Digital Currency in Payments and Commerce

Digital Currency in Payments and Commerce

The Convergence of Money and the Internet

What business leaders need to know now

Throughout this series, we’ve explored how society and commerce could change as blockchains and digital currencies go mainstream. We’ve also situated where blockchains fit in the broader history of the internet and delved into how stablecoins like USDC make it possible to bypass legacy settlement systems by supercharging U.S. dollars with the same cost and speed advantages of other forms of internet data.  

In Part 4, we take a deeper look at the digital currency opportunity for businesses, from multinational corporations down to small merchants. While we are very early in the adoption curve, there are things business leaders can do right now to begin taking advantage. 

In many ways, business adoption of blockchain could mirror the steady migration to the cloud that has picked up pace since the mid 2010s. Once seen as a novelty and potential risk, business embrace of the cloud is now widespread with additional adoption likely inevitable.

Importantly, mass adoption of blockchain will not happen overnight, and companies don’t have to choose between blockchain and traditional settlement. USDC can integrate with existing finance software, so you can start leveraging it alongside card, ACH, wire and even checks, giving you a wide range of options for every merchant and B2B counterparty, including intercompany accounts and subsidiaries.

Ways to use USDC

Traditional payment systems are fragmented by region, which makes it very slow, expensive and opaque to send value across borders. The internet, by contrast, is global and borderless. Digital currency eliminates banking hour restrictions, so businesses no longer need to tie up capital during non-banking hours. These factors can make it an ideal settlement infrastructure for companies with cross-border flows. USDC lives natively on this infrastructure, helping companies connect with both B2B and merchant counterparties in near-real time, and at practically no cost. It can supplement — or replace — payments made today via wire, ACH and card (both physical and virtual).

 

B2B Flows

  • Supplier and cross-border payments

Overseas suppliers are an ideal use case for USDC payments, due to the near-instant settlement and extremely low costs compared to traditional cross-border payments. To receive a USDC payment, the supplier only needs to create a free digital wallet that is compatible with USDC. 

Paying suppliers faster and with less expense can deepen ties with strategic partners and potentially help buyers negotiate better pricing. It can also be particularly effective when paying suppliers in emerging economies who lack access to the banking system.

 

  • Intercompany payments

USDC and Circle account infrastructure enable easier cash concentration that’s not limited by banking hours and settlement systems. Eligible businesses can set up separate sub-accounts for different subsidiaries and move funds when necessary, without the friction associated with traditional bank-based rails. 

 

  • Payroll

USDC enables companies to issue dollar-based payroll to gig, hourly and salaried employees. Unlike traditional ACH payroll that’s issued every 2 weeks, USDC makes it very easy to create “streaming” payments that automatically reach workers continuously throughout the day. Paying employees in near-real time can help businesses attract and retain talent in a highly competitive labor market.

 

  • Trade

Trade finance, with its complex flows of funds, goods and paperwork across oceans and jurisdictions, is another area where USDC can create significant efficiencies for both importers and exporters. Moving on-chain can help participants bypass fragmented cross-border payments, automate payment issuance based on certain shipment milestones and get greater invoice visibility.

 

  • Forex

With Circle’s launch of Euro Coin, it’s possible for businesses to grow customers by accepting euro-denominated payments and improve relationships with suppliers in the eurozone by invoicing them in their native currency – all while managing their dollar-euro FX risk.

 

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Merchant uses

Although not yet mainstream, there are signs that USDC use in merchant payments could grow widespread. In our view, the main factor holding this trend back is that most digital currency wallets are still developing robust payment functionality. We expect this will greatly improve in the next 1-2 years, just as early web browsers, mobile operating systems and app stores grew more powerful and easier for mass audiences to use over time.

Growing retail momentum1

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In addition to stablecoins like USDC, many consumers and businesses are showing interest in payments denominated in Bitcoin, Ether and other digital assets. Luxury brands such as Gucci2 and Tag Heuer3 are already leading the way.  Circle’s account infrastructure makes it possible for merchants to accept Bitcoin and Ether and either hold on to those currencies once the transactions settle, or to convert them into USDC prior to settlement.

 

NFTs in brand engagement and customer retention

Web3 enables users to “own” digital data through non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, which they can store alongside USDC, Bitcoin and Ether in a personal digital wallet. Traditional businesses are embracing NFTs to deepen customer engagement, enhance loyalty and create new revenue streams. There are unlimited possibilities to build new customer retention strategies in this “token economy.”

