Say what you will about the personal failings of Mark Zuckerberg and Jamie Dimon—and there may be plenty—their involvement with cryptocurrency could prove to be a gigantic financial boon for the industry.
At least that’s what Ari Paul thinks, and the CIO and managing partner of Blocktower Capital knows a thing or two about how and why money moves in crypto.
“I think it's the most bullish thing that could possibly happen for the existing public cryptocurrencies,” Paul said during the Cryptofund Roundtable at SXSW in Austin, Texas, over the weekend. Even if JP Morgan’s JPM Coin and whatever Facebook ultimately delivers with Facebook Coin aren’t “real cryptocurrencies,” their projects translate into a “massive investment in infrastructure and education—both of which get to be borrowed by, say, bitcoin,” said Paul, who compared the windfall to the “massive influx of money” that would result from a Bitcoin ETF.
JP Morgan announced the launch its U.S. dollar-backed stablecoin for inter-bank payments in mid-February to a chorus of jeers and boos from crypto true believers. And the slow leak of news regarding Facebook’s blockchain plans has been received with the sort of skepticism you’d expect for the scandal-ridden social network.
But as financial analyst and Decrypt columnist Joseph Young pointed out earlier this month, Scalar Capital co-founder Linda Xie has been one of the few contrarians in crypto on this topic. On Saturday, Xie reiterated her stance that both JPM Coin and Facebook Coin are good for the industry, agreeing with Paul that “more infrastructure and more education” are a net positive.
“I'm actually a huge fan of JP Morgan Coin and Facebook Coin, because now when people hear of cryptocurrency, they know that legitimate companies are associating themselves with it,” she said. “They become more open to understanding—‘What is Bitcoin?’ What is Ethereum?’”
Kyle Samani, managing partner at Multicoin Capital, concurred with his cryptofund peers: “Long term, it’s definitely bullish for the space,” he said. Samani added that while he doesn’t have any personal knowledge of Facebook’s precise plans with its coin, he highly doubts it’ll be anything close to a “fundamentally open, permissionless system.”
“I just find it hard to believe that a company whose entire business is predicated on absolute control is going to release software into the world that they cannot fundamentally control,” Samani said. For that reason, the Multicoin Capital partner said he thinks the fears of Facebook swallowing up the crypto market for itself are unfounded. “There's too much baggage with Facebook for it to make the hard decisions that are going to need to be made to make whatever they're doing successful,” he said.
For Paul, however, that’s exactly the point.
Through things like Facebook Coin and JPM Coin, “you’re training consumers to be familiar and trust [crypto],” he said. “At the same time, it raises questions: What are the limitations? What are the costs?”
Paul highlighted the recent network glitch Facebook experienced as an example. “It's kind of scary if all of your money has an outage,” he said. Facebook has also been “under fire for things like censorship of political views, and they'll say sometimes it's just an algorithm doing it. When that starts happening with money, it will naturally cause people to look for something that can't be turned off.”
Paul said he worries about how repressive governments like China might soon use their own versions of “cryptocurrency fiat” to exert economic control over its citizens, adding that JP Morgan and Facebook could do the same to its users.
“With a cryptocurrency fiat—with something like JPM Coin or Facebook coin—it means that one entity could algorithmically freeze all of your accounts.”
Still, Paul doesn’t want people to shy away from calling either JPM Coin or Facebook Coin a “cryptocurrency.” When placed in “direct contrast” with things like Bitcoin and Ethereum, the cryptofund manager is confident consumers will make the right choice in the end.