2021: the year crypto went mainstream
Cryptocurrency investment is not for the faint of heart – bitcoin had another volatile year, soaring from $29,405 at the beginning of the year to as high as $67,554 on Nov. and was trading at $50,908 on Friday.
Yet, 2021 was the year that more people were exposed to the world of crypto than ever before. Most famously, El Salvador became the first country to make bitcoin legal tender, while in a huge development for financial markets, the first exchange-traded fund tied to bitcoin futures also began to trade.
Studies show that about 13 percent to 14 percent of Americans now own or have owned cryptocurrencies.
It has caught the attention of regulators in a major way. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen was asked about bitcoin at her confirmation hearing. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairman Gary Gensler has called it the “Wild West.”
At the beginning of the year, there was about $25 billion invested in decentralized finance projects, such as decentralized exchanges and lending/borrowing platforms. Now it’s $100 billion.
The market cap of the top five stablecoins — Tether, UDS Coin, Binance USD, Terra USD, and Dai — is $152 billion.
Central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) moved ahead, bringing real-time payments a step closer.
Leading the pack is China’s digital yuan, which came out of the testing phase as is set to launch in tome for the Winter Olympics in Beijing this February. While it is not the first country to have a CBDC — the Bahamian Sand Dollar came first – but China’s project has got other central banks moving and now 87 institutions, including the European Central Bank and the Bank of England, are exploring their own.
However, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell are yet to be convinced of the need for a digital dollar.
China also put itself of crypto markets by banning crypto trading and mining, forcing companies and investors to shift en masse to other countries.
Nonfungible tokens (NFTs) leapt into the mainstream with the $69 million sale of NFT collage by artist Beeple at Christie’s in May. Since then, sports brands, including football and basketball clubs and brands such as Adidas, have jumped in with their own tokens that give ownership of digital images and video.
US cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase launched its IDO — an initial direct offering, similar to an initial public offering (IPO) but without financial middlemen — on Nasdaq in April, making it the first crypto industry firm to go public without using a reverse merger, known as a SPAC.
The industry most at risk from the rise of cryptocurrencies is finance, so it’s notable how many banks started to dip their toes in the market this year. Major banks and other financial institutions started to offer crypto investments to wealthy customers while beginning to look at custody services real-time payments using cryptos or CBDCs.