More and more businesses are starting to use and accept cryptocurrencies.
This shift means a payment innovation that boards might once have thought sat at the margins of the enterprise is now at the core of operations.
CFOs, who are charged with managing the financial affairs of a company, must help their organisations embrace the move to crypto.
Estimates suggest more than 15,000 businesses globally now accept Bitcoin, which is the best known and most widely used cryptocurrency. What’s more, the trend is very much upwards.
Sage research, in a report called The Redefined CFO, suggests almost half (44%) of UK finance leaders believe that decentralised currencies will prove ‘extremely’ viable as a long-term payment solution.
If you’re a CFO at a medium-sized business who is thinking about embracing cryptocurrencies – and you see them as potential payment solution for your organisation – in this article, we highlight some key areas you’ll need to consider.
Here’s what we cover:
- What are cryptocurrencies?
- How are businesses using cryptocurrencies?
- What are the challenges of using cryptocurrencies?
- What does embracing crypto mean for CFOs?
- Final thoughts on CFOs and cryptocurrencies
What are cryptocurrencies?
In the simplest terms, a cryptocurrency is a digital currency where transactions are verified by a decentralised system using cryptography, rather than by a centralised authority, such as central banks and government organisations.
Digital currency doesn’t exist in a physical sense.
Unlike pounds, dollars or euros, you can’t hold a few Bitcoins in your pocket. Instead, cryptocurrency is a digital token that’s secured and transferred cryptographically and securely using blockchain technology.
Holders of crypto – whether that’s individuals or businesses – store the currency in a digital wallet. This digital wallet can be hardware or web-based and can reside on a mobile device, a computer desktop, or can be kept safe by printing the private keys for access on paper.
Estimates suggest there are currently more than 18,000 cryptocurrencies.
The value of these digital currencies varies widely, as does their total market capitalisation.
While new cryptocurrencies can become prominent quickly, there’s a few that your business needs to be more aware of than most:
- Bitcoin: The world’s first decentralised cryptocurrency, which launched in 2009. The biggest and most popular digital coin, with a total market cap valued at just over $400bn (as of 21 June 2022). Bitcoin operates on its own blockchain network.
- Ether: The second-biggest crypto by market cap (just over $140bn as of 21 June 2022). Along with all cryptocurrencies other than Bitcoin, Ether operates on the Ethereum blockchain.
- Litecoin: Launched in 2011, Litecoin was among the first cryptocurrencies to follow in the footsteps of Bitcoin. With a market cap of just under $4bn, Litecoin is the 18th most valuable cryptocurrency (as of 21 June 2022). Researchers suggest there are a growing number of merchants that accept Litecoin.
How are businesses using cryptocurrencies?
Fresh news stories break every week about major brands moving into cryptocurrency. Take luxury fashion brand Balenciaga, which in May 2022 said it will soon begin to accept both Bitcoin and Ethereum online and at select stores.
The company described its move towards crypto as thinking “long term”.
Meanwhile, Spanish airline Vueling announced it’s partnering with cryptocurrency payment provider BitPay and global payment solutions provider UATP to accept Bitcoin payments by early 2023.
The company said its commitment affirmed its position as “a digital airline”.
These firms join Microsoft, which allows users to pay for services using Bitcoin, and leisure, travel and food companies – such as Starbucks, Pavilion Hotels & Resorts, and airBaltic – that are pushing crypto developments in a broad range of areas.
The shift to crypto isn’t something that’s confined to blue-chips brands. Smaller companies are getting involved, too.
Credit card company Visa says more than 30% of small businesses in the United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, Singapore and Brazil plan to offer customers the option to pay using crypto in the coming months.
Almost a third (32%) of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) globally say accepting new forms of payment is a top priority for 2022, according to Visa.
More than half (59%) of SMEs plan to shift to using only digital payments within the next two years. In fact, almost three-quarters (73%) of SMEs surveyed said new forms of digital payment are fundamental to their growth.
While interest in crypto continues to rise, there’s still some way to go until digital currency goes mainstream.
Sage’s report, The Redefined CFO, found just 13% of UK finance leaders say their organisations currently accept cryptocurrency as payment. However, a third (33%) say they have plans to do so during the next year.
This continued shift to new forms of payment creates new demands for CFOs. Making a decision to accept cryptocurrency is just the starting point.
For finance chiefs at smaller firms, there’s a host of key issues they’ll need to consider.
