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Consumers aware—and wary—of virtual currency

50% know about it—only 3% have used it

Consumers aware—and wary—of virtual currency

Fifty-one percent of respondents to a national survey by the Massachusetts Division of Banks had heard of virtual currency, although awareness varied by gender, race, income, and education levels.

The survey was an effort by a task force established in March by the Conference of State Bank Supervisors to examine developments and regulatory issues in the area of emerging payments.

“The Task Force is studying payment systems and virtual currency developments to help state regulators develop coordinated regulatory approaches,” says CSBS President John Ryan. In April 2014, the Task Force issued Model Consumer Guidance to support state regulators’ efforts to provide consumers with useful information about virtual currencies. 

The goal of the survey is to better understand the public’s awareness of and attitudes toward alternative currencies. “State regulators welcome innovations that lead to greater choice and lower costs, but we also want to understand any consumer and marketplace risks as we evaluate the overall benefits of virtual currencies,” says Massachusetts Commissioner of Banks David Cotney, who chairs the task force.

Other results of the survey include:

• Individuals with higher incomes or higher education levels were 60%-80% more likely than lower-income or less-educated consumers to know about virtual currency.

• Men were more likely than women to be aware of virtual currency.

• Consumers learned about virtual currencies mostly from the internet or television. This is in contrast to how consumers traditionally obtain information about financial products from banks and credit unions.

• While there was awareness of virtual currencies, there were a limited number of individuals willing to buy or use virtual currency.

• Only 3% of respondents reported having purchased or used virtual currency.

• Younger respondents were most likely to have purchased Bitcoin or another virtual currency.

• Hispanic and African-American consumers indicated they would be more willing to purchase virtual currency than white consumers.

• Overall, 65% of all respondents indicated that they were unlikely to ever purchase or use virtual currency.

Consumer attitudes about virtual currency may be influenced by concerns about whether or not these currencies are secure, insured, or regulated. More than 65% of consumers polled said that these concerns were important factors that would influence their decision to purchase any virtual currency. 

John Ginovsky

John Ginovsky is a contributing editor of Banking Exchange and editor of the publication’s Tech Exchange e-newsletter. For more than two decades he’s written about the commercial banking industry, specializing in its technological side and how it relates to the actual business of banking. In addition to his weekly blogs—"Making Sense of It All"—he contributes fresh, original stories to each Tech Exchange issue based on personal interviews or exclusive contributed pieces. He previously was senior editor for Community Banker magazine (which merged into ABA Banking Journal) and for ABA Banking Journal and was managing editor and staff reporter for ABA’s Bankers News. Email him at [email protected]

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