比特币是新兴技术网络的最著名代表，而这个网络有可能让银行业得到改善。比特币属于加密货币这个新型金融物种，是一种基于互联网、分散、安全的资金存储和转移方式。比特币，甚至是更有前途的瑞波币（Ripple）网络的作用不是在银行的基本商业模式，也就是贷款、存款、交易和货币兑换方面打开缺口，而是播撒催生全新市场的种子，通常人们把这些市场称为价值互联网（Internet of Value）。它是一种途径，可以让普通人和专业人士一样将一切事物货币化，且不受地域、传统市场准入以及司法权限的限制。
2001年，我在加州大学伯克利分校（UC Berkeley）时的同事尼尔•弗雷格斯坦出版了一本书，名叫《市场的结构》（The Architecture of Market）。他在书中一针见血地指出，不要以为市场本身会自动或者神奇地出现，也不要以为市场的出现源于个人行为或者源于结构因素和现有机制的共同作用。确切地说，市场是一种精致而复杂的产物，由一些群体出于共同的目的而创造，而且必须由那些靠市场生存的参与者予以维持。
Bitcoin heralds a new age more disruptive than that of today’s Internet. Disruption can be a good thing, especially when it affects banking, a failing set of business models which, for all the tweaks, have been virtually unchanged for millennia. Paradoxically, some banks are afraid of Bitcoin because it would force them to innovate.
Bitcoin is but the most famous example of an emerging technology network with the potential to improve banking. It belongs to the new type of financial animal called crypto currencies, i.e. decentralized, secure money storage and money transfer enabled by the Internet. What Bitcoin, and the even more promising Ripple network do, is not to poke a hole in banking’s basic business models—lending, deposits, trading, and money exchange—but to create the embryos for entirely new markets typically referred to as the Internet of Value. That is, a way for regular folks, as well as specialists, to potentially monetize everything, regardless of location, traditional market access and jurisdiction.
Cryptocurrencies have been with us for over five years, an eternity by Internet time. Using the elegance of mathematics they enable almost instant transfer of value at almost no cost between two parties without the need for a trusted third party. The disruption lies exactly there: in disrupting the intermediaries.
For a few years already, we have been talking about the sharing economy. Companies like AirBnb and Uber have enabled previously untapped, idle assets such as your empty bedroom or your second car to be mobilized for financial gain. Liquidizing such stale assets has added convenience in the utterly inefficient markets of room rentals and transportation services.
The Internet of Value would go a few steps further. Imagine a world where you can literally become your own market maker; you can create markets for any of your own assets—which could be thought of as anything you own, think or do, or can influence others to do.
In contrast, and to the great disappointment of many financial tech (‘fintech’) startups, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) last month released new guidance for virtual currency exchanges and payment processors, ruling that such companies may be considered money services businesses under US law and would be subject to new regulations. The ruling is well meaning, but quite contradictory, and, more importantly, wrongheaded. Prematurely imposing such limitations will have little long term impact beyond dulling the US’s innovative edge.
In the 2001 book, The Architecture of Market, my former UC Berkeley colleague Neil Fligstein makes the excellent point that markets cannot be thought of as automatically or magically appearing on their own, neither by individuals acting alone nor by structures and established institutions acting in concert. Rather, markets are elaborate and complex creations by communities with a joint purpose, and they must be sustained by those who use them in order to survive.
In the case of Bitcoin, what is being enabled here is not merely a new market, but a market of markets; a platform for all kinds of new markets to emerge. In it, lies the promise of a transformation, as strange as it sounds, greater than the Internet. Denying such a potential is equal to denying the reality of globalization.
This is why banks had better embrace the experimentation around crypto technologies and business models—in consortia rather than alone, in order to reduce risks and in order to foster and shape the set of appropriate platform innovations that will come over the next decade, one way or another.