Nike, for example, has already generated $185 million in revenue and more than $92 million in royalties across its NFT collections.4 Adidas earned $23 million by selling out a single collection of 30,000 NFTs. 5

Other traditional brands are forming partnerships with new “blockchain-native” businesses that are already reshaping commerce, just as today’s internet giants arose out of the dot-com era. Dapper Labs has become a driving force in bringing real digital ownership to the masses, partnering with sports leagues on officially-licensed digital video collectibles including NBA Top Shot – its flagship product – along with NFL ALL DAY and LaLiga Golazos. NBA Top Shot has already built a following of more than 2 million users who have generated 22.4 million transactions totalling more than $1 billion.6 It has achieved this growth, in part, by adding real utility to the fan experience and making it easy for customers to transact via familiar payment methods like credit cards, which it settles as USDC, as well as cryptocurrency.

While these collectibles can be a massive revenue opportunity in their own right, digital payments and NFTs can ultimately become a much more strategic way to create brand engagement. Businesses can use NFTs to reward customers in innovative, personalized ways that can create differentiated experiences and stickier relationships.7

Stablecoins and NFTs can also make “closed loop” loyalty programs cheaper, easier and more engaging. Card payments can settle as USDC, which means customers don’t need to change behavior at the point of sale, and businesses can create token-based experiences that are more tailored and meaningful to customers. For companies that haven’t yet built this type of loyalty program due to costs and lack of scale, this can be a powerful entry point.

We are very early in exploring the use of payments and tokens to deepen customer engagement, and now is the time to begin formulating a strategy.

 

NFTs in gaming and entertainment

The global gaming industry is one of the largest sectors in entertainment, with 3.2 billion players and more than $180 billion in annual revenue.8 Gaming studios are beginning to find creative ways to use NFTs to offer ownership of in-game assets to generate new revenue and increase retention. In addition, some games are expanding and growing into one another, offering players the opportunity to port their purchased NFT assets with them from game-to-game. We anticipate this trend will continue as more games merge together into a connected, open “metaverse.”

Prior to the 2021-2022 pandemic, revenue from live music events in the U.S. totaled more than $25 billion per year.9 Tickets to these events present a breakthrough opportunity for organizers and artists to use NFTs to learn more about fans and engage with them through unique, gated experiences.10

In both cases, USDC can act as a stable-value settlement layer to facilitate these types of transactions.

 

Live music industry revenue worldwide from 2014 to 2025 (in billions of dollars)11

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Putting it all together

A seismic shift in the history of both digital assets and the broader internet is underway, with continued tech advances and clear regulations fueling mass adoption for everyday transactions in the next few years by corporations, merchants, institutions and individuals. Traditional businesses, blockchain-native companies and billions of people globally can benefit as money and the internet converge and cross-pollinate.

In the last part of our series, we explore how digital currency is helping to create a brand new decentralized capital markets infrastructure and potentially bring the benefits of internet settlement to traditional trading venues.

  1. Nearly 75% of retailers plan to accept cryptocurrency payments within the next 2 years.” CNBC. Cheyenne DeVon. July 29, 2022. Retrieved from: https://www.cnbc.com/2022/07/29/deloitte-75-percent-of-retailers-plan-to-accept-crypto-payments-in-2-years.html
  2.  “Gucci Leads In Crypto Transactions.” Forbes. Walter Loeb, August 4 2022. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/walterloeb/2022/08/04/gucci-leads-in-crypto-transactions/?sh=79554677135b
  3. “TAG Heuer Is Now Accepting Cryptocurrency For US Online Purchases.” Hodinkee. James Stacey, May 19, 2022. Retrieved from: https://www.hodinkee.com/articles/tag-heuer-is-now-accepting-cryptocurrency-for-us-online-purchases
  4. “Nike, D&G, Tiffany Top List of Brands Generating Revenue From NFTs.” The Fashion Law. August 23, 2022. Retrieved from: https://www.thefashionlaw.com/nike-dg-tiffany-top-list-of-brands-generating-revenue-from-sales-of-nfts/
  5.  “Adidas Earn $23 Million From Its Metaverse NFT Series.” The Crypto Times. Vismaya V, December 18 2021. Retrieved from:  https://www.cryptotimes.io/adidas-earn-23-million-from-its-metaverse-nft-series/
  6. Source: https://www.dapperlabs.com/#products
  7.  “Solana Pay ushers in new payments era.” Sheraz Shere. February 2 2022. Retrieved from: https://solana.com/news/solana-pay-announcement

  8.  “Report: Video game revenue shrinks in 2022, snapping growth streak.” Axios. Stephen Totilo. November 15, 2022. Retrieved from: https://www.axios.com/2022/11/15/global-video-game-market-decline-2022
  9.  Source: Statista, 2021. Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1096424/live-music-industry-revenue-worldwide/
  10.  “NFT Tickets Are the Future of Live Music. Here’s Why.” nftnow. Langston Thomas. October 26, 2022. Retrieved from: https://nftnow.com/features/nft-tickets-are-the-future-of-live-music/
  11.  Source: Statista, 2021. Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1096424/live-music-industry-revenue-worldwide/