Innovation

5 things businesses need to consider before accepting or investing in cryptocurrency

Bitcoin and blockchain-based cryptocurrency can be a tempting investment, especially considering the current sky-high prices. Don't rush in yet, though.

With news of Bitcoin hitting an all-time high of $5,829 last week, the cryptocurrency world looks like a good bet for businesses. Bitcoin has grown 500 percent in 2017, and other cryptocurrencies like Ethereum continue to rise in value.

Plenty of businesses and individuals have begun to accept Bitcoins as payment, and investment in what many people see as the currency revolution of the digital age continues to grow.

SEE: IT leader's guide to the blockchain (Tech Pro Research)

It's hard to avoid getting caught up in the cryptocurrency hype, but there are plenty of reasons to slow down and think before moving investments to blockchain-based currency or accepting Bitcoins as payment. Here are five of them.

1. Cryptocurrency is still in a legal gray area

While only a small group of nations have outright banned cryptocurrency, laws surrounding Bitcoin and other blockchain-based money are in nearly constant flux.

The United States spent much of the early 2010s debating the legal status of Bitcoins, and even recently defined some Etherium as a security, which can change the way the law affects it.

Until governments wrap their heads (and laws) around cryptocurrency it's a bit of a gamble. What's legal one day may be illegal the next, so make sure you do your research into local cryptocurrency laws before investing.

2. High prices are largely speculative

Forrester analyst Martha Bennett is just one of the multiple analysts I spoke with for this piece, and they all agreed: The massive rise in cryptocurrency prices is nearly pure speculation.

"Cryptocurrencies haven't been around for long enough for any pronouncements to be made about stability," Bennett said. "Many will say that we're looking at a gigantic bubble ... [but] we have no direct historic precedents, so who can tell?"

Cryptocurrency prices are also incredibly volatile, so pricing items with Bitcoins can be dangerous, according to Owen Rogers, research director at 451 Research's Digital Economics Unit.

"Let's say you offer fixed prices of $5600 or 1BTN for a car. If the price of Bitcoins drops overnight, someone might purchase the car for the 1BTN price, but this will only make $5000 in USD—essentially, you've lost $600 as a result of fluctuations," Rogers said.

3. Exchanging cryptocurrency for cash can be a hassle

There are plenty of cryptocurrency exchanges, but using them can be costly and can take time. And with currency as volatile as Bitcoin, time can mean losing money if you don't get a fixed-rate exchange.

Exchanges can be expensive, Bennett said, and a huge risk. Certain localities may not be willing to exchange Bitcoins, and if you choose to go through a bank instead of an exchange you may still face high fees.

4. You need to have a total cryptocurrency plan

Implementing cryptocurrency purchases, or simply investing in them, means one of two things: Using an e-commerce platform or implementing it yourself. In the case of the former you may have to move your online store to another platform that accepts cryptocurrency. In the latter you'll need to hire a programmer who is an expert in cryptocurrency.

SEE: The executive's guide to implementing blockchain technology (PDF) (TechRepublic)

Both can be costly, so any business considering getting into cryptocurrency needs to consider their options and plan an approach before taking a single step.

5. Cryptocurrency may be a long game, not a quick profit

Longer term, Rogers said, "I think cryptocurrencies are going to have a significant impact on the world." He noted, however, that they're still a niche form of currency that isn't going to replace PayPal or credit cards any time soon.

Combine that with an overly speculative market and Rogers doesn't see any urgent need to invest in or accept cryptocurrency.

Those interested in doing business with cryptocurrency need to accept that, if Rogers and other analysts are correct, there is a huge bubble just waiting to pop. Avoiding cryptocurrency altogether isn't necessary either, but it should be considered as a long-term strategy instead of a short-term one.

It's entirely possible that cryptocurrency will revolutionize the world—eventually. An investment now could result in short-term losses if the bubble pops, but over the long term it could change a business's entire trajectory.

Unfortunately, all cryptocurrency enthusiasts can do right now is speculate.

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About Brandon Vigliarolo

Brandon writes about apps and software for TechRepublic. He's an award-winning feature writer who previously worked as an IT professional and served as an MP in the US Army.

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