Many people can intuitively grasp the obvious disadvantages of cryptocurrency—it’s risky, volatile, unregulated, and (currently) unwieldy. However, there’s additional disadvantages of using cryptocurrency you’ll only come across as a user.
This post will cover some of those hidden disadvantages.
That’s not to say that cryptocurrency can’t improve, and that many of these problems won’t eventually be fixed.
But the reality today, in 2021/2022, is that crypto is pretty complex and confusing. And especially disorganized. People should know that buying and using cryptocurrency is NOT as easy as opening a Robinhood account and investing in the stock market.
To start, you should know the benefits about crypto (“web 3.0”) and why IT IS here to stay. Go through these posts first to get a solid understanding:
- Crypto and Blockchain for Beginners – It’s All About Democracy!
- Understanding Cryptocurrency (Pt 2): Token Vs Coin
In a nutshell—what’s exciting about crypto is actually the blockchain, and how the blockchain enables users of social media platforms, websites, apps, and games, to retain their private data instead of having it sold to big corporations…
And how it allows artists, content creators, users, and players to participate in the profits of these apps, platforms, and websites instead of having it all go to the big corporations…
In this post, we will talk about these key aspects:
- The Basics of Using Crypto
- Transferring Crypto Through Blockchains (Basics)
- Transferring Crypto with Lower Fees (Avoiding ETH)
- More Hidden Disadvantages of Cryptoland Tools
- “Hidden” Advantages of Cryptocurrency
- Obvious “Unhidden” Disadvantages of Cryptocurrency to Remember
Let’s get started on some of the hidden and unhidden advantages and disadvantages of using cryptocurrency, first, by mapping out the general landscape of cryptoland today.
The Basics of Using Crypto
Like I mentioned in my part 2 post, every type of crypto whether you’re talking about a coin or a token is tied to a blockchain.
Where I see crypto (web3) as most exciting actually has nothing to do with “currency”, but everything to do about economic utility in gaming and social media platforms.
I think online games are a GREAT place to learn blockchain and crypto in a tangible use case because it often sits on the fringes of complex blockchains and illustrates how difficult using crypto can sometimes be.
There’s a really fun game out there called Splinterlands.
It’s basically like the Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh cards from my youth, except you keep and build your deck online instead of with a physical set. You battle other people to earn better cards.
You can start playing for free at Splinterlands.com, though if you want to earn daily (crypto) rewards and become competitive you should spend the $10 for the starter pack.
Anyways, to transfer crypto in order to buy upgrades (not the starter pack), you have to navigate the complex cryptoland of various blockchains.
Splinterlands has two cryptocurrencies:
- Splintershards (SPS)
- Dark Energy Crystals (DEC)
The SPS currency gives players an ownership stake in the game, and allows them to vote on key decisions just like shareholders would vote on the board of directors (or M&A) in a public company.
DEC is what you use in the game to buy or rent cards, upgrade your cards, participate in tournaments, etc.
What’s confusing is you can’t directly convert SPS for DEC inside the game, and vice versa, though you can earn SPS in their daily airdrops from having DEC in your account.
You can also earn SPS by “staking” the currency, which means locking it up for 4 weeks so it’s liquid for the exchanges, in order to earn more SPS (currently at a roughly 41.34% APR). If that sounds too good to be true, you’re right—you’re also taking on (“hidden”) risk that the SPS currency drops in value compared to USD.
Transferring Crypto Through Blockchains (Basics)
Let’s continue with the Splinterlands example, as it shows just how complex (“hidden risk”) it is just to buy some in-game cryptocurrency in a game like this. To get DEC in your account, you can follow this rough path:
- Buy Ethereum (ETH) through Coinbase
- Send the ETH to a (diversified blockchain) Wallet Provider like MetaMask
- Use a “DEX” like Uniswap to swap the ETH in your wallet to DEC
- Retrieve the DEC from your ETH Network Wallet (your MetaMask)
In this 4-step path, you’ve had to touch multiple blockchains/tokens/tools.
To give you an additional sense of the complexity of this…
Ethereum is the primary blockchain for the first 3 steps, except for Splinterlands (which is built on the HIVE blockchain). MetaMask is a browser extension (for Chrome) and simply works like a gateway to many blockchains. Splinterlands is a (.com) website. You generally have to buy ETH (Ethereum) or another crypto from a major crypto exchange like Coinbase or Binance (U.S.), and then send it through other blockchains (or gateways, tools, etc) if you want to buy other tokens (like DEC or SPS).
Each of these options has its own “hidden” disadvantages, each of which would be hidden to you unless you actually tried to do it.
1—Coinbase has a (minimum) fee of $0.99 per transaction, with a $2 transaction amount minimum. Not too bad. BUT… you can only get instant access to the funds if you pay by card. If you pay (or deposit) by your bank account (ACH), your funds are locked up (non-transferable) for 3-5 business days.
2—To transfer ETH to MetaMask (which requires blockchain code on the Ethereum blockchain network, run by MetaMask), you have to pay a heavy gas fee depending on how congested the network is. Right now, it’s alot ($40-$90+)!
