Bitcoin found it tougher to triumph over other payment methods in the Asia leg of the Money20/20 Payments Race. Team Bitcoin leader Amélie Arras — who previously stunned the crowd with a win in North America — said the falling BTC price, differing local regulations, and language barriers were bigger hurdles for bitcoin this time around. However, an ever-stronger community was enough to give her optimism for the future.
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Mobile and Cards Take the Prizes This Time Around
Winners were announced at a ceremony on Thursday, and placed as follows: #1 mobile payments; #2 cards; #3 cash; #4 bitcoin; and #5 gold bullion. Unlike the North American race, cards weren’t divided into chip & PIN and swipe categories… since almost no-one outside the U.S. actually uses magnetic strip cards anymore.
In a sense, the results this time were less surprising: mainstream payment and financial infrastructure in 2018 is built around mobile phones and credit/debit cards using recognized national currencies, with full support from corporate and government interests.
Whatever their current market value or status as “sound money”, there are almost no systems in place to make daily payments in officially non-recognized monies like bitcoin or gold bullion. Governments and financial institutions routinely discourage their use, while half-baked or confusing regulations (especially for taxes) make businesses fearful of getting involved.
Even physical cash is on the way out. While it’s still accepted legal tender, it’s impossible to use cash to pay deposits or pay for services like flights and hotels remotely, and/or in advance.
Paying in bitcoin usually involved Arras not only having to convince someone to accept it, but building her own payment “infrastructure” on the fly — downloading a Blockchain wallet and demonstrating how to use it, before paying for the actual item.
So How Did the Payments Race Go?
With all that in mind, it would have been a nice but unlikely surprise if bitcoin won the Payments Race again. That it won once, and at Money20/20’s marquee and largest event, was enough to prove its worth (and Arras’ talent in making it happen).
Starting in Hong Kong, Amélie Arras raced through Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and finally Singapore — encountering a wild variety of different experiences and levels of bitcoin knowledge. Speaking to Bitsonline, she said:
“The main difference from last year with the race is the price of bitcoin. Last year, volatility was in my favor, this year not so much, after only two hours I had lost 6 percent of the budget I was given. This to some extent was an issue, even in persuading people to accept bitcoin.”
Regulation was also an issue. While bitcoin itself isn’t illegal anywhere per se, there are several rules even in “friendly” jurisdictions that result in limited business use — which may or may not be the intended outcome.
They include everything from restricting bitcoin use for actual payments, to complications over how cryptocurrency income and holdings are taxed.
Vietnam: Bitcoin ‘Banned’ but the Locals Still Like it
Arras gave Bitsonline a country-by-country account of her experiences, starting with Vietnam.
“In Vietnam, although crypto has been banned, people do want to accept it. The people I spoke to were willing to take risk, I have two explanations for this: either I am a very good saleswoman (which is very unlikely) or they recognize the value, like gambling, if they know they can change it to fiat.”
A place with a #bitcoin ATM, in a country that has banned bitcoin. #vietnam #bitcoinban #M2020Race #money2020Asia.
Today i was told (many times) it is illegal to pay and accept payment in Bitcoin in Vietnam. Does this mean I am a criminal? 🤔🇻🇳 pic.twitter.com/jTCDtvCq4b
— Amélie Arras (@AmelieArras) March 11, 2018
“At the moment what we see in Asia is a disparity between regulations,” Arras continued. “In Vietnam for example, after the blockchain week, there were companies accepting bitcoin or involved in crypto that are now subject to being investigated and audited, and could face severe consequences.”
“This fear from the government and banks primarily comes from the a poor integration at the moment with existing accountancy systems, which make it difficult to trace payable taxes for businesses.”
Thailand: Fear of Bitcoin Crime but a Dedicated Community
“Bangkok was a very different experience. After what happened in Phuket few weeks back (with the kidnap of people who had bitcoin and who were tortured to give their private key to their aggressors), people did not wanted to be on camera so I haven’t got much footage, but the community there is strong and dynamic.”
“In Bangkok they meet every Monday, do presentations on new tech, talk on how they can best grow. People want to accept bitcoin and have no problem with it — the restaurant ‘Cocotte’ in Bangkok will now start accepting bitcoin. That’s incredible!”
“The discussion we had mainly with the restaurant was how to minimize risk of (price) fluctuation. The trend we’ll see might be businesses accepting bitcoin via a processor using bitcoin futures, reassuring merchants they can accept crypto and keep crypto.”
Malaysia and Singapore: Getting There
Arras was visibly exhausted as she pulled into Singapore for the last few hours of the race, but it didn’t stop her riding a bicycle to the conference venue. Though she finished fourth out of five this time around, the experience was still worth it — by a long shot.
“In Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), I did not have time to talk to the community, but would like to go back to see what the situation is. In Singapore, wow, and just wow, there the community is strong, growing, there are many communities that meet up. It seems to me that the banking system and crypto co-exist in Singapore, which was very refreshing.”
“Although I have heard people say bank accounts could be frozen if they invest in crypto, I haven’t encountered any cases. I believe banks should cease doing so because it is just feeding the crypto fire and vision of being in control of your own assets (going back to fundamentals on bitcoin here).”
“There is a blockchain hub opening in Singapore’s Suntech City around April-May, that’s a 1400 square meter space for innovation — space in which many companies will be able to work close one to another, which will foster innovation in the space. I strongly believe this year will be a turning point for blockchain and crypto, and that we will see many problems being solved.”
Bitcoin Still All About its Support Community of Shared Interests
Win or otherwise, though, part of Arras’ goal was bitcoin evangelism and she certainly accomplished that, winning bitcoin several new local converts along the way.
She also thanked her official mentors and other helpers/sponsors along the way, without whom the task of using/converting bitcoin at all would have been impossible.
And again, it’s important to note: how many other payment methods have that level of grassroots support? Who rushes to your aid when you’re out of cash and all your credit cards are mysteriously declined?
Really honoured and happy to have taken a photo with my #bitcoin heroine today! I knew it wasn’t easy to win the race from the beginning. Yet she pulled through, and I learnt a lot of lessons myself mentoring her. @AmelieArras pic.twitter.com/lW8BDhpZVw
— Anson Zeall 🚀🌖⛓️ (@AnsonZeall) March 14, 2018
“I have used mainly Future.travel for all my travel and accommodation BTW, and would like to make a shout out to David Watson — because he has been a very good help in understand a merchant point of view, and is also pursuing very noble social causes in Vietnam.”
Now back home in the U.K., Arras is pondering her next move in bitcoin. Her unique perspective from two Payments Races, gained from direct experiences in so many different places, has likely made her one of the more knowledgable people in the community.
What should Amélie Arras do next? Feel free to write your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.
Images via Amélie Arras