South Korea is having a good year. A stunningly successful Winter Olympic Games not only thrilled and entertained the world, but coaxed North Korea – almost literally, considering the rhetoric from the White House only a few weeks previously – out of the bunker and around the negotiating table for the first time in years. That in itself would plant a country front and centre of the world’s attention at any given time, but is it also ideally-placed to be the first crypto-powered nation?

The Reasons

  • It is thought that as much as a third of the adult population own cryptocurrency of some kind – if the idea of digital currency is already mainstream, and almost everyone has at least heard of cryptocurrency (even if they don’t necessarily understand it yet), then it’s easier to take further steps to daily use. South Korea is already the third-largest crypto market, so it’s well-placed to take further steps.
  • The regulators are on it – even a rumour of cryptocurrency regulation in South Korea can affect the market in any direction. The intermittent ICO bans (and lifting of those bans) might seem confusing at first, but any and all regulation helps cryptocurrency become legitimate in the eyes of the wider public in the long run.
  • The kids are alright – perhaps more than any other country, the current South Korean government is reliant on the young vote, and this is the demographic likely to adopt cryptocurrency more readily as a day to day payment system and investment possibility. According to Henry Lee, Head of Growth at Icon, “[the government] are not going to mess that up”.
  • Trading across nations – cryptocurrency is also being widely-used as a means for Chinese citizens to get money out of the country through the Korean markets, despite “official news to the contrary”.
  • North Korea – there’s no telling where the recent thawing of relations might lead (keep your fingers crossed), but for now, sanctions are still in place. The rumours of aid being transferred into North Korea via cryptocurrency, not to mention home-grown mining and suspicions of digital currency theft mean that both China and North Korea will have a significant impact on South Korean cryptocurrency development. Even if this is only through regulation and security, that’s no bad thing. Cybercrime in other sectors has been a major factor in catapulting innovation forwards – just look at the positive fallout from Cambridge Analytica with regard to social media cleaning up its fake news act. Cryptocurrency will be no different.

What will this mean?

In theory, this will mean both a legitimisation and wider acceptance of using cryptocurrency both for investment purposes, and as a mainstream means of payment, both online, and at dedicated cryptocurrency terminals in retail outlets. South Korea is already well-known as one of the most connected countries on the world; underground train carriages have four wi-fi routers each, and over 90% of the population are connected to the internet. South Korea is very good at trying new things first; it’s not too much of a leap to imagine that being powered by digital currency is the logical next step.