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Crypto craziness craps out – and about time too

Fintech, you're better than this. Time to concentrate on more helpful stuff

Opinion With the quick one-two punch of FTX and Binance, crypto is finally losing its luster as the next revolution in money.

I was recently in Manhattan at the Linux Foundation and Fintech Open Source Foundation's (FINOS) Open Source in Finance Forum New York (OSFF) 2022 event. There the topic of the day was fintech. It was all about how open source and the cloud are revolutionizing how banks, finance companies, and stock markets are working with money. Do you know what we didn't talk about? Crypto.

Crypto bros still blather on about how their Bitcoin, Ethereum or what have you will go to the Moon. They also insist that with their diamond hands, they're going to Hold On for Dear Life (HODL) no matter what happens.

That's cute. In a pathetic sort of way. 

At the conference, the financial grownups were diving into topics like data interoperability between platforms and applications and how to encourage bank executives to let developers contribute to open source projects.

Cryptocurrency? It was mentioned in passing. People would talk about it in the same way you'd talk about your little brother's latest embarrassing TikTok video. That is, you'd acknowledge that it happened, and quickly change the subject.

Why? Because while Bitcoin, for over a decade now, has been the poster child for crypto with its proof-of-work consensus mechanisms as an alternative to fiat currencies, such as the US dollar, recent events have shown that the crypto emperor isn't wearing any clothes.

Bitcoin's value continues to fall. From its record high of $69,000 in November 2021 to, as I write this in mid-December 2022, it's worth $17,678. Inflation may be bad, but it's not a "drop in value of almost 75 percent" bad.

At the same time, other related virtual goods have seen their market value plummet. Sales of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), for example, fell from $7.3 billion to $1.6 billion globally, a 77 percent drop according to NFT tracker Nonfungible. Promoters of perhaps the most well-known NFTs, the Bored Ape Yacht Club, are being sued because their NFTs are proving to – shock! – have no lasting value: "The truth is that the Company's entire business model relies on using insidious marketing and promotional activities from A-list celebrities that are highly compensated (without disclosing such), to increase demand of the Yuga securities by convincing potential retail investors that the price of these digital assets would appreciate."

Let's presume that you still believe in crypto, where can you keep or trade it? The formerly market-leading cryptocurrency exchange FTX has collapsed. The allegations are that FTX customer funds were used to prop up CEO Sam Bankman-Fried's private hedge fund Alameda Research.

Although other top crypto firms aren't in as much hot water as FTX, things are starting to boil around them as well. Take Binance, for instance. Panicked holders have been withdrawing funds from the beleaguered Bitcoin exchange. To soothe investors' nerves, Binance called upon accounting firm Mazars to provide a proof-of-reserves report. While not a full audit, it would have assured crypto speculators that Mazars was, in effect, good for the money. But then Mazars pulled the plug on its crypto reporting. Any reasonable investor or user is going to be asking themselves: is this a "temporary pause" or is it a sign that all's not well with Binance? 

Even more well-known companies, such as Coinbase, are in trouble. The stock has been staggering for the last few quarters. Recently, CEO Brian Armstrong said the cryptocurrency exchange's revenue was likely to be cut by half or more this year.

Let me be frank. From where I sit, this is the slow but sure fall of what has always been one gigantic Ponzi scheme. There has never – never – been any real value in crypto. Yes, I know all the arguments about how fiat currencies have no intrinsic value either. You know what, though? If I go to the grocer, I can buy milk, bread, and butter with my fiat dollars or pounds. Dogecoin? Garlicoin? Trump NFT trading cards? I don't think so.

I know. It's hard to admit that you've been a financial fool for years or even a few months. I had friends in the 2000s who "knew"  Bernie Madoff would be able to deliver 20 percent returns a year forever. They were wrong. Some of them lost their homes. All of them lost serious money.

There comes a point where you have to stop throwing good money after bad. We are well past that point with crypto and NFTs. At least with famous financial scams of the past, such as the Dutch Tulip Bubble and the 2008 real estate crash, you had tulip bulbs and houses for your money when all was said and done. With crypto, you'll be left with nothing at all except meaningless, pointless, valueless blockchains. ®

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