3—Uniswap also has to charge the ETH gas fee since they also run the transaction on the Ethereum network. This one is $40+ based on what I can see today, which is why I recommend going through Binance instead (see below).
4—You could use MetaMask to swap from ETH to DEC instead of Uniswap, but their gas fee is $100+. Obviously not ideal.
5—I don’t know if there’s any hidden disadvantages to retrieving DEC from a MetaMask wallet after converting through Uniswap, since I did not actually do this after being turned off by the $40 Uniswap/ETH gas fee. Instead I tried to do the below.
Transferring Crypto with Lower Fees (Avoid ETH)
You can instead get DEC through this path, which is better fee-wise:
- Buy BNB (Binance Coin) through Binance.us
- Send the BNB to a Wallet Provider like MetaMask
- Use the PancakeSwap “DEX” to swap BNB to DEC
- Retrieve the DEC from your Binance Smart Chain wallet (MetaMask)
Again, there are hidden disadvantages to the steps above, which are different from the first set of steps:
1—Like with Coinbase, your BNB coin purchased through a bank account take some time, 10 business days to be exact. BNB is preferred over ETH because the gas fees are much lower (pennies), and so as the cryptocurrency moves through the various steps, it does not become prohibitively expensive.
Like with Coinbase, you should be able to buy BNB with a debit card for instant access instead of having to wait. However I had trouble with this, and am currently not able to pay this way for some reason.
Finally, Binance.us has a $20 minimum transaction amount, which is much higher than Coinbase’s $2.
**Note: You can’t buy BNB on Coinbase because Binance and Coinbase are direct competitors. Note that Coinbase is a centralized exchange, not one run on a blockchain, so it does not have a coin/token.
2—Sending the BNB to MetaMask should be pretty painless, from the Wallet screen hit “Withdraw” (upper right), and then copy+paste your MetaMask wallet ID (for the Binance Smart Chain Mainnet).
3—The official route from BNB to DEC in PancakeSwap is BNB > USDT > DEC, which suggests a route that touches 1 coin and 2 tokens (I’m no blockchain expert so take that for what it’s worth). It’s run on the Binance Smart Chain blockchain (also known as “BSC”).
The “Liquidity Provider Fee” for this PancakeSwap transaction was 0.25%, with a “Price Impact” of 1.11% (which tells you what additional spread from the market price you may pay depending on the size of your transaction).
Note that you need to have the Chrome MetaMask extension installed, and your account logged in, in order to sign the transaction that will process on the blockchain (BSC).
4—Retrieving the DEC in the Splinterlands game involves copy+pasting your MetaMask wallet ID inside the game, and that should do it.
Note that because of these troubles, I found it better to buy LTC in Coinbase and send that to my Binance account for quick access to the funds. Scroll to the bottom of this post for that exact process.
More Hidden Disadvantages of Cryptoland Tools
There’s been additional hidden annoyances I’ve observed during my short time in this space which I thought I’d share below:
MetaMask—This tool does not seem to store your recent transactions more than a few days. Some people might call that a feature rather than a bug, but it sure did make researching this post more difficult.
Also, MetaMask does not make it easy to add separate blockchain networks aside from Ethereum’s (which is the default on their extension). This is why I’ve installed a new extension called Math Wallet, which I have not used extensively yet so there might be additional hidden annoyances there.
Math Wallet lets you access a dropdown of 90+ different blockchains, which makes organizing your various cryptocurrencies (and the blockchains they live in) a cinch.
Considering that many web3.0 apps are built on different blockchains for various reasons (Ethereum is the most popular but has that gas fees problem), it’s likely that the number of blockchains you might need to move crypto around to will be higher than what’s offered with a lot of the other wallets out there.
PancakeSwap and Uniswap—If you need to convert to a more obscure crypto token like DEC or SPS, you’re probably going to need to use a “middleman” DEX platform like PancakeSwap or Uniswap.
It’s important to research which blockchains are supported by which DEX; for PancakeSwap you can only swap crypto on the Binance Smart Chain, and Uniswap is only for all Ethereum network blockchains (or Ethereum-based chains like ERC-20).
Coinbase—While technically the minimum buy transaction for cryptos is $2, you really should work in $25+ increments if you’re needing that money to traverse the blockchains.
Since the crypto you buy in Coinbase is on the Ethereum rails, you need to pay the $5+ gas fee each time you make a transfer, which means you pay going from Coinbase to MetaMask, and then again in PancakeSwap (to convert to SPS or DEC).
The better bet is probably to use Binance and its blockchain BSC, but like I said, you have that 10 day wait period which can be problematic if you’re trying to transfer funds now and their debit card transactions aren’t working for you.
Difficulty of use—I’ll admit that I’m a very tech savvy guy; I’ve got a background as an engineer and I grew up during my teen years in the age of the internet.
