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Bitcoin stuck in its own niche

A coffee shop sign advertises that the digital currency bitcoin is accepted, in central Dublin, earlier this year. Leon Neal/AFP
A coffee shop sign advertises that the digital currency bitcoin is accepted, in central Dublin, earlier this year. Leon Neal/AFP

Bitcoin stuck in its own niche

Bitcoin, the digital currency once hailed as the future of financial transactions, is seeing growing popularity worldwide, but has struggled to make traction as a viable payment solution in Cambodia beyond a niche of dedicated users.

Steve Menger, owner of Coin Cafe, the only business in Cambodia to accept bitcoin, admitted there has been little use of bitcoin at his establishment. He attributes the slow adoption to the difficulty many people have in understanding how the cryptocurrency works.

“The reason bitcoin is not taking off is for practical reasons rather than technological reasons,” he said. “It makes it easy to send money across borders, but it is too much of a learning curve for people.”

According to Menger, there are simply not enough online financial transactions in Cambodia to encourage wider adoption of bitcoin. It also does not fill a specific need for the Kingdom’s already-limited online transactions.

“It is only useful for international transactions and that is a service that is already done by Wing or True Money,” he said.

Menger has tried to create a community of bitcoin users in Cambodia through his cafe, but estimates there are less than 20 resident users in the country. Most of his customers, he adds, are tourists attracted by the novelty of using the digital currency in Cambodia.

“Bitcoin has no practical use domestically, however, it can be considered a currency hedge like gold, to protect against inflation and diversify away from paper currencies,” he said. “But I don’t think Cambodia is ready for bitcoin yet.”

Axel Meersmans, a bitcoin enthusiast who runs MekongMonkey, a website about bitcoin and Cambodia, said that the uptake of users in the country has been slow, but he expects it will increase as more people learn about the currency’s benefits.

“There is a slow but steady increase in bitcoin in Cambodia and I get questions from new people wanting to get started with bitcoin all the time,” he explained, adding that bitcoin was useful not only for online purchases and international payments, but also for remittances.

“Bitcoin has an enormous growth potential, especially in a country like Cambodia as this is a cash-based society with a young population and a widespread use of smartphones, making it the perfect place for it,” he said.

“Once people discover how easy it is to transfer value to anyone, anywhere with just a bitcoin wallet on their phone, it can become very popular.”

Meersmans also suggested another reason that could contribute to the digital currency’s popularity – its rising value. Bitcoin currently trades at $733, up from $371 one year ago.

“In Cambodia, gold is a traditional store of value, but now young people are exploring new possibilities and discovering bitcoin,” he said.

Nhek Mab, a Cambodian bitcoin user, explained that many people in the Kingdom have not yet heard of the digital currency, but he still finds it has some uses when it comes to making online purchases.

“I use bitcoin to buy things online because it is faster and more secure than Visa or Mastercard and you don’t have to give your bank details online when you make a purchase,” he said. “Amazon now accepts bitcoin for example, but I don’t think many other people here use it right now.”

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