The Growth of Bitcoin Exchanges
The primary use of bitcoins was always envisioned as a form of currency. However, as a form of payment and currency, there’s been a need to correlate it to a monetary value. Thus bitcoins are like all other currencies, in that their value may fluctuate, and this value can be denominated in various currencies, such as the Australian dollar, Mexican peso or the American dollar.
Once you correlate the value of a bitcoin to the dollar, you create the opportunity for it to be seen as a way to profit monetarily to investors. If the value of bitcoin can rise or fall and this value can be connected to a dollar value, an investor may see this as an opportunity to make money on the value of that bitcoin. Although it wasn't the original intent of bitcoins to be treated in this manner, the reality is that today they are, and there are various tools that people can use to make investment returns off of the cyber-currency.
Buying Bitcoins Through Mt. Gox
The easiest way to invest in bitcoin is to simply buy them and either sell or hold onto them. In the past, being able to do this was not a simple as it is today. Just ask the many people who had to do this in the early days of bitcoin and found their only way to do this was with Mt. Gox (which stood for Magic The Gathering Online Xchange), which was the primary online exchange for bitcoin at the time.
Mt. Gox went out of business after losing the bitcoins in people’s accounts and over a half a billion dollars of bitcoin (value at the time of the theft) was lost. The owner of Mt. Gox has been arrested and charged, but the negative feedback that bitcoin suffered from it has continued to haunt the perception of bitcoin since.
The Rise of Bitcoin Exchanges
Today, however, there are many companies that have learned from the problems of Mt. Gox and built high-quality exchanges. One of these is Coinbase, which is a well-funded company (with over $100 million from investors) that began in 2012 and has over 2 million users of its platform. One of the most interesting aspects of the platform is its ability for customers to have both an active account for bitcoins and a “vault” that allows you to place your bitcoins in a secure environment (think of it as a checking and savings account model).
Other bitcoin exchanges include BitStamp which has been around since 2011 and is based out of Slovenia. It was one of the first exchanges and gained a strong reputation as a very professionally run exchanges with sound audits and regulatory compliance.
One of the latest exchanges to open has been itBit. With a strong investor backing, it also touts a well-connected board that includes Sheila Bair, former head of the FDIC during the time of the Great Depression, and Bill Bradley, former Senator from New Jersey. The involvement of these individuals shows that itBit is not only interested in being a leading exchange but emphasizes the need to show compliance and integration with the US regulatory environment that now surrounds bitcoin exchanges.
itBit has been structured to not only be an exchange for bitcoins, but it’s also seeking a banking charter to operate in all 50 US states. They’ve also set up an OTC exchange that allows them to trade beyond their own online trading books. There’s even been talk that itBit is interested in utilizing blockchain technology for gold trading.
The ability to buy bitcoin through online exchanges has certainly grown since Mt. Gox. The venture money and expanded scope of exchanges companies such as itBit show that investors and professionals recognize the need to allow individuals to trade bitcoin like any other currency. It’ll be interesting to see how these companies grow along with the capabilities they provide to the individual investor who wants to trade bitcoin for a profit.