While the Internet-based currency Bitcoin has been a big headline-grabber, I have always considered it to be more speculative foolery than transformative technology. But one of my fellow CNBC contributors, Brian Kelly -- a Bitcoin authority and author of the new book, The Bitcoin Big Bang -- convinced me to learn a bit more about it.
While I haven’t become a full-fledged Bitcoin believer, in speaking with Kelly and reading his book, I have come to appreciate the applications for the technology and believe that it may be useful in the future.
Here is some of what he says makes bitcoin a breakthrough for financial services and why he thinks that it is something that small business should pay more attention to.
Roth: I’ve always thought that Bitcoin is a fad that will end badly. What am I missing?
Kelly: The biggest thing that people miss is that Bitcoin is more than just a currency. There are two parts: Bitcoin with a small 'b' is the currency, while Bitcoin with a big 'B' is the revolutionary technology also known as “the blockchain.” The blockchain technology allows value transfer between two unknown parties without the use of a middleman -- this is the first time in the history of money that this has happened.
So, if the technology is the important part of bitcoin, how do you think Bitcoin will be embraced and used differently in the future?
In my view, the Bitcoin technology will be the backbone of the financial system. People may be using Bitcoin and may not even realize it since it will simply be the infrastructure that the financial system runs on.
Do you think that small businesses can benefit from using bitcoin? If so, how?
The small-business angle currently is a cost play. For example, with a company like BitPay, a small business that accepts bitcoin may be able to save $3,000 a month for every $100,000 in sales versus traditional payment systems, such as Visa, Mastercard, Paypal, Square, etc.
You also say that bitcoin helps facilitate the globalization of small businesses. Can you speak more about that?
Think about global small-business use in the context of international wire transfers. For example, I have a few contractors that reside in Switzerland and the United Kingdom. In order to pay their invoices, I would typically go to the bank, spend 30 minutes filling out paperwork, pay a big fee for the wire transfer and wait all day for confirmation. Additionally, there is a cost for the foreign currency exchange.
Instead, now I pay in bitcoin. It costs me nothing, it arrives in seconds and there are no FX translation costs.
Bitcoin effectively removes the challenges of transacting business in differing currencies and allows for quick transactions that are lower in cost.
If a small business wants to get started using Bitcoin, what should it do first?
The easiest way for a small business to start using Bitcoin is through a payment processor like Coinbase or BitPay. Coinbase has a very easy, user friendly button for websites; it is similar to adding a PayPal button to your website.
If you need an enterprise-level solution, then BitPay is a great choice; they can integrate with your current accounting system. BitPay just signed a deal with Microsoft to provide a bitcoin payment option.
What risks are there for small businesses using bitcoin?
Right now, the biggest risk is the currency fluctuation, but most payment processors offer an immediate conversion to fiat (meaning a local currency, such as the U.S. dollar) which eliminates that risk. While I believe Bitcoin is not going away, entrepreneurs need to keep in mind that it is an emerging technology and just like the earlier Internet, it is bound to have a few hiccups.
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