Hundreds of Bitcoin users flocked to Miami Beach this weekend for the North American Bitcoin Conference.
Bitcoin is a form of digital currency that Florida Atlantic University finance professor Charles Evans says will change the way international business is conducted.
"Bitcoin's greatest strength is in small-scale, international transactions," Evans says. "For example, I can have some value on my telephone that I can spend to someone in Botswana, and that person can have that value in 10 minutes and we are able to do trade this way without ever having to worry about inefficiencies within the banking industry [or] bank fees."
Users gathered at a Bitcoin-accepting restaurant in South Miami Wednesday to kick off the conference. Chef and owner of the Latin House Burger & Taco Bar Michel Sanchez says Bitcoin sets his business ahead of the curve.
"Even though we’re a restaurant and we’re just accepting payment, we’re in the beginning stages of something that is life-changing, and so we’re really excited about it," Sanchez says. "I [think it is] the way of the future and I wanted to be part of it before anyone else was."
Using Bitcoin is as simple as scanning a QR code with a Smartphone. Similar to PayPal, Bitcoin users send payments from one account to another. According to Moe Levin, one of the organizers of the conference, using Bitcoin is a user-friendly form of currency.
"Bitcoin is like an e-mail," Levin says. "You can send an e-mail to anybody in the world, and Bitcoin is like the attachment, which is money. It's not more complicated than that."
Evans agrees that Bitcoin is easy to use, especially in an international context. He also says that contrary to popular belief, Bitcoin is actually one of the safest ways to spend and save your money.
"There is no CEO, there is no company, and the system is driven by military-grade encryption, meaning there is no single individual who can just shut it down," Evans says. "If you wanted to shut down the Bitcoin system, you’d have to turn off the Internet, so that makes it markedly resilient to attacks from the outside."
He also says South Florida is the perfect place for Bitcoin use to catch on because of its access to international trade.
"With Bitcoin in South Florida, they’re like a hand in a glove because we have a lot of family-operated import-export businesses," Evans says. "[Bitcoin] can save people on banking fees, it can save people from money being misrouted."
Saving on fees is another reason business owners like Sanchez accept the form of currency.
"It protects us in the long run," Sanchez says. "When you pay in Bitcoin, then we keep it and it’s ours. But if you pay for it with your credit card ... they can take the money back from my account."
The peer-to-peer exchange system has created a lot of doubt around Bitcoin as a legitimate form of currency. But Evans says the lack of central bank is what gives Bitcoin its validity. He says the entire system of Bitcoin users can see the pseudo-anonymous transactions, which is how those transactions are deemed credible.
"The likelihood of anybody hijacking [the system] is remarkably low," Evans says. "It’s this looking over everybody else’s shoulder and having the shared record of transactions that gives it its power and its strength."
This weekend's conference will feature several keynote speakers as well as workshops for merchants and panel discussions led by banks, government officials and regulators.