During these past months, Bitcoin was on the mind of every finance enthusiast in Thailand. This is no coincidence: in fact, the stories of COVID-19 and Bitcoin in Thailand are inextricably linked. The global pandemic drove the Bank of Thailand to reduce interest rates to a record low in hopes of keeping the economy afloat. Incidentally, this has come at the expense of consumers relying on savings accounts for their interest payments. Faced with a decrease in income across the board and a drastically diminished range of recreational options, the public has turned to investment—a pastime once limited to those in higher income brackets—as a source of entertainment and revenue. And, thanks to the help of homegrown tech startups and influencers, no longer the niche interest, Bitcoin became a household name overnight.
In the recent survey by Ipsos in Thailand conducted in February 2021 over 500 Thais confirmed just that 88% of Thais have at least heard of Bitcoins. And many plans to invest in it. However, barriers remain, including the availability of discretionary income (“cold cash”) for the young and understanding for the old. Still, with the right level of risk management, Bitcoin can for the first time truly make finance and investment accessible to the masses in Thailand.
Bitcoin Rich, Bitcoin Poor
In September 2011, two years after the cryptocurrency’s introduction, one bitcoin was worth 4.82 U.S. dollars (approx. 146 Thai baht). A little over nine years later, at the time of writing, BTC surpassed the all-time high value of over 60,000 U.S. dollars (approx. 1.8 million Thai baht)—that is a growth in value of more than a million per cent since 2011. Many early adopters became known as “Bitcoin millionaires” over a relatively short span of time. It thus comes as no surprise that 68% of Thais interested in or currently trading in bitcoins cite the desire to quickly make money as the reason for their interest—the most commonly cited reason. However, despite its volatility, Bitcoin is no less attractive for those seeking long-term investments or retirement options. In fact, 42% are interested in Bitcoin for this reason. Surprisingly, this is only the third most common reason. The second most common? The simple desire to learn more about the cryptocurrency (59%)
Age an Important Factor
On one hand, 45% of Thais over the age of 50 express disinterest in Bitcoin—the dominant sentiment in this age group, and they do so at a much higher proportion than younger groups. On the other hand, 40% of 18- to 29-year-olds are interested in Bitcoin despite never having invested. In contrast to the older population, such sentiment is the most common sentiment for the youngest group. Just as it is with any technological innovation, the older one is, the less likely one is to be interested in adopting it.
Age may also be representative of another barrier to the adoption of Bitcoin: the low level of understanding of how Bitcoin and blockchain—the infrastructure behind it—function. Given that the decentralized system powering Bitcoin is quite a break from the centralized monetary system most are used to, the unwillingness to put money in something one barely understands is not surprising. The study’s results reflect this accordingly: amongst those aged 40 and above, the lack of understanding is the most cited reason for the rejection of Bitcoin (28% amongst 40- to 49-year-olds, 21% amongst above-50s).
When it comes to the younger generation, the social aspect cannot be neglected. 18- and 29-year-olds are the most likely to publicize their interest in cryptocurrency with their friends and family. More so than any other age group, the youth share their investing experience with the belief that will be good for others to know (82% of 18- to 29-year-olds). However, interest does not necessarily translate to action. Amongst those who are not currently investing in Bitcoin, 29% of them say they do not have enough cold cash for Bitcoin investment—with the proportion being the highest amongst 18- to 29-year-olds (37%)
But Gender? Not So Much
Bitcoin investment — and finance in general — have always been thought of as a boys’ club. Numerous data from cryptocurrency trading applications in the United States have confirmed this skew towards young male users. However, this study paints a different story, at least for Bitcoin investors in Thailand. In fact, there is no significant difference between the number of male and female Bitcoin investors, prospective investors, or rejecters amongst Thai bitcoin investors.
Despite Setbacks, Bitkub Still Dominates
The study shows Bitkub as the most popular exchange on the Thai market with 72% of all respondents indicating they trade the cryptocurrency on Bitkub, while Binance and Satang Pro come distant second (27%) and third (13%), respectively. The Thai start-up was arguably responsible for bringing Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies into a wider audience in Thailand, thanks to its large-scale marketing campaign across Bangkok and its omnipresent CEO. However, Bitkub’s 4-day trade blackout in January 2021 and its ongoing suspension (at the time of publication) of new users registration both dealt heavy blows to the leading application’s credibility and image of reliability. Despite gains by Satang Pro, a home-grown competitor with more attractive fees, it is remarkable that Bitkub by far remains Thais’ predominant trading platform, attesting to the effectiveness and durability of its marketing strategy.
A Bitcoin Future?
Clearly, Bitcoin is no longer in a niche as it used to be. Ipsos’s survey shows 42% of those who possess interest are planning to invest in bitcoin within 1 year. On one hand, this bodes well for Bitcoin advocates who wish to see wider adoption of the cryptocurrency. However, its risks and complexity prevent this hope from coming to full fruition, partly due to it being perceived as extreme risk-taking. While its high volatility is the overarching concern, the risks can be managed. Instead of treating Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as reckless gambling, the government should work closely with exchanges and financial institutions to inform investors—both current and prospective—of the full extent of Bitcoin’s benefits and risks. With the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines, the pandemic is due to run its course, but Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies will be here to stay.