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What is cryptocurrency?

Unlock the world of cryptocurrency, explore its cutting-edge technology, and potential impact on the future of finance.

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What is cryptocurrency?

Cryptocurrencies have been revolutionary in their pursuit of merging decentralization with the finance sector. The industry has grown to provide many alternative options to the traditional financial products available, with most of them at a fraction of the cost. Cryptocurrencies have digitized the way we view, use and manage our funds, and it's only the beginning of the digital assets revolution.

What is cryptocurrency?

Cryptocurrency is the blanket term used to describe any digital asset that utilizes blockchain technology or distributed ledger technology to operate. The first cryptocurrency that came into existence was the Bitcoin network, created in 2009 by the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto.

The cryptocurrency was designed to provide an alternative monetary system to the traditional banking sector, free from politics. Instead of a central authority, Bitcoin operates using a decentralized network of computers that work together to transact and verify any financial transactions using the Bitcoin protocol. For the first time ever people could manage their money without having to rely on a centralized institution.

Since Bitcoin's success, many other cryptocurrencies have emerged, some providing a revised solution to the digital cash system Bitcoin created, while others have brought innovation to the crypto space.

The Ethereum blockchain, as an example, provides the industry with a platform on which developers can create decentralized apps (dapps) merging the app concept with the decentralized nature of blockchain technology.

Cryptocurrency vs traditional currencies

Traditional currencies, also known as fiat currencies, are operated by government institutions while cryptocurrencies are maintained through a network of computers following a specific protocol. While a Federal Reserve typically sits behind a fiat currency, the key players in a cryptocurrency's existence typically involve:

  • Core developers, responsible for updating a network's protocol
  • Miners, responsible for validating and executing transactions
  • Users, the people using the cryptocurrency
  • Exchanges and trading platforms, facilitating the trade of these cryptocurrencies.

While governments have free control over printing new money, most cryptocurrencies are created with a hard cap. For instance, Bitcoin was designed with a maximum limit of 21 million coins, meaning that there will only ever be that number in existence. Not all cryptocurrencies have this hard cap though, Ethereum has an infinite supply due to the nature of the platform and the cryptocurrency.

Unlike fiat currencies, Bitcoin and many other cryptocurrencies were designed to be deflationary, with the necessary factors in place to ensure that the value of the currency increases over time (based on simple supply-demand economics).

Another pressing difference between cryptocurrencies and fiat currencies is that cryptocurrencies are still undergoing regulatory processes. While they are not illegal to trade (in most countries), they are not yet considered to be legal tenders (again, in most countries). Regulators around the world are working on a legal framework in which cryptocurrencies can operate in mainstream markets.

How do cryptocurrencies work?

Now that we've covered the basics on what is cryptocurrency, let's take a look at how these digital currencies actually function. First and foremost, through the use of blockchain technology. While not all cryptocurrencies use this technology, most do and we will use it as an example (as the concept is roughly the same).

Blockchain technology explained

Blockchain is best explained as a digital record-keeping system, or a distributed database. All transactions made on the network are stored in a transparent manner for anyone to see, with no way to edit or omit any of the information. All data is stored in blocks, which are added chronologically to a chain, hence the name.

A block will contain information relating to every cryptocurrency transaction, like timestamps of when it took place, the sending and receiving wallet addresses, transactional hash, and amounts. Depending on their size, blocks typically store data for a few hundred to a few thousand transactions. Blocks will then also hold a block hash, a unique identifying number associated with the block, and the hash of the previous block to prove its order.

When companies incorporate blockchain technology into their businesses they will typically use a private network where the information is only transparent to certain users. This is referred to as a "permissioned" blockchain, different from a "permissionless" blockchain used for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Cryptocurrency transactions explained

While blockchain forms the backbone of a cryptocurrency network, miners facilitate the transactions. In a process called mining, cryptocurrency transactions are validated and executed, and through cryptocurrency mining new coins are minted. To make this easier to understand, we're going to use an example of Lucy sending Bitcoin to Jane.

From her Bitcoin wallet, Lucy will initiate a transaction to Jane, sending 1 BTC. After entering Jane's wallet address, she will confirm the network fees presented (these are paid directly to the miner for their time and effort), and execute the transaction.

The transaction will then enter a pool of transactions waiting to be executed called a mempool. Miners then compete to be the first to solve a computational puzzle, the winner of which will be rewarded with verifying and executing the next batch of transactions (cryptocurrency mining).

Confirming that each wallet address exists and each sender has the available funds, the miners will collect each of the network fees that the senders paid. The data from the confirmed transactions will then be added to a block and added to the blockchain right after the last published one. For adding a new block to the blockchain, the miner receives a block reward.

This block reward is based on the current rate, which is halved every 210,000 blocks (roughly every 4 years). This is how new Bitcoin enters circulation and the currency is able to maintain a deflationary status.

Jane will then receive a notification to say that she has received 1 BTC, and depending on her wallet will need to wait for 3 - 6 confirmations before being able to access the funds. Each confirmation is when a new block is added to the blockchain, which typically takes 10 minutes.

This process is typical of a proof of work network, used on networks like Bitcoin. This process is also the same whether you are buying crypto from crypto exchanges or sending to a friend.

The only time this differs is when using a cryptocurrency blockchain that utilizes a proof of stake consensus. In this case, instead of miners competing to solve the puzzle (requiring a lot of energy), validators will be selected by the network to conduct the verification process afterwhich this information will be verified and added to the relevant blockchain ledger.

