Today Dr. Sean Smith joins us to discuss how governments may begin bringing centralized currency to the blockchain.
Sean Stein Smith is an Assistant Professor at the City University of New York (Lehman College), serves on the Advisory Board of Wall Street Blockchain Alliance, where he also chairs the Accounting Working Group, and chairs the Emerging Technology Interest Group of the New Jersey Society of CPAs. He was an America’s Future Foundation Writing Fellow during the summer of 2020. Sean has been named 40 under 40 in the accounting profession by both CPA Practice Advisor (2017-2019), and the New York State Society of CPAs (2020) in addition to receiving the NJCPA Ovation Award for Innovation in 2019. He was a Visiting Research Fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research, focusing on blockchain, cryptoassets, and the economic impact of these technologies during 2019. His research has been quoted in dozens of scholarly and practitioner publications, and he is a regular speaker at accounting and technology conferences.
Forbes column – https://www.forbes.com/sites/seansteinsmith/#34abe02561cf
*Disclaimer. None of this information is financial advice.
The following transcript was created using artificial intelligence. There will be some grammatical errors below.
00:00:03:09 – 00:00:25:13
Richard Carthon: Hello everyone. Welcome to another episode of Crypto Current, your host here, Richard Carthon and today I got a very special guest that has been in the Blockchain and accounting world and works on all kinds of amazing things as a writer in Forbes and a writer in all kinds of incredible blogs and putting out incredible educational content which is what you know Crypto Current is all about. We have Dr. Stein Smith. How are you doing today?
00:00:27:03 – 00:00:28:27
Sean Stein Smith: Doing great Richard, thank you for having me.
00:00:28:29 – 00:00:35:13
Richar Carthon: Of course. Thank you for joining us. And before we dive into everything, how about you give us a bit of background on yourself?
00:00:36:12 – 00:01:44:08
Sean Stein Smith: Yeah sure. So, basically my background in the Blockchain, so Crypto asset space is sort of twofold, right? On the one hand, I’m on the faculty at Lehman College and so there I’m trying to cover accounting topics, audit topics trying to weave in Crypto, Blockchain and other emerging I.T. tools, into courses into the classroom over here. And then over here, it’s more of a hands-on sort of market space angle, right? I’m on the board of advisors of the Blockchain Alliance, where I’m also the chair of the Accounting Working Group and I’m also on the advisory board of the Crypto payment, Gilded, who is trying to solve two of the biggest problems out there or trying to get Crypto to become more mainstream to be used by enterprises, by trying to get that user experience better, easier and to try to also have the various Crypto platforms be able to interoperate with each other.
00:01:46:04 – 00:01:50:08
Richard Carthon: That’s great. I mean, quite the extensive background for sure. And I mean honestly.
00:01:50:10 – 00:01:50:25
Sean Stein Smith: I do a lot of stuff.
00:01:50:27 – 00:02:17:02
Richard Carthon: Yeah, I mean and we’re definitely gonna dive into a lot of that. And one of things I want to bring up first was that you know, back on episode 102, we had Joey with Gilded come on the show, so if anyone goes back and listens to that, that’d be awesome, but you know, above all that you know, you’ve been in this space for a while, you’re obviously working on all kinds of amazing and impressive projects. How did you first get introduced to the Crypto and Blockchain space in the first place?
00:02:17:29 – 00:03:16:12
Sean Stein Smith: Sure, so I’d say I got introduced to the idea of well, Blockchain, right? I’d say back in 2013, 2014, when I was working on my PhD thesis, right? And sort of the whole topic that I was trying to analyze was how could companies make better use of technology to then put out better data on a continuous basis. And so then I uncovered this idea of Blockchain, which I thought was a really cool idea, but kind of an abstract concept, but then obviously following that and sort of getting more and more into it, it really opened up my eyes to see all applications of it, both in accounting, in finance and then outside of it. And then I would say my introduction to the Crypto space I’d say started I guess right about 2014, 2015, right That’s sort of the first big time application being built on a Blockchain.
00:03:16:20 – 00:03:47:27
Richard Carthon: Right. That’s awesome. So I mean, you’ve been in this space for quite awhile now, right? So as you were looking at different ways to get involved and figure out how to get accounting on the Blockchain and other Fintech and even learning about Crypto itself, you know, at which point were you like, This is what I want to spend my life on at this moment? This is what I want to educate myself on and educate others in. What was it about the technology slash like what are you currently doing to continue to educate everyone in this space at this point?
