Profile: Bitcoin


AS banks across crisis-torn Greece remain firmly closed, people desperate for finance are turning to the digital world for help.

Greek banks are due to stay shut until after Sunday’s referendum on whether voters want to accept more austerity in exchange for bail-outs from the eurozone and the week-long closure has sparked a surge of interest in Bitcoin, the world’s first decentralised digital currency.

According to Bitstamp, the third largest Bitcoin exchange, trade from Greece has rocketed by 79 per cent although this was from a low starting point.

Another Bitcoin exchange, Coinbase, announced this week that it will waive transaction fees (normally one per cent) for all purchases in euros until after the referendum.

However, while there has been increased Greek demand for Bitcoins, there are actually very few ways Greeks can get hold of them right now as, ironically, buying them generally requires a credit card or bank wire transfer.

This doesn’t faze Coinbase chief Fred Ehrsam who says the reason he has waived transaction fees is to appeal to other Europeans worried by what’s happening in Greece.

“If you’re sitting in Europe, you’re seeing a timeline now – you saw Cyprus in 2013, now Greece in 2015 – and you’re like, ‘Hmm, my economy isn’t performing particularly well either, and all my assets could be frozen or devalued, that’s scary’,” he said. “There’s little that [Bitcoin companies] can do for people on the ground in Greece. The bigger deal here is if you’re sitting in Italy, Spain, or Portugal, and you’re getting a little nervous, maybe it makes some sense to put value into Bitcoin where you’re less susceptible to these things. The doomsday way of saying it would be, ‘Do it before it’s too late’.”

The strategy is appearing to work as European activity on Coinbase

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