For those of you who have not been paying attention to one of the biggest trends in investing and tech, cryptocurrencies are digital currencies using encryption techniques that regulate the generation of currency and verify the transfer of funds, operating independently of a central bank. Units of currency are created through a process referred to as mining.
While it is spent online, Bitcoin is essentially like a form of cash in this regard – the person in possession of the funds is effectively the owner, and if the private keys which authorize spending are stolen, there is little recourse. While one can often track the movement of stolen funds on the blockchain, it’s impossible to reverse the transaction, making Bitcoin holdings a popular target for cybercriminals.
Coinbase had announced in late September that it is looking to quickly add new cryptocurrencies that meet its standards and meet local law compliance. The exchange recently started supporting Ethereum Classic, and now there’s talk that it could list Ripple as well. The exchange has justannounced that Coinbase Custody, its branch providing custodian service for institutional investors, is now adding support for Ripple (XRP).
Updates and other decisions are made by the ‘miners’. Miners use computers or specialized hardware to generate large amounts of computer processing power, and this is used to operate the network and process transactions. In return, they receive transaction fees. They will also receive freshly generated bitcoins until the last bitcoin of the 21 million BTC supply is ‘mined.’ At the current pace of mining, this will happen in the year 2140. If Bitcoin is still around, the miners will be incentivized to do their work for the fees alone, keeping the network up and running.
The other 2% of customer funds, held online, are covered in the event of a breach of Coinbase's online storage. Also, Coinbase holds all customer fiat currency in custodial bank accounts, on behalf of customers. So, if you have fiat currency in Coinbase, in a USD wallet, it is covered by FDIC insurance up to $250,000 (just like a "regular" bank). This protects customer assets (so long as they have been converted to fiat currency) even in the event of Coinbase becoming insolvent.
Theft isn’t the only way to part with your Bitcoin. There are frequent reports of people losing the keys to their wallet, and again, this is much like losing cash - there is no way to recover the funds without the keys. It’s estimated that approximately 20% of all existing Bitcoin has been permanently lost. However, given that Bitcoin is a finite resource, some argue that this simply increases the scarcity and theoretical value for other investors.
Ripple positions itself as a complement to, rather than a competitor with, Bitcoin - the site has a page dedicated to Ripple for bitcoiners. Ripple is a distributed network which means transactions occur immediately across the network - and as it is peer to peer - the network is resilient to systemic risk. Ripples aren't mined - unlike bitcoin and its peers - but each transaction destroys a small amount of XRP which adds a deflationary measure into the system.