How Circle could win the stablecoin game
I first met Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire in Manhattan’s Bryant Park in 2014 when the company was a small startup seeking to depose Coinbase as the go-to site for buying Bitcoin. How times change. When I sat down with Allaire on Wednesday, he was hosting a major conference in San Francisco where speakers included Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary and chair of the House Financial Services Committee, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).
The San Francisco event is serving as a charm offensive as Circle tries to reassure skittish regulators that crypto is respectable. But it’s also a victory lap of sorts for Circle, which now holds around $50 billion in reserves for its USDC stablecoin, and is poised to be a major player in the next era of global finance. Today, Circle’s partners include Robinhood and Block (a.k.a. Square) as well as onetime rival Coinbase, and the company is making inroads with major institutional players like BlackRock.
All of this comes as validation for Allaire who, for nearly a decade, has been working to build an internet-native form of money while staying on the right side of regulators. After a few pivots and major stumbles (such as buying toxic crypto exchange Poloniex), Circle appears to have landed on a winning business strategy with USDC.
While Circle’s main stablecoin rival Tether still enjoys a larger market share, the latter’s fast-and-loose approach to auditing and compliance has made it radioactive to regulators, and it’s hard to see how Tether can be much more than a tool for offshore crypto casinos. Meanwhile, Circle’s efforts to make inroads with mainstream finance are likely to be turbocharged thanks to the rate for T-bills (where Circle parks most of its reserves) climbing toward 4%—a development that will translate into more than $1 billion in pure profit for the company.
Allaire believes that, in five years, all of this will translate to USDC helping drive the cost of money transfers to near zero, freeing up billions for companies to invest elsewhere. He also expects the USDC protocol to emerge as a platform on which hundreds of companies build applications that transform lending and credit markets.
It’s too soon, of course, to know whether Circle will achieve Allaire’s long-term vision, not least because of the regulatory climate for crypto. Right now, a key piece of legislation that would let companies treat stablecoins like dollars on their balance sheets is held up in Congress for the foreseeable future, and big banks are doing what they can to thwart the plan. In the long run, though, the opportunity to disrupt the existing system with stablecoins appears to be Circle’s to lose.
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