1
Jun
2022

Crypto knocking on the WEF’s door: The view from Davos

The spectacle that is the World Economic Forum (WEF) came to a close in Davos, Switzerland on Friday, May 27. Nearly 3,000 people from over 110 countries took planes, trains and helicopters to the highest town in Europe to lobby leaders and push and query the WEF agenda.

And, while the war in Ukraine took center stage during the WEF, climate change played the hero and economic recovery was the damsel in distress. Meanwhile, blockchain and cryptocurrency featured as — at the very least — a supporting role.

As Soramitsu CEO Makoto Takemiya described during a Global Blockchain Business Council (GBBC) panel taking place on the WEF promenade, the industry bigwigs and “financial elites” amassed in Davos. The WEF 2022 had “barbarians” at the gate in the form of crypto and blockchain enthusiasts.

This was the first in-person WEF since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the presence of blockchain companies many participants was large. All down the Davos boulevard, shops and cafes temporarily transformed into showrooms for corporations and big business while the crypto companies stuck out.

Alex Fazel, chief partnership officer at Swissborg told Cointelegraph that “back at WEF 2018, there was only one major pro-crypto event and numerous other talks were stressing the dark sides of crypto.”

In 2022, world leaders and monetary disruptors rubbed shoulders at the Crypto House, the Blockchain Hub, Polkadot Hub, LAN Space, the NFT Shop, GBBC Central and the Filecoin Foundation — which had converted a former Catholic church into a crypto conference hall. Conspicuous at best, crypto was hard to miss.

Map of the Davos blockchain locations for the WEF.

Even the WEF itself now features a dedicated website for blockchain technology. Plus, bankers openly discussed digital currencies during a panel on the WEF main stage. In a video interview with Cointelegraph in Davos, Brad Garlinghouse, CEO of Ripple Labs, explained that while crypto used to be a dirty word, the trendline is now “positive.” Garlinghouse told Cointelegraph that the “presence of crypto is dramatically different.

Swissborg’s Fazel summed up the bubbling crypto sentiment as newbies and nocoiners (those yet to invest in crypto), took their first steps into the space. “There was more attendance at the Web3 pavillions than Web2 like Meta:”

“During WEF 2022, on top of dozens of crypto conferences, events and parties, the crypto space occupied between 10–20% of the entire promenade across the private sector, excluding the governmental pavillions.”

Ultimately, when the CEO of MasterCard features on a blockchain panel perched next to Bank for International Settlements researchers and crypto enthusiasts to openly debate the demise of SWIFT, as well as the dawn of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs), it’s clear that digital currencies have made the mainstream. 

For Thierry Aryz Ruiz, CEO of AgAu, blockchain as a focal point of the WEF goes without saying: The issue revolves around how the world’s elite manages the innovation. Ruiz told Cointelegraph, “with CBDCs and increasing regulation, we may see darker applications of Blockchain as a tool of control.”

Daniela Barbosa, general manager at Hyperledger and a WEF veteran, agrees with Ruiz. The WEF is certainly smitten with blockchain technology. However, she also posits that we shouldn’t be “scared” of CBDCs. Barbosa decodes the sentiment in an upcoming Cointelegraph Youtube interview. Subscribe here.

Daniela Borbosa, general manager of Hyperledger and Cointelegraph.  

Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin (BTC) are hatched out of a desire to separate money from the state — not embolden fiat money. Yet, the WEF, blockchain and crypto are increasingly entangled. Ruiz expanded on the point: “Great minds bump into each other, genuinely with good intentions” at the WEF. In view of looming regulatory concerns, however, he shares “they can also pave the road to hell if left unchallenged.” Ruiz signals a note of caution:

“The pandemic has evidenced that too often, people sacrifice their freedom in exchange for a false sense of security. We shall never forget that such a trade likely results in the loss of both.”

On regulation, during a decentralized finance (DeFi) panel discussion moderated by Cointelegraph, Sam Yim, 1inch network adviser and former banker, explained that regulation is a speeding train. “Either you climb onboard or you step out of the way.” For good or bad, regulation of the crypto space is coming.

On the upside, regulation may reassure the curious and the coy about the rigidity and longevity of the space. Indeed, for some WEF attendees, it was the first time they interacted with crypto. At the Cointelegraph farewell party held in partnership with Polygon, Davos coin stole the show. Partygoers could spend Davos coins at the bar, enjoying a “seamless checkout experience,” thanks to a pilot project pioneered by Ammer technologies.

Whether regulation impedes or stimulates growth, the theme that Bitcoin and crypto is for everyone permeated through. In an all-women panel hosted by Cointelegraph editor-in-cheift Kristina Lucrezia Cornèr, questions such as “Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto, who remains pseudonymous, could very well be a woman” were raised.

For some WEF attendees, proximity to power and to the regulators attending the WEF could gain the upper hand. Nas Daily, Youtuber, social media influencer and a recent crypto convert, told Cointelegraph that he wanted to be at the WEF to be close to regulators.

Related: UN agency head sees ‘massive opportunities’ in crypto: WEF 2022

“The true influencers are here. They’re not on your Instagram newsfeed,” he told Cointelegraph. He shared his Bitcoin investment strategy with Cointelegraph which began in March — taking his Youtube channel along for the ride.

In all, whether crypto is the “barbarians” at the gate, a future tool for the WEF’s disposal or a means for economic empowerment for all, the view from Davos is that crypto is here to stay. When the WEF returns to its usual wintry service in January 2023, regulation will likely be the burning issue. The question is, what face will it wear?