What are the challenges of using cryptocurrencies?
While many businesses are beginning to dabble in cryptocurrencies, other organisations are moving more tentatively due to a range of concerns.
Sage’s research points to three significant hurdles when it comes to the adoption of cryptocurrencies:
A quarter of CFOs believe cryptocurrencies don’t align with environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies.
Sage’s research suggests the concerns surrounding ESG policies are understandable. Boards are under pressure to show their commitment to environmental goals, both in terms of meeting regulatory requirements and satisfying customers.
Crypto is not known for being environmentally friendly.
Sage’s research highlights how mining Bitcoin requires energy-intensive computing to verify transactions. The average transaction consumes 2116 kWh of electricity as of April 2022.
Companies looking to embrace digital currencies in the longer term will need to find ways to overcome this significant challenge.
Skills gap to fill
When it comes to skills, Sage’s research suggests 23% of CFOs believe that finding the right talent to manage and process cryptocurrencies is a significant hurdle.
Companies in all sectors recognise the size of an ever-growing digital skills gap. From data science to cloud computing, organisations of all sizes are struggling to recruit and retain the digital they need.
In the case of a nascent area such as cryptocurrency, and the closely related area of blockchain, those skills concerns are particularly acute.
Evidence suggests financial institutions that are establishing cryptocurrency-focused departments find it tough in an increasingly competitive marketplace to find the specialist talent they require.
Finally, just over a fifth (21%) of CFOs in Sage’s research refer to security-related concerns when it comes to the major challenges of adopting cryptocurrencies.
Pushing into emerging areas of technology always brings concerns, especially in organisations that might feel they lack the talent to move with surety.
Security risks were also highlighted in the FBI’s recent Internet Crime Report, where the “criminal use of cryptocurrency” sat among the top three reported incidents in 2021.
Industry experts suggest awareness and education will be crucial in helping finance departments adopt and then protect crypto assets.
What does embracing crypto mean for CFOs?
Embracing cryptocurrencies creates a fresh management challenge for finance chiefs.
While deciding to accept digital currency creates significant operational issues, CFOs must also think carefully about how these assets will sit on the balance sheet.
As has been seen in recent months, the price of crypto continues to fluctuate spectacularly.
Some finance chiefs are wary of adding an asset to the balance sheet when its value could change considerably. As many as 84% of finance executives believe holding Bitcoin poses a financial risk to the business due to its inherent volatility, according to analyst Gartner.
CFOs should also consider how wider developments associated to crypto and blockchain could lead to further changes in finance arrangements.
Asset manager Amundi, for example, suggests a fully decentralised cryptocurrency system could lead to global payment systems that are faster, cheaper and more inclusive than current systems.
There’s also a series of issues that will need to be considered over a longer time frame.
New regulations are likely to be applied to using and accepting cryptocurrencies.
At the same time, new digital currencies will continue to emerge. While Bitcoin is currently the most famous crypto, it’s by no means guaranteed to become the main digital currency in the longer term.
In many ways, it’s useful to think of the move towards crypto as part of a wider shift in the role and responsibilities of the modern CFO.
Digital currencies aren’t the only fresh innovation bringing new challenges and opportunities to finance chiefs. CFOs must also pay attention to the rise of the metaverse.
This wave of emerging technologies means finance leaders must be adaptable and flexible.
While traditional skill sets remain important, modern CFOs need to be much more than experts in accounting and balance sheets. As Sage’s research suggests, effective finance chiefs will boast a solid appreciation for emerging technology.
Interestingly, Sage’s research reveals that almost half (45%) of CFOs have invested in crypto personally, with just 2% having no interest in investing in or using digital currencies for payments.
It would appear, therefore, that CFOs are aware of the scale of tech-led change that’s appearing on the horizon.
Now, they just need to grab the opportunities.
Final thoughts on CFOs and cryptocurrencies
Cryptocurrencies have moved from the fringes of the economy to the mainstream in just over a decade.
With big-name brands already accepting digital currency, the next decade is likely to see even more movement towards cryptocurrencies.
While Sage’s research suggests CFOs are aware of the challenges this shift is likely to bring, finance chiefs must ensure they – and their businesses – are ready to balance purpose and profit to deliver long-term value from cryptocurrencies.
Editor’s note: This article was first published in June 2022 and has been updated for relevance.
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