The last thirty days have seen the most dramatic moves for the new digital currency meta trend since Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg effectively announced they were going to become a digital bank in mid-June 2019. We covered it here on Forbes with, “Mark Zuckerberg Is About To Become The Head Of A Swiss Bank. 3 Reasons It Should Make You Think.”

The Bank of England has just launched a working group to look at the viability and need for a digital or Bitcoin (sigh) shortly. The Chinese government has been more aggressive and announced its digital currency. And to rub salt into it all. Tesla made $101 million on its Bitcoin trade and had earlier announced that it plans to accept bitcoin for payment for its cars that are still like gold dust. Oh, and NFL players now get a front-page on ESPN about them moving their contracts to Bitcoin only. The very first NFL player to talk in public about Bitcoin was Russell Okun when he was with the Seattle Seahawks years ago. I thought he was crazy when he said it to me. He was a pioneer, and now it’s reported that half his salary is paid in Bitcoin each year. Sean Culkin of the Kansas City Chiefs just moved 100{98cae0078f524eff3ab8ec32cf55b261677ef6c8a6ed6e94d92a4234b93f46b6} of his salary to this digital currency.

What have the Chinese government, the head of the bank of England, and a moderately unknown NFL player got in common? They all believe deeply in the future of digital currencies and are making big bets or at least very public statements about it. But they believe in it for very different and converging reasons.  

The lesson they teach us is that we should look for at the left-field (sorry bad NFL pun) or violent, student body left moves from multiple directions. In 1973 the US officially removed the gold standard that set the value of a dollar at one fife hundredth of an ounce of gold. In effect, currencies became anchored to more esoteric measures of economic and societal confidence or its lack thereof. 

The fact that at some point, bitcoin or other substitutes will become functional currency illustrates a reaction to a violently changing world in terms of what we have confidence around is both a concern and also incredibly exciting. Unlike the removal of the gold standard, digital currencies seem to have already escaped into the mainstream of our consciousness for three reasons that should be concerning. 

Celebrities and currencies sound like a strange combination of ideas. However, this is what has happened because governments have not responded fast enough with enough alternatives. Instead, they have entrenched themselves in the old world until these last few months. Zuckerberg’s announcement two years ago was a fair warning of what was ahead. Yet his failure was incorrectly seen as a failure of the idea and not in reality what it was, a failure in how he attempted to execute it.

The pressure to go virtual in everything got a rocket effect with Covid -19. There are lots of awful consequences of the pandemic. One, in particular, has spurred a growing interest in the non-physical currency. We do not want to pass cash around because we perceive that they might carry Covid-19. Also, we spend more time, more money doing digital transactions. Hard cash has lost its’ perceived cache (the full wallet) effect. 

In a world where you can buy anything, making it easier for faster transactions will be essential. Imagine buying a currency, or buying into a currency? That is the essence of a digital or cryptocurrency. You can buy into its momentum around the world. How many of us would buy into physical currencies and speculate on their value? The answer would be no. The reality is that a currency that gets celebrity attention (Elon Musk), the concentration of athletes prepared to go public on their commitment to it is an exciting idea. Remember, currencies are not meant to be exciting. They are intended to be a promise that we trust. A portrait of the Queen’s head is on much of the UK currency. On the US notes, we have a famous statement.  

If you got this far, there are two profound lessons for CEO’s in this. Firstly, old-world assumptions apply, less and less in a volatile, transforming the global economy. We should ask not if the old-world norms apply anymore, but what aspects of them might survive going forward. Secondly, the race to create trading mechanisms in a new world will amplify the value of established ideas far more than we might think. Nobody thinks that cyber protection does not matter. In this new world, it might be an essential definition of the ideas and technologies we buy into.

Whether it’s Russell Okun as digital currency pioneer; or Mark Zuckerberg’s failed attempt to build himself a digital currency empire, 

we are now undoubtedly going to live in a world where the idea of secure algorithms is going to be more critical than the figurehead or statement on a note of cash. 

This is the best example of how old assumptions in a digital-first world inhibit the ability to thrive.

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