Bitcoin is the most visible — albeit far from a good — example of this nascent development, having attracted attention from specialists, regulators, and, slowly but surely, the public. But the crypto-currency phenomenon is far from the only example, and it is certainly not the most consequential one. Its impact, both actual and potential, is relatively limited when compared to ongoing attempts to enhance and democratize lending, borrowing, investing, and payments and settlements.
The underlying sequence of disruptive technology is historically familiar. A bold innovation suddenly lowers entry barriers for certain activities. Mechanisms emerge to enable a larger part of the population to participate in what is deemed desirable but, until now, had been hard to access. As the disruptive forces gain traction, existing business models face difficult adaptation challenges, and regulators begin to fall behind. The situation is often amplified by a natural human tendency to overproduce and over-consume hitherto restricted goods and services.
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This, of course, is what has been occurring in media for several years. The result is a proliferation of platforms for producing, aggregating, disseminating, and consuming content. Falling entry barriers and lower access costs have significantly democratized participation, whether in production or consumption. And, as hard as they try, many traditional media outlets — especially those unable to claim quite distinctive content — find it increasingly difficult to compete.
Now something somewhat similar is starting to happen in finance as well, albeit at a less frantic pace and — at least until now — in a less disruptive manner. And, as with media, the main innovations are being spearheaded by those outside the traditional institutional setup. Most consequentially, an emerging cohort of technology entrepreneurs understand the power of online/social media innovation to disrupt components of traditional finance, and are now leading efforts that include behavioral scientists and finance experts.