00:03:49:04 – 00:04:04:18
Sean Stein Smith: Sure, so I would say sort of that bell moment went off, right? That sort of clap moment happened I would say would have to be in the middle of 2016, early 2017, right? And obviously in 2017, Bitcoin you know, popped up.
00:04:04:28 – 00:04:05:13
Richard Carthon: Yeah.
00:04:05:15 – 00:05:39:21
Sean Stein Smith: And so as all of these different you know, talking heads on Bloomberg, Fox Business, the whole gamut started to talk about Bitcoin, started to talk about Blockchain and all of these other thought leaders that I always try to sort of tune in to sort of get ideas from started to actually talk about it as a idea, but also as a business tool. I was like, Wait a second, so if all of these other people are getting on board, right? With this idea of a Blockchain and how it can impact business at large, I figured that I should probably go back you know, brush up my knowledge and then keep learning and keep educating, right? Because the core point that I come across, as I’m sure all of us do here, right? You and all the folks listening, is that even now, right? In 2020, there is still a big information gap out there. People think about Blockchain and Crypto and then actually where the space is right now. And so I felt that I had the background, right? Because before going into higher education and more of a sort of advisory role, I was in the industry for about 8-ish years working with I.T. finance accounting projects, so I had that technical background and I had the interest and I had the energy. That’s why I figured that I was in a good spot to get educated and to help others sort of get more educated on this topic.
00:05:39:26 – 00:06:24:29
Richard Carthon: For sure. And one of the cool things that’s happening slash like I think is spectacular is there’s a giant spotlight that’s being put on the Crypto and Blockchain space in this moment and especially with news coming out you know, that banks can start having custody and that you know, you’re seeing an influx of new money being poured into the Crypto space, especially in the altcoin space and decentralized finance, just everything that’s going on right now. Even with DCP that came out with China trying to create its own digital currency, I’ve been hearing rumors that you know, there will be a centralized form of digital currency at some point and I know this is something that you’ve been talking about a lot lately. Can you kind of expand upon that and give us a deeper dive into that?
00:06:25:27 – 00:07:06:14
Sean Stein Smith: Sure, yeah. And so the biggest sort of piece of feedback that I commonly get when I talk about more, which essentially manage Crypto is someone from the Bitcoin bros out there, who I love dearly, but in order to actually get Crypto to go more nation and to be used by me, you, our parents, our friends as a medium of currency, right? To actually be used as currency, there is gonna have to be some clarity in terms of oversight, how it’s treated, what are the custody rules all of that and really the only way to actually get that oversight clarified and I do know that there’s this push and pull out there, right?
00:07:07:08 – 00:08:34:09
Sean Stein Smith: The whole idea of Crypto was to operate in parallel or outside of the traditional financial system, but in order to get mainstream people that should use it, they are going to have to have some kind of comfort, as far as how these assets are going to be treated, used and stored. And so really sort of this overall shift, right? Which I always call The Big Shift, I’d say started at the end of 2017, right? This whole pivot from really Bitcoin being the dominant player out there, the main focus of everybody, right? Individuals and institutions on a public Blockchain and then gradually, 2017, 2018, 2020, there has been a shift in a pivot towards more of a private, more of a social, more of a hybrid model. And I do think that the current news, again in 2020, China has launched its own version of a Crypto asset, actually managed by their central bank in I believe four individual cities in China right now and the Congress here in the U.S. held two hearings on the idea of trying to actually tokenize the dollar in June of 2020. And in 2020 alone, I believe 20 bills linked to Blockchain or Crypto have been put forward in upper Congress.
00:08:34:11 – 00:08:34:26
Richard Carthon: Yeah.
00:08:34:28 – 00:08:56:19
Sean Stein Smith: So it really is a big change going on and that’s kind of going on under the surface, right? Because on an average day basis, right? Bitcoin is always going to be the headliner, altcoins are on the rage right now, but this big pivot, right? And in order to get Crypto mainstream, which I believe is the goal that all of us want, right?
00:08:56:21 – 00:08:57:08
Richard Carthon: Right.
00:08:57:17 – 00:09:15:29
Sean Stein Smith: There is going to have to in order to convince people that it’s safe, regulated and that I can trust in it, there is going to have to be more oversight, not hopefully too much and in order to get there, I would not be surprised. Ultimately there are some more centralized options out there.
