The Sunshine Economy
6:37 am
Tue January 28, 2014

Bitcoin in South Florida: Real Business Taking Virtual Money

In Sunset Harbor Antonio Maldonado and Jessica Londono-Sammet are aboard one of the vessels their company, The Advantaged Yacht Charters and Sales, rents out. The business recently began accepting Bitcoin.
Credit Tom Hudson

Bitcoin may not sound revolutionary but to its supporters and users the digital global currency could be the future of payment. To regulators, it's a curiosity they're viewing with concern.  And for a growing number of individuals and companies in South Florida, it's an opportunity to experiment.  

What is it?

Bitcoin is a digital currency dreamed up less than a decade ago. The "coins" are created by a sophisticated computer algorithm. There's no central government authority creating the currency. No Federal Reserve. No Royal Bank. Instead, the currency operates beyond political ties and beyond the global banking system as we know it. The currency made headlines early this year when people were spending almost  $2,000 U.S. dollars per Bitcoin. The price has since fallen to about half that, according to Mt. Gox, one of the websites quoting Bitcoin prices.

Does anyone accept this thing?

Antonio Maldonado and Jessica Londono-Sammet (pictured above) run The Advantaged Yacht Charters and Sales. They are among a small group of South Florida businesses accepting Bitcoins. They are working with a Turkish client who plans on spending more than $250,000 in Bitcoin on a catamaran sailboat. It will be their first transaction using Bitcoin and they hope to do more. They aren't worried about Bitcoin's security questions, fraud or even concerns over how clients using the currency acquired it. Instead, they view it as an opportunity to expand their yacht sales.

The curiosity around Bitcoin has attracted the likes of Wellington florist John Varvarigos to Michel Sanchez and his Latin House Burger and Taco Bar in South Miami. Both allow customers to use Bitcoin, though Varvarigos has yet to have anyone buy any flowers with it. Still, they represent the entrepreneurial spirit around the currency. And the basic business strategy of looking to lower their transactional costs. Since Bitcoin exists outside of the banking system there are no fees when a customer using it, unlike credit and debit cards which cost a business a small percentage of the transaction.

Is it safe?

Coins and bills may be tangible evidence of money but the idea of money rests in trust. Who do you trust to issue the money in your pocket? We explore that question with three South Florida business professors, Doug Emory from the University of Miami School of Business, Charles Evan of FAU's School of Business and Ali Bustamante from FIU. 

Supporters contend a strength of Bitcoin is its ability to operate outside of the constraints of the banking industry. They argue Bitcoin can be used to connect commerce from the Sahara to South Florida. However, this feature of Bitcoin is also one of its concerns. The currency has been used by the black market for everything from illegal drugs to counterfeit merchandise. How does this activity impact how regulators and banks view Bitcoin and its potential? 

So, to mimic an advertisement inquiry from an American bank: what's in your wallet?

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