Van Rensberg: Cryptocurrency Won’t Take Off Like Credit Cards

September 12, 2017         By: Steven Anderson

For every new technology, it seems there’s someone coming along ready to nay-say it. Remember when Thomas Edison called alternating current a “waste of time”? Or when Charlie Chaplin called cinema a “fad” and “canned drama” that audiences didn’t want? It’s fun to look back on these old sayings, from time to time, and see what people thought of new technology at the time. A new potential entry into this field came from South African entrepreneur Hannes van Rensberg, who said that cryptocurrency like bitcoin would never take off like credit cards did.

Van Rensberg put this notion out there during a StartupGrind Cape Town event, noting that settling payments on a blockchain was largely impractical. He noted that “The way cryptocurrency has been implemented with blockchain technology in my mind is absolutely not a viable consumer product.” He went on to note that bitcoin transactions were cumbersome and required so much effort that the notion of a widespread use was spectacularly impractical.

He went on to note that there were other, less cumbersome, ways to implement blockchain, but as it stood today, its commercial viability was slim. He further acknowledged that blockchain was a useful technology in and of itself, but that it’s ability to serve as a “consumer-driven technology” was overall light. Given that he’s actually considered the “father of mobile payments” in some circles, he’d know from where he speaks.

Of course, he’s not the first one to express doubt over a technology’s long-term viability that ultimately was required to eat his or her words. There are two good examples in the opening paragraph and lots more that wouldn’t fit here. Yet he’s got a point in that, while bitcoin has been available for consumer use for some time—Overstock.com famously started taking bitcoin back in 2014—it’s not exactly widely used. In fact, for most, cryptocurrency is an investment vehicle alongside gold or silver or municipal bonds.

It would be easy to dismiss van Rensburg here as one more crank in a string of them, but he’s certainly got a point. We’ve got so many mobile payments technologies that work, and work well, that maybe cryptocurrency won’t be a big part of the action.