00:09:16:01 – 00:10:24:10
Richard Carthon: Yeah and I would definitely echo and see the use case of having more governments looking towards Crypto slash like having some sort of central way of looking at everything for a couple of reasons. One, because if they can track things and everything’s on the Blockchain, they can see how the cash is flowing and they also can distribute money a lot quicker. For example, the stimulus when it came out, if everything was digitized, it’d be very easy to to send off everyone an equal amount of money in a way that can be checked and made sure that you’re not sending millions of dollars to people that have recently died and all kinds of other mishaps that happened during all this. My only question I guess I have with this and of course for not just the Bitcoin maximalist and the Crypto bros and everybody else, but like Why do you think a centralized Crypto entity slash Blockchain is appropriate when as you know, the original premise of Crypto in the first place was to decentralize and to give the power to the people? What do you think is that middle ground to where you can kind of get the best of both worlds?
00:10:25:12 – 00:11:36:10
Sean Stein Smith: Yeah and so to answer that question, I would say that we’re currently seeing that sort of halfway point start to come out, right? You know, Tether is probably the first and most well known asset backcoin, right? That’s issued and managed by a private entity. Now you know, Tether had their own issues in the past, but every company does. There are numerous other sorts of private entities and I think the best example for this and I know it was in some order last year, is the idea with a model put forward by Libra. And I know that it instantly came under fire and they had to go back and try to pare down the ambitions of that project, but I do think that’s ultimately sort of where we’re going to end up. Just my personal fear, right? Because obviously having a Crypto asset dollar or a Crypto asset Block, right? Issued by a central bank and a government, can also open the door to abuse of certain transactions.
00:11:36:12 – 00:11:36:27
Richard Carthon: Yes.
00:11:36:29 – 00:12:37:28
Sean Stein Smith: Or the individual being targeted, so I don’t think that’s the place where we should aim to actually go to. On the other hand, the idea of Bitcoin, it was amazing, it was great to sort of open up the entire financial infrastructure to give the power to the people, but that didn’t quite pan out, right? Honestly it hasn’t quite panned out yet, now it could always change going forward, as the marketplace evolves, but as of right now, it hasn’t quite come to be. And so I would say that the issuance of private money in the form of asset Bitcoins to that halfway point, that sort of the safe point, where individuals feel comfortable saying, “Ok fine, it’s a coin called Bitgold, so it’s a Crypto asset, but it’s backed by gold. So I kind of feel comfortable with it. I can understand that.” That’s probably where we are and where I would say most of the interest is right now, in terms of developing new Crypto assets.
00:12:38:24 – 00:13:49:24
Richard Carthon: For sure and a couple of things I want to ask slash like go to it, I actually was going to bring up Libra as a prime example because there is a ton of opportunity with what they built and from my understanding with a couple of developers I’ve spoken with, they’ve made outrageously amazing code, like Blockchain code that could truly like make everything happen faster, but when I think about the premise of Libra itself, if Libra successfully occurred, right? So Facebook itself is the third biggest country if it were to be its own entity, right? And then on top of that if Libra coin was to become the new centralized one, right? If they banked the unbanked, if everyone who goes to Facebook or whatever it is and you think about what is the standard one to everything and it’s Libra, what stops even this private institution, even though they’re governed by an outside party that if you do something that goes against their policies then now they’re like “Nope, now you can’t use this, you can’t take your money.” We take all your money and do all that from you, like because it is centralized in that sense there still opens you up to potential downfall. So can you kind of speak to that a little bit?
00:13:50:15 – 00:14:56:14
Sean Stein Smith: Yeah. And so what I would say there is that there is a role for completely private money, right? There is a home for that and there’s a home for Crypto assets issued by a government because that’s what people are most comfortable with, right? Having the money issued by the Fed, by the ECB, Japan, all the rest, but I would argue with that. Really there is almost going to have to be a drawbridge between these issuers of private money and the governments of the nations, in which that private money is actually going to be used. Okay, so the end stake could be in theory that there are a a dozen types of Crypto assets being used in a country, right? Bitcoin, we have Paxos, Stellar, Ether and then over here we have the Crypto Fiat hybrid issued at that nation state level. Okay, so it kind of sounds messy, right?
00:14:57:03 – 00:14:57:18
Richard Carthon: Yeah.
00:14:57:20 – 00:16:02:24
Sean Stein Smith: Not really, right? Because I do think that the market wants a medium of transactions that are convenient, easy to use and are actually going to be worth what they’re worth, right? Tuesday to Thursday, Thursday to Sunday, right? And I think over time as these things compete and I do think that the market is in for, probably not so much right now with all of the other stuff going on right now, but I’d say 20, 21, 22, 22 is going to be a period of fierce competition in the Crypto assets space to actually try to get a Crypto asset that can go mainstream, while not being completely under the control or the purview of any one central entity, right? Be it the Fed, be it a Facebook organized entity or some other type, but to the pushback that I get sometimes, right? Right because I’m talking about 20, 30 different types of currencies being used in a country kind of sounds a little chaotic, right?
