There are over 10,000 existing Cryptocurrencies with a combined global market cap of about $1.38 trillion USD as of July 2021, and while most have little to no following, there are several coins that have acquired a substantial community of investors. At a value per-token 15.25x higher than its next closest competitor and a market cap of almost $600 billion USD, Bitcoin is the world’s first decentralized and most dominant Cryptocurrency. While Bitcoin was initially designed as a medium for daily transactions, it serves today more as a store of value.
The extreme volatility of Bitcoin was on full display on April 14th, 2021, when it hit an all-time high at just below $65,000. These record-breaking gains led to a fear-of-missing-out, or FOMO, among day-traders and hedge-fund managers alike, causing a surge in retail investment interest in the Crypto market. This de facto gold rush was also marked by institutional investors like Tesla, who’s CEO Elon Musk announced in February that Tesla had invested $1.5 billion into Bitcoin. Tesla has since halted Bitcoin transactions due to climate concerns and will start up again when miners’ energy usage is cleaner. While today Bitcoin hovers around $33,000, this is just a 50% plunge after an almost 500% increase since last summer.
At a market cap of about $250 billion and a per-token value of over $2000, Cryptocurrency Ether (commonly referred to as Ethereum) are the next most significant players on the scene after Bitcoin. While the Ethereum network’s primary focus is the facilitation of smart contracts and decentralized applications rather than an alternative monetary system, Ether has been pushed into competition with other Cryptocurrencies by its own popularity. Additional popular coins include XRP, Litecoin, Binance Coin and Cardano.
The institutionalising phase
More than 60 central banks have explored CBDCs since 2014, where the payment infrastructure would function similarly to existing digital wallets and mirror the convenience and efficiency of completing a transaction with the wave of a phone at a payment terminal. In May of 2021, the Bank of Israel announced that they are researching the feasibility and benefits of developing their own central bank digital currency (CBDC) as well as an action plan for the potential issuance of a digital Shekel.
In a global economy where Cryptocurrencies are on the rise and notes and coins are quickly falling out of use, central banks like Israel’s are feeling the pressure to develop a viable alternative before unregulated payment forms become the norm. Issuing this digital form of fiat currency comes with an expectation for many benefits, such as providing security to all transaction participants, creating an efficient and cheaper cross-border payment infrastructure, and ensuring a backup for the payment system in case of an emergency breakdown. This also means increased inclusion of unbanked individuals, resulting in accelerated competition for private companies as they feel the pressure to answer calls for greater transparency standards.