William Blair partner Brian Singer explains to Steve Forbes how Bitcoin and blockchain encryption has a greater ability to bring more of the world’s population out of poverty than anything we’ve seen in decades.
FORBES: Is bitcoin the currency of the future? Or is it the payment system they’re developing?
SINGER: Bingo. It’s the payment system. It’s the blockchain encryption. And there are interesting things. I think bitcoin, or the, really, blockchain encryption that’s behind it, has a greater ability to bring more of the world’s population out of poverty than anything we’ve seen in decades.
FORBES: Well, for one thing, it’s a cheap payment system.
SINGER: For one thing, it’s a cheap payment system. But it’s more important than that. It’s more important than that. Blockchain cryptography is all about digital transfer of ownership in a completely transparent and public way. Okay, I don’t want to go into any of the math and the complexity behind it, but think of what that means.
That means that I can actually record ownership in public, in a digital means. 50% of the world’s population has a mobile phone. I read an estimate this month that in 2020, 90% of the world’s population will have mobile phones. That’s probably a high estimate, but that’s okay.
FORBES: $25, $35 smartphones.
SINGER: We’re throwing them away and they can ship them off to emerging markets. But what’s powerful about this, now think about Hernando de Soto Polar.
SINGER: Okay. The Institute for Liberty and Democracy in Peru, I really think Hernando de Soto Polar should win the Nobel prize for the work he’s done. I hope he does. But he’s going around the world and identified one of the most powerful things to the economy and the creation of wealth. And that is the ownership of property.
FORBES: Which you can then use as collateral.
SINGER: Which you can use as collateral and when you own it, you will develop it. The best thing you can do for the environment is to own it. Because when you own it, you make sure it’s sustainable for your future family. And that’s powerful. But they don’t have the ability to own it. If you live in a shantytown, you operate outside of the legal economy. It’s not that you want to operate outside of the legal economy, but you have no ownership of any property.
FORBES: Although in the neighborhood, everyone knows who owns what.
SINGER: And once you introduce blockchain cryptography, guess what they can do? Have a public ledger of ownership and transfer that cannot be denied because it’s absolutely transparent. It’s absolutely transparent. It is the means through which these individuals can get exactly what Hernando de Soto Polar thinks they best need to bring themselves out of poverty.
It is so much more profound than that, but at its very basis, it has the ability to give these individuals the right of ownership to property. And that has more than anything else, the ability to bring them out of poverty. And I can’t wait. It’ll be adopted elsewhere. I mean, blockchain encryption is such a powerful tool. It’ll be used by banks, it’ll be used by credit card companies, it will become a standard. But what’s more interesting is what it can do to poverty around the world to eliminate poverty.
FORBES: Going for a sec on the eliminating poverty, but also, what does that mean, that technology mean for credit card companies and the whole payment system, crazy gobbledygook payment system we have today? Very expensive. Doesn’t that blow it away?
SINGER: I hope so. I hope so. I mean, think about it.
FORBES: PayPal .
SINGER: When there was one manufacturer of phones in the U.S., the U.S. government, what did we have? This big clunky, rotary thing that sat on desks. Now what do we have? Cell phones of all flavors, sizes. I can sit in Africa and on my cell phone, take courses at MIT because they’re public record. It’s absolutely astounding what happens when you can actually innovate around the world and compete.
And what is happening is blockchain cryptography, forget bitcoin, creates a competitive technology, a competitive innovation that these credit card companies will have to adopt. The ones that adopt it first will bring their cost base down. And importantly, if you think about a retail store, and I have this with my kids, my kids are off in college, and they go to a retail store, they use their credit card. And the credit card company…
FORBES: Costs the retailer three to six.
SINGER: Right. Well, first the fee is high. And then they reject the transaction because why is this card suddenly showing up in some city, some place, where I don’t live? So it gets cut off. Well, with blockchain cryptography, the buyer and the seller automatically trust each other over an untrusted network. That’s what’s so powerful about it.
A blockchainbased transaction is verified within ten minutes. It’s not verified within ten minutes for a credit card, which is why 5% to 10% of all transactions are rejected on the spot. It’s not verified until often days later. Even a check is not verified for days. And that is completely taken out of the system. So on day one, on day one, the retailer’s sales go up because they don’t have to reject the transaction. And they save on the fees. It doesn’t really get much better than that if you’re looking for a disruptive innovation in any single industry. It’s wonderful.
FORBES: Brian, thank you.