Emerging Insights

Which Countries Use Cryptocurrency Most?

By Constantinos Papantoniou, MBA, GISP

Cryptocurrency symbols around the world

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A recent survey on cryptocurrency uncovered where in the world the trend is growing fastest—and business leaders may want to take note. For global B2C companies, a location-based view of cryptocurrency use could drive decisions on where and when to introduce alternative payments into their own operations and customer interactions.

Some executives might be surprised by the results of the 74-country Statista Global Consumer Survey. In fact, the top five countries for cryptocurrency use raise new questions about how consumer habits are changing. When viewed through the lens of location intelligence, those findings could influence business strategies both in the near term and for years to come.

Uncharted Business Territory

Cryptocurrency has emerged as a disruptive force in digital finance and an object of fascination for investors. Between May 2020 and February 2021, the cryptocurrency market jumped from around 66 million owners to more than 100 million, according to Crypto.com. In April 2021, Bitcoin and several other popular digital coins hit all-time high values, and Coinbase, a leading cryptocurrency trading platform, went public with a value of US$86 billion. It’s a market rife with volatility but also opportunity for growth, and proponents of the technology say it’s time for businesses to start paying attention.

Some B2C companies already have. Overstock.com and Expedia are among global brands that currently accept crypto payments. Likewise, popular digital payment platforms Venmo and PayPal now support peer-to-peer cryptocurrency transactions, while Tesla’s on-again, off-again relationship with Bitcoin has drawn recent headlines. Small businesses are adopting the trend, too: approximately 22,230 cryptocurrency venues—including ATMs and local businesses—exist worldwide, according to Coinmap.org.

But accepting or investing in crypto remains risky for businesses. The value of cryptocurrency can be unstable—in early June, Bitcoin’s value was 44 percent below its April high—and the currencies themselves are unregulated. Although blockchain technology secures transactions behind virtual addresses that protect against misdirected payments, there have been questions about security. Before Tesla CEO Elon Musk ended a short stint accepting Bitcoin payments, the company’s Bitcoin FAQ page mentioned the possibility that transactions could be lost, misdirected, or hacked.

For businesses considering cryptocurrency options, the relative dearth of data about who uses these digital currencies and why has complicated decisions about whether the pros outweigh the cons.

[For more details on the blockchain technology that underpins cryptocurrencies, and how location intelligence intersects with blockchain, read this WhereNext Think Tank interview.]

Where in the World Is Cryptocurrency Used?

Now research is opening a door for business leaders seeking more information before creating and implementing a cryptocurrency strategy. Visualizing crypto use on a map provides a new perspective on this growing tech trend.

According to Statista, the countries with the highest cryptocurrency use per capita were not fintech powerhouses like China and the US. Nigeria ranks as the most active market for crypto with 32 percent of the population saying they own or use cryptocurrency. In Vietnam, 21 percent of residents are crypto users or investors, while that number is 20 percent in the Philippines and 16 percent in Turkey and Peru. The report also found double-digit percentages across Latin America, and noted that Switzerland and Greece were the only European countries to make the global top 10.

With information like this, businesses can make decisions about where to begin introducing cryptocurrency transactions to their operations. In early 2020, Burger King parent company Restaurant Brands International started accepting Bitcoin at Burger King locations in Venezuela—another Latin American cryptocurrency hot spot.

Whether it’s a decision about cryptocurrency usage or another operational innovation, companies often turn to a geographic information systems (GIS) for a location-based view of business and customers. GIS-powered maps and dashboards help companies monitor trends in specific regions and adapt operations to match local demand.

The Geographic Context behind Consumer Trends

Location technology contextualizes economic and demographic data for a deeper view of why cryptocurrency is popular in certain regions.

For example, Bitcoin.com reported last year that economic challenges in Nigeria had spurred interest in Bitcoin and led to the creation of myriad local crypto exchange services. Three of the top five countries in Statista’s report (Vietnam, the Philippines, and Peru) seem to exhibit similar conditions: countries with historically low access to banks or financial services, high foreign exchange rates, and a high incidence of remittance payments from family working abroad.

In places like the US, on the other hand, cryptocurrency has been largely viewed as a long-term investment with limited online purchasing power, according to Gemini’s 2021 State of Crypto in the US report. With the global strength of the US dollar and the high percentage of the US population able to access financial services, there’s likely less need for Americans to utilize cryptocurrency as a day-to-day alternative to fiat payments or traditional banking.

That may change as US banks and others—including Facebook—begin to adopt blockchain technology for routine transactions—including the creation of new digital currencies. Nicknamed “stablecoins,” these bank-issued coins could provide faster local and international transfers with fewer fees, without many of the drawbacks of independent cryptocurrencies, backers say. Business executives will want to follow these developments as well, as new blockchain-based payment systems could catch on with consumers in different regions, increasing expectations for their use.

Mapping Crypto Strategies with Location Information

As a financial tool, cryptocurrency offers different opportunities for different groups—and many of the motivations for its use can be traced to location-specific conditions. For business executives wanting to understand whether they should offer cryptocurrency transactions to their customers, geographic context will be essential to understanding when, where, and how that should happen.

Whether it’s cryptocurrency, the adoption of green products, or changes in shopping behavior, monitoring trends through a location-based lens adds valuable perspective to business decisions. Asking where often reveals unseen patterns and unexpected answers that pave the way for smarter and better-informed business strategies.

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