This past week, I was invited to speak about Web3 at Mastercard’s LAC Presidents’ Summit in Paris. The event coincided with the UEFA Champions League Final (which they sponsor). It was a great honor to participate. The summit was attended by some extraordinary people and, like my friends at Mastercard say, the experience was “priceless.”
The match between Liverpool FC and Real Madrid CF at Stade De France gave me my first up-close-and-personal view of global soccer fandom. It was absolutely incredible! There were lots of “big feelings” on display, and it will not surprise you to learn that every fan I spoke to was ready, willing, and able to clearly articulate their predictions about how the match was going to go (and why).
Like members of all communities of passion, communities of practice, and communities of interest, soccer fans view the soccer world through a lens that has been ground and polished by their personal experiences. Or, as Mark Twain said, “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
During the summit, I had the pleasure of spending time with several bankers, financial professionals, and business leaders. While everyone agreed that it’s too early to make predictions about how the world of crypto, Web3, and DeFi are going to go, there was one common thread: to a banker, crypto looks like money. I’m not sure that’s a good thing.
What Money Looks Like
Before I go deep into what concerned me about what I heard this past weekend, I want to be clear that the ideas I am sharing with you are the product of few dozen conversations with individuals who run, own, or work for huge financial institutions and very big businesses. They are the O.G. Importantly, this is not academic research, and I’m not suggesting that this essay is anything more than anecdotal. After all, it is early days.
That said, what I mean when I say “to a banker, crypto looks like money” is just that. Everyone I spoke with believes that regulators will ultimately treat crypto the same way they treat money. Full KYC, reserve requirements, insurance requirements, and on and on. In the collective view of the vast majority of O.G. money professionals I spoke with, crypto = money, and the consensus was (I’m paraphrasing) “until it is fully regulated, it’s not going to matter.”
The Power & Promise of Web3
Non-technically speaking, one main attribute of a Web3 initiative is to empower communities of interest, practice, or passion to share in the value they help create. (Importantly, there is no agreed-upon technical definition for Web3.)
At the soccer match, fans used fiat money to exchange value (pay) for their tickets, merchandise, food and beverages, etc. The fans created the value, but they did not share in it (other than the experience of attending the match). Fans at home and around the world experienced the match on various media distribution platforms where (again) value was created by fans, but not shared by them.
If — hypothetically speaking — UEFA was built on a Web3 platform, the community of passion around soccer — specifically the financial aspects — could be very different. UEFA (the platform), players, coaches, commentators, media distributors (creators), and fans (users) would all have easy, trustless ways to remunerate each other for the value they create. It would be possible to apply a new level of innovation to the storage and exchange of the value created by the soccer’s community of passion.
That won’t happen.
When I brought up the idea that tokens from a fantasy soccer league might have utility, be fungible, and exchangeable for stablecoins, CBDCs (central bank digital currencies), or other crypto, I was met with responses such as, “That’s a barter system,” or “That’s a Ponzi scheme,” or some other pejorative or seriously dismissive admonition. I was being schooled by the O.G. about the way the world “actually works” and why governments and banks and “big money” will never let crypto and Web3 reach its full potential (even though none of us know what that full potential might be).
As I was being told (in many different ways) why crypto and Web3 are just some tech that the financial industry will deal with (BTW, I’m sure they will), I could not help but think about the fate of Kodak, the company that invented digital imaging.
Kodak was the leading manufacturer of photographic film and paper. It was a practical monopoly. Digital imaging was a threat to both its film and paper divisions, and there was no way that management was going to introduce a product that would cannibalize those business units. Kodak was one of the iconic brands of my youth. While we still say things like, “What a great photo!”, it’s been years since anyone has taken a “photograph.”
Did a digital image = a photograph? Does crypto = money? Just something to ponder as I share the digital images of my weekend experience with my community.
Author’s note: This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it. I am not a financial advisor. Nothing contained herein should be considered financial advice. If you are considering any type of investment you should conduct your own research and, if necessary, seek the advice of a licensed financial advisor.