SBB and Bitcoin: Did You Just Notice The Gorilla On Stage?by Matthias Müller November 4, 2016
You may all know the now-famous experiment conducted in the late 1990s by Daniel J. Simons and Christopher Chabris where two groups of people – some dressed in white, some in black – are passing basketballs back and forth. The study subjects were asked to count the passes among those dressed in white while ignoring the passes of those in black.
They found that many of those who viewed the video failed to notice when a person in a gorilla suit suddenly walked into the game, faced the camera, pounded on its chest and then left the stage. The gorilla was on screen for over eight seconds, yet half of those who watched the video didn’t see it.
Did you notice the Gorilla this time?
Well, the so called Monkey Business Illusion just happened again when SBB, the Swiss Federal Railway operator, decided to extend its “Service Publique” in Switzerland on 11 November 2016. Where the banks seemingly “omitted” to serve the public on their ATMs, SBB ventures to close the gap. A new era of state-driven FinTech revolution has begun: Our government owned SBB is entering the Bitcoin brokerage business!
SBB is pushing Bitcoins mainstream
“Make quick and easy purchases with Bitcoin” is the bold statement on the SBB website. The business model of SBB CEO Andreas Meyer seems quite smart. A simple software update on the ticket machines and SBB is ready to earn its share on the 6% commission of each bitcoin sale. It would in fact be very interesting to know from SBB what type of goods are indeed so easy to buy with Bitcoin that someone is willing to pay a 6% commission for. Anyway, this is a different story.
Bitcoins might actually go mainstream!
Is it really the time to cheer for another FinTech innovation? Maybe we should pause for just a second. Let’s think of it again: A state-owned company is selling an alternative, virtual currency to the Swiss public that promises to replace our financial system with all its established control mechanisms to ensure price stability, prevent money laundering, terrorist financing and tax evasion and completely undermines upcoming new measures like AEI etc. Of course, the current system is not perfect. But who can guarantee when and whether a financial system based on Bitcoin will ever be stable and secure enough?
What will happen when suddenly people of all age classes get access to Bitcoins on hundreds of SBB ticket machines? Nobody really knows yet. But one thing should be clear, this is not just the reinvention of the old Swiss WIR currency, a form of digital money backed by Swiss francs. Bitcoin is playing in a wholly different league.
It’s not about Swiss law, it’s about our economy & reputation
In Switzerland, contracts with cryptocurrencies are enforceable and penalties can be imposed for criminal offences. The Zug based company Sweepay is acting in the background as financial intermediary and the setup fulfils the requirements emposed by FINMA and the Swiss Anti-Money Laundering Act. So, where is the problem?
It’s not about the law, it’s about the fact that this is the first time in the history of mankind where a cryptocurrency might actually go mainstream in a country and test out its romantic promise of a better world on an unprepared population. There haven’t really been public debates in Switzerland outside of FinTech expert circles. The Swiss economy and its people shouldn’t be lightheadedly used as guinea pigs for a virtual currency rollout fuelled by a state-owned company.
Switzerland’s reputation and its sound financial center with an ever more flourishing FinTech industry are carelessly put at risk. Maybe some Bitcoin firms will benefit but maybe many other FinTech players will soon loose their businesses or turn their back to a country that just lost control on its price stability. Who really knows about the side effects of Bitcoin in a complex real-life economic system?
And what about consumer protection?
The financial industry has undertaken huge efforts in recent years to better protect the customers against risks and provide them with appropriate information. However, it’s not clear whether there will be any risk disclaimers at all on SBB ticket machines. But imagine if all potential consumer risks would have to be disclosed before buying any Bitcoins. How would you explain to a 14-year old teenager that he better shouldn’t spend all his pocket money on these interesting darknet products like anabolics and narcotics while on the other hand not spending the Bitcoins might suddenly result in a total loss of value?
Let’s build a safe financial system based on a solid cryptocurrency
Cryptocurrencies have many advantages over fiat currencies. But I still prefer to entrust our economy to some type of a “Utility Coin” that ensures to actually deliver all of the advantages of a promising new technological concept without all of the obvious and potential side-effects of Bitcoin.
Let’s properly prepare for such a transition process before we carelessly risk to “Trump” into an economic disaster. And please “like” this post if you even slightly doubt that SBB brokered Bitcoins are completely risk-free.
This article first appeared on LinkedIn Pulse