After rising like wildfire and sinking like a stone, investors and citizens are wondering how much of a bubble there may be in bitcoin and how much of a future in cryptocurrencies that are now counted by the dozen.
The European Central Bank recently warned that they could “create a risk to financial stability” and the International Monetary Fund warned yesterday that they could be used for money laundering or to finance illicit activities. The organization led by Christine Lagarde, however, did hint that “they may have some benefits” although it stressed that the cooperation of all countries in the world will be necessary.
Virtual currencies are not backed by a Central Bank, nor by the treasury of any State, nor can they be counterfeited, and they are exchanged directly between Internet users who self-regulate them. Some are limited in number, others are not. They operate for the most part under blockchain, a decentralized technology that is considered the future cybernetic base.
What are the main cryptocurrencies that exist today and what are their characteristics?
The most famous and the one that has awakened the cryptocurrency fever. Created in 2008 by one or more computer scientists under the nickname of Satoshi Nakamoto, it is limited from its origins to 21 million units, of which there are now 17 million in circulation.
It uses blockchain technology, its users are anonymous, it is controlled by a network of ‘miners’ who manage the transactions and create the coins. Some experts already call it the “gold 2.0” because, although it is slower than other currencies (it only makes ten transactions per second) and is used primarily as a ‘safe haven currency’ for investors. In fact, when bitcoin ‘catches a cold’… the rest of the cryptos ‘sneeze’ and lose value in the markets.
The second of the virtual currencies in importance – known as Ethereum for being the name of its platform – was created in 2011 by the Russian Vitalik Buterin. It shares a characteristic with bitcoin, which is its operation under blockchain technology.
But it differs in that there is no coin limit for its ‘miners’, as is the case with the one created by Nakamoto. It works through smart contracts (smart contracts), programming codes that digitally democratize agreements and therefore ensure compliance. It is 50 times faster to operate with Ether than with bitcoin (transactions take less than 20 seconds to complete).
Emerged in 2012, it’s the ‘pretty girl’ of banking and the third most important cryptocurrency. The big difference of XRP -it is commonly called Ripple because it is the name of the company that manages it- is that unlike bitcoin it is not based on blockchain technology and therefore it is not decentralized, it is not free, it requires knowing the identity of who operates with it, it is much faster than bitcoin (in six seconds you can send money anywhere) and because of all these things it is seen with better eyes by the financial world.
Two Spanish entities such as Santander and BBVA already operate with it. There are one hundred billion Ripples but not all of them are in circulation because the company keeps half of them as collateral.
It has been Bitcoin’s little sister since its creation in 2011 by Charlie Lee, former executive of Coinbase, the platform where most cryptocurrencies are acquired. Cheaper, lighter (transactions are made much faster), easier to find (it was created so that in the future there will be 84 million coins, four times more than the limit of bitcoins) … and also operable through blockchain. Its advantage is precisely its speed: it processes its blocks every 2.5 minutes instead of every 10 minutes.