TL;DR: Cuy Sheffield, the head of crypto at Visa, recently shared his thoughts about Bitcoin adoption after being prompted by Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong’s Twitter thread on the history of costs associated with the technology of messaging. “I’d argue there are some really interesting use cases and scenarios that could drive mainstream consumers to spend Bitcoin instead of traditional dollars or stablecoins in the future that are under-discussed in Bitcoin, fintech, and traditional payments circles,” Sheffield insisted.
Head of Crypto at Visa: Use Cases Could Drive Mainstreamers to Spend Bitcoin
The head of crypto at Visa was particularly struck by a truism: “people have to explicitly buy Bitcoin in order to spend it.” Combined with a financial incentive of “currently little to no direct benefit to average consumers of spending Bitcoin for any brick and mortar or online purchases that they are able to spend dollars on today,” and the problem seems to have crystalized for Sheffield.
To my knowledge, there isn’t a single thing you can buy or pay for online today in USD for under 1 cent. Now is it possible in the future that no items, features, digital goods, or services that are valued and priced sub one cent become popular or demanded? Maybe…
“In fact,” Sheffield continued, “there is usually added friction. You have to figure out how to buy Bitcoin first, stomach its volatility, and make sure that the traditional merchant that you want to transact with actually accepts it which limits your options of where you can transact,” all aspects of crypto most enthusiasts are well-familiar. “The only reason a consumer would want to spend Bitcoin (consciously or not) is if they could spend it in payment flows they can’t make today in dollars. Microtransactions under 1 cent may be the only payment use case that Bitcoin fulfills today that dollars currently can’t.”
Sheffield believes such microtransactions suffer from legacy payment networks “not designed for sub cent transactions” and the fact there isn’t a denomination “for a dollar based unit of account that represents an amount of value below 1 cent.” And while Bitcoiners are conversant in fractions and “sats,” most of the payments world is not. He pounds home the friction by confessing his own skepticism “that microtransactions could go mainstream in the next few years because even if new technology and networks supported them, mental transaction costs for consumers would still exist and limit their adoption.”
Could Become More Globally Understood
He lauds the satoshi (“sat”) as a unique unit of account allowing for transaction possibilities previously thought impossible. However, “To my knowledge, there isn’t a single thing you can buy or pay for online today in USD for under 1 cent. Now is it possible in the future that no items, features, digital goods, or services that are valued and priced sub one cent become popular or demanded? Maybe…,” Sheffield guessed.
Where the concept lights up for the head of crypto at Visa is in the possibility of having “1k+ devs able to easily build on open tech that enables them to create apps with micropayments for items and services that cost between 1/100 of a cent and one cent, it increases the design space leading to significant experimentation and creativity,” like removing ads, tipping, private messaging groups, as-yet-undefined digital goods, etc.
Sheffield further envisions a world not too distant from now where sub-cent transactions in sats are more frequent than those in USD cents, for example. “Sats unique feature as the sub cent unit of account native to the internet could become more globally understood and adopted than cents much faster than Bitcoin could ever become more understood and adopted as a unit of account than dollars,” he reasoned.
For many in the peer-to-peer electronic cash world, such scenarios are well underway with cryptocurrencies like bitcoin cash and dash. Social networks, which Sheffield as a prime example, read.cash and tipping platform tipbitcoin.cash are every day proving the power of microtransactions. “Rather than focusing on sats replacing dollars or cents as a unit of account to express value that can already be expressed in existing units of account, devs should focus on the unique value prop of “spending sats” to express and transact in value that is sub one cent,” he concluded.
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