The different types of cryptocurrencies

With tens of thousands of virtual currencies on the market, a number of subcategories have been created. While Bitcoin is a digital cash system providing a store of value and a medium of exchange, not all cryptocurrencies follow this structure.

Cryptocurrencies that are not Bitcoin are referred to as altcoins, (alternative coins), a term coined in the early days when new coins started emerging. Some altcoins are focused on providing heightened privacy, security, or speed while others are created for entertainment and leisure.

There are nine main types of cryptocurrencies, which we'll briefly highlight below:

  • Utility, provide access to the platform service
  • Payment, used to pay for goods and services within and outside of its network
  • Exchange, native to cryptocurrency exchange platforms
  • Security, where its usage and issuance are governed by financial regulations
  • Stablecoins, digital currencies with prices pegged to fiat currencies
  • DeFi tokens, digital currencies used on DeFi (decentralized finance) exchanges
  • NFTs, non-fungible tokens representing unique identities that cannot be replicated
  • Asset-backed tokens, where their underlying value is backed by a real-world asset

Another category that is gaining popularity around the world is Central Bank Digital Currencies, CBDCs. These digital currencies are operated and maintained by a central bank with the price pegged to the local currency.

What are the benefits of digital currency?

Cryptocurrencies are known for their fast and secure transactions, not limited by borders or government intervention. Below are several highlights that cryptocurrencies bring to the financial sector.

  • Decentralized. Eliminating third parties and centralized authority, cryptocurrencies make the transfer of assets possible while reducing costs and time constraints.
  • Security. Blockchain provides a transparent and immutable means of storing transactional data ensuring smooth and accountable operations.
  • Deflationary. Most cryptocurrencies with a limited supply are designed to be deflationary in nature due to the decreasing supply mechanisms set in place. With basic supply-demand economics, a reduced supply and increased demand drive the price up.
  • Reduced transaction fees. Cryptocurrencies provide a much cheaper alternative to sending fiat currencies across borders. With no need to exchange currencies and bypass several middlemen, cryptocurrencies are able to be sent on a peer-to-peer basis in a matter of minutes.
  • Diversification. When it comes to investing, cryptocurrencies present a measure of diversification. Considering your risk tolerance and asset allocation, cryptocurrencies could be a part of your investment portfolio.

What are the risks associated with cryptocurrencies?

While there are plenty of benefits, as with any "new" asset class, there are risks to be considered too.

  • Market volatility. Cryptocurrencies are prone to bouts of volatility with prices rising and falling dramatically in various frames of time.
  • Market manipulation. Some cryptocurrencies might fall victim to a pump-and-dump scheme through no fault of the networks'. These are typically orchestrated by third parties.
  • Theft. While blockchains can't typically be hacked, many cryptocurrency exchanges and wallets that don't utilize the necessary security measures can fall prey to hackers. To avoid this ensure that you always stick to a regulated platform with high-security measures.

How does one store cryptocurrency?

Cryptocurrency is stored in a digital wallet, similar to how one would store money at financial institutions only with cryptocurrency you are entirely in control of your funds. From the wallet you can make crypto transactions, store a wide range of cryptocurrency assets and hold your cryptocurrency investments long term.

Each cryptocurrency wallet is specifically designed to hold a certain type of cryptocurrency. For example, you cannot accept Bitcoin in an Ethereum wallet or send Bitcoin Cash to a Bitcoin wallet. Each wallet also comes with a set of public and private keys, the latter of which gives the holder access to the funds.

How to trade cryptocurrencies on cryptocurrency exchanges

Now that you understand what is cryptocurrency, let's cover how to enter the world of crypto assets. Entering the world of cryptocurrencies can be both exciting and rewarding. While we encourage every single person to conduct their own research prior to getting involved, once you're ready to start your journey into the cryptocurrency space, we're here for you.

Crypto exchanges

In order to buy any digital currency, traders will need to utilize cryptocurrency exchanges. These exchanges facilitate the buying and selling of crypto assets, and depending on the structure, often require users to offer some proof of identification before conducting any cryptocurrency transactions.

Decentralized vs centralized

The cryptocurrency market is made up of decentralized exchanges and centralized exchanges. The difference between the two is how they are operated, with centralized exchanges have a central authority. Typically, the centralized ones are more reliable and trustworthy as they require licenses which hold them accountable to certain standards within the financial sector. When looking to trade any digital currency, find an exchange that is regulated and licensed by a financial body.

The Tap app is a mobile app that allows users to buy, sell, trade, store and even earn crypto through a secure wallet infrastructure. Supporting a number of popular cryptocurrencies, users gain access to a wide range of markets. Fully regulated by the Gibraltar Financial Services Commission, the app uses top-of-the-range security technology to ensure that all data and funds are secured at all times.

Open an account

To engage in the cryptocurrency market all one needs to do is create an account. To open an account on Tap simply download the app from the App or Google Play store, enter the details required and complete the KYC process, an international requirement on all reputable digital currency platforms. Users will then gain access to a number of crypto and fiat wallets, with the ability to accumulate a wide range of cryptocurrencies.

From there, users can make cryptocurrency transactions, whether to friends also using the platform, external wallets or even external bank accounts for online payments, such as municipalities. The app offers a modern approach to banking services where funds can be used for real world payments. 


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