00:16:03:26 – 00:16:04:11
Richard Carthon: Yeah.
00:16:04:13 – 00:17:10:00
Sean Stein Smith: But actually that actually goes to one of the core problems with Crypto going mainstream anyway, How do these different platforms, how do these different Crypto currencies interoperate with each other, right? What’s the baseline for how these all are valued versus each other? And so in order for this conversation to actually go any further, right? Even to get to that complicated phase, there has to be some sort of baseline as to how these currencies can trade versus each other in real time and there is also the possibility that there are going to be different Crypto assets used actually for alternate purposes, right? There are thousands of ETFs out there, right? And it’s totally fine, right? Because each ETF is targeted towards a certain audience, towards an asset class or some area and so it could ultimately end up being that there are different Cryptos being used for different actual uses.
00:17:10:29 – 00:17:48:04
Richard Carthon: Got it and thanks for expanding upon that. You know, just just like you said earlier, we’re at the beginning of this and like there will be something that I think does kind of bridge all this together, because like you said, the biggest friction point in the Crypto and Blockchain space is that it’s not easy and also that in a lot of ways, you become your own bank and you have to be secure in yourself and like how you set up everything. A lot of people don’t want to do that, they don’t want that responsibility, they don’t want that stress and so they would rather you know, maybe give up some of their own freedoms of money in a sense to make sure that they are secure.
00:17:48:08 – 00:17:49:20
Sean Stein Smith: Yeah, absolutely.
00:17:49:22 – 00:18:50:02
Richard Carthon: And on that note as well, like one of the other things that I think that’s ultimately going to happen like you said, when you think about everything that’s in the market, a lot of it is pegged back to Bitcoin. It’s always like whatever your coin is, pegged back to Bitcoin, or pegged to Ethereum or pegged to like one of the top five Cryptos, right? Or it’s pegged back to the U.S. dollar or the euro or whatever it is, like there’s still some sort of base and I agree that there’s going to be a competition to eventually all of those are going to go merge into this one and like everyone’s just going to understand like, Okay from now on, this is where one starts and then you can go and do all of the different types of currencies that are out there, so I would agree that’s what’s ultimately probably going to happen and the competition is where is it going to come from? Is it going to come from a country that’s a central entity and like going back to DCEP, I think they have a leg up because they’re trying to do it first, they’re trying to figure this all out and they will and I think that’s going to put them in a very powerful position going into the next decade.
00:18:52:06 – 00:19:54:26
Sean Stein Smith: I would agree, right? Because I do know that there are countries out there that have now put that publicly as a goal, right? At that sort of nation state level, China and Russia both are two countries that actually have a Blockchain and Crypto outlined as an area of focus and of targeted research and asset allocation through 2025 and 2030. And yeah, I mean, ultimately if a country or an organization can sort of get that killer the Blockchain, right? To have data stored in a safe manner that’s accessible, portable, understandable and actually compatible to other platforms, I mean, that nation, well that entity, is going to have a tremendous start going forward because then it’s going to be a lot easier to build other applications like Crypto, like whole entities operating on that Blockchain platform. Absolutely.
00:19:55:14 – 00:20:38:20
Richard Carthon: For sure. So I mean, thanks for expanding on all that and everyone listening, you might wanna go back and re-listen to all this because I really think he, what Dr. Stein and Dr. Smith’s talking about, aka Sean is talking about is everything that is going on right now is going to shape I think the next five to 10 years of like where ultimately currency in all shapes and fashions are headed. And on that note, Sean, What do you think is on the horizon in the Crypto and Blockchain space in the next three to 10 years? That I mean, of course we talked about currency and like where this is headed, but are there any other things that you think people should be aware of?
00:20:40:06 – 00:21:38:17
Sean Stein Smith: So, I would say that there are two other areas sort of if we try to pivot out of the Crypto headspace for a minute. I would say one, is this whole idea of self created content online, right? Which is a pretty basic concept to understand, right? Podcasts, you know, TikTok videos, Twitch, YouTube, all kinds of other platforms. There’s all of this content being created by individuals and all this content has to be moderated by obviously A.I. tools, but also individuals at these entities and as it seems I would say, starting up especially as it was 2015, 2016, there is a growing concern out there of bias on both sides towards individuals who upload certain types of content.