Navigating cryptoland has been a challenge to say the least, not to mention the technology behind how the blockchain itself runs is pretty much entirely above my head. I’ve got a general idea of the blockchain as I described it in the Blockchain for Beginners post, but that doesn’t help much when it comes to using these cryptocurrencies and transferring them around.
So I’ll say, navigate at your own risk and try to be very careful what you do and what you share. Which leads me to my next point.
WARNING—I really don’t recommend adding a bunch of crypto wallets as I can’t even imagine how anyone can keep that organized in their head. I especially don’t recommend putting your credit card or bank account information into any crypto wallet outside of the “big 2” exchanges (Coinbase and Binance, see below).
The fact that many of these new wallets/DeFi solutions are decentralized means that there is no single authority you can go to and really hold accountable. In theory, there’s nothing to stop these developers from taking the money in your wallet, or the banking data you’ve shared with their platform, and simply running away. That’s just the positives and negatives of decentralization and anonymity.
Coinbase and Binance have made big strides toward legitimizing their platforms and blazing the path for user protection in cryptocurrency, which I’ll discuss more at length below. They at least give you a good starting point for depositing some USD, and then releasing it towards different blockchains through the different coins/tokens.
“Hidden” Advantages of Cryptocurrency
I call these advantages “hidden” because I wonder if they’re not common knowledge to those people who haven’t researched crypto much.
Probably the biggest positive side to how crypto has been developing has been the progress that both Coinbase and Binance have made towards making web3.0 legitimate.
Coinbase is centralized, and recently went public through an IPO. This means that they will have to adhere to the various standards and regulations of the SEC, which is a great thing.
We should know the great things that centralized finance has created; one has been protection from much of the fraud that modern finance enables.
For example, when someone steals your debit or credit card and makes illegal purchases, the centralized financial institutions have ways to recover these funds for you. You can’t say the same about many decentralized crypto solutions.
With Binance, while the “Binance” brand itself is not based in the U.S., the Binance U.S. branch (binance.us) is basically franchising the Binance brand from Binance.com, which was headquartered in China and moved to Japan recently.
That should mean that a U.S. based entity is held accountable, and that they are taking the steps to keep the data of U.S. users “in-house” and “in-country”.
Binance U.S. is currently a privately held company, and they have a very credible person at the helm as CEO: Brian Brooks.
Brooks has a great resume, having served as Acting Comptroller of the Currency, which means he was the administrator of the federal banking system. In fact, Brooks recently participated in the congressional hearings around crypto, and had a great way of describing the crypto/web3 revolution:
Having a face to the name, and a leader to the exchange, helps give me confidence in the security of a platform like Binance.us even with its decentralized blockchain (BNB)—whether that’s true for you is up to you.
Obvious “Unhidden” Disadvantages of Cryptocurrency to Remember
Remember that both using and “investing” in cryptocurrency has some very clear risks, many of which have not been resolved in a great way yet. These include:
- Prices are extremely volatile
- Many (perhaps all?) tokens and coins are unregulated
- Acceptance as a payment is limited
- Cyber hacks seem to be rampant
- Illegal activities at a greater scale are now possible
- Losing your wallet can be easy to do and irreversible
I’ll say it before and I’ll say it again; cryptocurrency is speculation and not an investment, at least right now and in my humble opinion.
There’s just not the same level of disclosure about key financial data when it comes to thinking of these “securities” as investments, which is critical for selecting good securities for investment.
That said, I’ve said before how I think buying crypto can bring great economic utility to your life, and I’ll say it again.
Utility as it is defined in economics does not have to come from earning profits (or ROI) but instead can come from customer satisfaction.
Many of these new web3.0 solutions, like in gaming, social media, and even some NFTs, have tangible utility that goes beyond speculation in a “currency”. That’s where I see the great long term game to win in crypto—specific personal utility in whatever form it takes, today or in the future.
Note: The best way I found to get the more obscure tokens I needed immediately was through the following path…
- Buy $25 of Litecoin (LTC) on Coinbase using a Debit Card.
- = $23.51 LTC after fees
- “Send” the LTC from Coinbase to my Binance.us account (click deposit in Binance and find my LTC Address for the Litecoin Network).
- = $23.13 LTC in Binance
- Can take about 30 minutes to process
- Sell the LTC in Binance and buy BNB.
- $23.01 BNB after fees
- Almost instantly available
- “Withdraw” the BNB from Binance to MetaMask wallet through the BSC network
- Sent 0.04 BNB to be safe, as some of my other BNB was “locked up”
- Had to confirm through text, and email, that this was what I wanted
- Arrived in a few minutes, 0.0395 BNB after fees (about $0.26 in fees USD)
- Use PancakeSwap to swap BNB to DEC (or SPS). Make sure I’m logged into the BSC network in my MetaMask browser extension.
- Swapping the max = 0.03 BNB (about $15.88 USD)
- Converts to 2890.19 DEC (about $15.72 USD)
- Once the DEC is in my BSC MetaMask wallet I can directly transfer to the game. Good grief. This is the process until Visa/Mastercards are accepted inside the Splinterlands game for DEC.