Many cryptocurrency critics believe that blockchain transactions are far too slow to be ever applicable for mass adoption within banking and financial institutions, failing to understand blockchain and cryptocurrency technology is still in its infancy. In this post, we’re going to look at the pros and cons of each system and explore the future of payment systems.
Banks and payment systems look in some ways more efficient than blockchain transactions, but in many cases, they’re actually more involved. In fact, as soon as they’re being used to make cross-border payments and settlements, they start to reveal some flaws. They, too, can become slow, expensive, or worse – they can lock people out through no fault of their own, and for no apparent reason.
Bank-to-bank transactions through SWIFT network take three to five working days to reach its destination, which is extremely slow by cryptocurrency standards. In contrast, an average person with no connection to a bank or money transfer service can securely send and receive Bitcoin anywhere around the world with just a smartphone and a stable Internet connection in as short as ten to fifteen minutes without the risk of being censored out by the system.
Wire transfers cost somewhere between $10 to $30, plus 6% spread on foreign exchanges. In other words, if you’re sending $5,000 from Australia to Canada, you’ll pay as much as $330 on that single transaction. This doesn’t account for differences in rates from country to country (fees for sending money from US to Africa can be as high as 15%).
Bitcoin’s transaction fees peak at around $55 in December 2017 during a massive buying spree. But most of the time, sending Bitcoin to someone anywhere around the world will only cost a fraction of a dollar, to as high as $10 depending on priority and network load. And since it’s considered a borderless, global currency, users can forget about foreign exchange rates.
Companies like Abra have been using Bitcoin as a cheaper alternative to international settlement systems. Interestingly, certain banks like the ones in the Philippines allow remittances using Bitcoin, and recipients can take their pesos straight out of the ATM without an ATM card or a bank account.
Within the cryptocurrency ecosystem, on-chain and off-chain implementations can have a significant impact both on energy consumption and transaction throughputs. As a general rule, the more it shifts toward decentralization, the more challenges it needs to deal with scaling; but as more features become centralized, the more scalable it becomes. How these challenges will be overcome in the next couple of decades is anybody’s guess.
Some of the proposed on-chain solutions is the move towards proof-of-stake consensus algorithm (e.g., Ethereum Casper), and delegated proof-of-stake (e.g. EOS and Cardano). Off-chain solution include Lightning Network (e.g. Bitcoin), and side-chains. Improving the blockchain’s inner workings not only helps with efficiency, but also makes energy consumption more manageable.
Cryptocurrency might not be as nimble as people would expect from banks when it comes to local micro-transactions. However, we’ve seen some progress lately, with SegWit adoption being used in 40% of all Bitcoin transactions, enabling shorter confirmation times, significantly lower fees, and Lightning Network integration. Users can start experimenting with Lightning wallets in their beta version (Eclair, Zap, RawTX, etc.), and buy small stuff from online stores like the ones made by Blockstream specifically for that purpose.
Cryptocurrency will only get better as time goes by, and we’ve already seen some progress from greener solutions, to mining hardware, and software development. There’s no limit to the number of ways cryptocurrency can solve many of its challenges. All it takes is an open mind and a little bit of creativity.