00:21:38:25 – 00:23:13:29
Sean Stein Smith: And so if there was a way that there’s a Blockchain platform to actually run an online content channel and there are a few organizations out there right now doing that for artists, music, movies, all the rest. If there was a way to sort of take away that sort of central oversight of content, I think that would open up the market for more types of content and actually let people get the issue analyzed from a broader point of view. So once Blockchain for the streaming economy and then two, whole idea of online and try online identity, online mutation. All of us are more and more working in a virtual, digital environment and so having our online image, our online persona kept safe. So if I go to Google and Google somebody, that is how I sort of formed the basis through which I actually view that individual, right? Going forward, right? And I think this is true for all of us. And so there are some Blockchain based companies out there that are trying to piggyback off of this importance of this online avatar almost and try to create a platform to better secure or better protect the online images and the online personas of people because there are issues out there. Big news, D fakes.
00:23:14:01 – 00:23:14:16
Richard Carthon: Deep fakes.
00:23:14:18 – 00:23:43:02
Sean Stein Smith: And unethical behavior that can really ruin the image of an individual or a person. That’s why I say I believe that a Blockchain for the streaming economy, the Blockchain for online protection, including online identity are the two big areas that aren’t really being talked about yet, but I would say that three to five years from now are going to be kind of front burner issues.
00:23:44:02 – 00:24:17:04
Richard Carthon: Yeah. I mean, I think you know that’s something great to put on everyone’s mind, especially on the side of the online identity, right? So I got introduced to deep fakes late last year, late 2019 and that was terrifying. Like to see, like how truly you could take something that looks extremely real and like make it completely fake. And if you had no premise, so for example, like the new generation, Gen Zers, like you literally can go back to early videos, completely change them using deep fakes and they wouldn’t know the difference unless you told them.
00:24:18:11 – 00:24:19:00
Sean Stein Smith: I know, terrifying.
00:24:19:02 – 00:24:37:15
Richard Carthon: Yeah, it really is. And so I think there will be a front where people begin to take more priority on making sure that identity is protected in that original content just like you said, the content that’s being created, there’s always a way to say like here’s where it first started, here’s where it originated and here’s how it’s been changed over time.
00:24:37:24 – 00:24:38:09
Sean Stein Smith: Absolutely. Yep, exactly.
00:24:38:11 – 00:24:50:11
Richard Carthon: So definitely keep that on the forefront of everyone’s minds. And thank you for bringing that up because yes, both of those need a lot of attention in the next couple years.
00:24:51:00 – 00:24:51:15
Sean Stein Smith: Right?
00:24:51:17 – 00:24:59:26
Richard Carthon: Yeah, very important, but Sean, thank you so much for spending time with us. You gave us a lot to think about, but what is a final thought that you want to leave with all of our listening here today?
00:25:01:05 – 00:25:47:21
Sean Stein Smith: Sure, yes, so I want to say thank you, right? It was awesome being here with you to actually talk about these things, Crypto and then sort of non Crypto topics too. And if I could just leave one final thought, I would say that really I mean, even after all the investment debate and interest in Blockchain and Crypto, it is still a very, very early. It’s the maybe third inning, first quarter, first half, depending on your headspace of this whole game, right? And it’s all been difficult to forecast where it’s going to end up, but I would say that there is going to be an increased period of competition and development over the next three to five years and so I really can’t wait to see how it turns out.
00:25:48:11 – 00:25:56:12
Richard Carthon: For sure. It’s still so early, a lot still to come and now’s a great time to begin in this space and educate yourself.
00:25:56:14 – 00:25:57:16
Sean Stein Smith: Absolutely.
00:25:57:29 – 00:26:02:17
Richard Carthon: So Sean, thank you so much. What are some different ways that people can connect with you, learn more about what you got going on?
00:26:04:07 – 00:26:18:10
Sean Stein Smith: Sure, so I say probably the best ways to get in touch with me are online. I’m on Twitter at Sean Stein Smith, LinkedIn at Sean Stein Smith and I’m on Instagram at Sean Stein Smith.
00:26:18:12 – 00:26:23:11
Richard Carthon: Perfect. Well again, thank you so much for your time today. And for everyone listening, Stay Crypto Current.
Crypto Current will be guiding all of you who are new to the cryptocurrency world to becoming a cryptocurrency and blockchain expert. Crypto Current was founded to give access to information to everyone on current events occurring in cryptocurrency and blockchain in a digestible way. Since its creation, we have created content that impacted thousands of people through its podcast, blog, and social media.