Many in the cryptocurrency community have spent years predicting that digital currencies will someday take the place of fiat currencies. But mainstream economists tend to view cryptocurrencies with more than a bit of disdain. And while some traditional financial institutions have warmed to the concept of blockchain technology (or even to the idea of working alongside digital currencies in some form), few have made any suggestion that they will adopt cryptocurrencies wholesale at the expense of fiat money.

While cryptocurrencies have yet to fully take over in the real world in a way that enthusiasts have predicted, there are nonetheless some signs that various currencies are making it in the traditional business space, even if only to a limited extent.

Key Takeaways

  • Cryptocurrencies have emerged as a major source of investor enthusiasm over the past decade, with some investors predicting that one or more tokens will eventually supersede fiat currency.
  • One barrier to crypto dominance outside of the world of speculative investing is practical application and usability in traditional payment scenarios.
  • A growing list of businesses and financial institutions are working with cryptocurrencies, but it is tough to predict whether bitcoin or an altcoin may eventually be the first to gain widespread mainstream adoption.

Of course, if one or more digital currencies does end up "making it" in the real world in this way, it's likely that investors in the cryptocurrency will see great rewards for their early adoption. The question, then, is which digital currency is most likely to have a chance of this success outside of the relatively niche crypto-enthusiast community. Below, we'll explore some of the possibilities.

Bitcoin

For many, the original major cryptocurrency bitcoin is the one that remains most likely to see mainstream adoption on a large scale. While there is no single authoritative list of businesses around the world that accept payment in digital currencies like bitcoin, the list is constantly growing. Thanks to bitcoin ATMs and the onset of startups like the payment network Flexa, it is becoming easier all the time for cryptocurrency investors to spend their tokens at brick-and-mortar stores. Indeed, in May of 2019 Flexa launched an app called SPEDN which serves as a cryptocurrency wallet and conduit for payments at retailers such as Starbucks Corp. (SBUX) and Nordstrom, Inc. (JWN). In this way, bitcoin has outpaced all other digital currencies currently on offer, making itnthe most usable digital currency in the mainstream business world at this point, at least when it comes to payments.

Altcoins

Altcoins, or digital currency alternatives to bitcoin, tend to see lower levels of acceptance among major companies. Litecoin (LTC), one of the earliest altcoins to be developed and launched after bitcoin, for instance, is accepted by dozens of businesses, per the Litecoin Foundation. However, a glance through this list reveals that few of these businesses are major international corporations and that most of the entrants on the list are cryptocurrency exchanges and specialized online stores. This is fairly representative of many other altcoins as well.

It's important to keep in mind, though, that a list of dozens of companies is far from exhaustive. For this reason, it's helpful to look to other resources to get a glimpse of where things stand. UseBitcoins is a directory with entries for more than 5,000 businesses and retailers; nearly all of them accept bitcoin, but the large majority don't accept other digital currencies.

Coinmap suggests that some 75 businesses in New York City currently accept bitcoin payments. Some of these work exclusively with bitcoin, even going so far as to house their own bitcoin ATMs.

In the end, it's difficult to assess which cryptocurrency may be able to break into the mainstream business space most decisively. Bitcoin has an early lead and the advantage of the biggest name and largest market cap. However, altcoins continue to grow in popularity relative to bitcoin. For the time being, no cryptocurrency has effectively overtaken fiat in any part of the world. In the end, it may be payment apps like SPEDN which most dramatically open up cryptocurrency payments to real-world applications. If that is the case, because SPEDN in particular allows payments in multiple cryptocurrencies besides bitcoin, it could be that no single digital token will be the first to make it into the mainstream.