prospects of crypto, an array of exciting possibilities surface. Visionaries like Vitalik Buterin, Ethereum's founder, foresee a decentralized future where "cryptoeconomics" underpins everything from file storage to digital identities.27 The dream, for many, is a world where intermediaries are reduced, improving efficiency and inclusivity.
Experts are already anticipating breakthroughs in diverse fields such as healthcare, supply chain management, and digital voting. Tokenizing real-world assets and integrating IoT with blockchain are among the intriguing possibilities on the horizon.
Finally, this blossoming landscape presents a lucrative opportunity for next-generation brands. It's far from too late to carve out a niche in the crypto arena. From creating user-friendly crypto wallets to launching blockchain-based services, there's room for innovative companies to shape the future of finance.
Crypto's evolution marks a transformative shift in the global financial paradigm. Its maturation, from a speculative asset to a tool of financial inclusion and utility, sets the stage for a revolutionary future. As we continue to improve accessibility and foster adoption, the potential of this nascent technology will further unfold.
Brands and businesses play a pivotal role in the landscape. By integrating crypto services, they can extend their market reach, stimulate customer engagement, and tap into a rapidly growing, dynamic ecosystem. The future of finance is undeniably intertwined with the burgeoning world of cryptocurrency, as Satoshi's vision comes to fruition thanks to millions of crypto thinkers, builders, and innovators.
Emerging trends in the crypto landscape are reshaping industries, presenting brands with significant opportunities for growth and customer engagement. Here are some key takeaways that demonstrate why it's an opportune time to partner with a leader in consumer crypto accessibility like Bakkt:
1. Financial inclusivity: Crypto's growth fosters global financial inclusivity beyond mere investment.
2. Expanding utility: New technologies like the Lightning Network and Ethereum are broadening crypto's utility.
3. Future use cases: Cryptocurrency's potential ranges from micro-transactions to decentralized finance.
4. Regulatory progress: Regulatory advancements promise a safer, more mature crypto industry.
5. Untapped potential: Crypto's future is laden with exciting, yet-to-be-employed use cases.
6. Opportunity for brands: It's not too late for next-gen brands to carve their own crypto niche.
7. Market expansion: Crypto services offer brands the opportunity to extend their market reach.
8. Enhanced engagement: Crypto integration can bolster customer engagement and loyalty.
Interested in more exclusive crypto insights? Check out Bakkt's biannual U.S. Consumer Sentiment study. If you would like to hear more about our custody, trading, and onramps solutions, contact us here.