Sunday, April 14, 2024

So What IS Cryptocurrency – and Why Does This Woman Think NZ Needs Our Own? A Kiwi Entrepreneur’s Unconventional Journey to Success

If you’re like us, your entire understanding of cryptocurrency will start and end at Bitcoin – and that’s not to say we even really understand what Bitcoin is! To help break through the confusion, we speak to the CEO of Kiwi company Easy Crypto Janine Grainger about one of the most misunderstood areas of finance and investment.

Janine co-founded Easy Crypto in 2018 to offer a secure, simple and easy-to-understand way for everyone to get involved in the cryptocurrency market. Just three years after launching, Easy Crypto has transacted more than $1.1 billion dollars in total sales. Janine is currently advocating on behalf of the industry in Parliament’s Finance and Expenditure Committee enquiry into regulation of cryptocurrency in the New Zealand market.

Capsule: Hi Janine! Firstly, Can you explain very simply what cryptocurrency actually is – and why do we need it?

Janine: Cryptocurrency is a way to transfer value that’s fully digital and doesn’t require any intermediaries (third parties) such as banks. It allows you to send money instantly anywhere in the world without the need for a bank or a credit card to process a transaction for you.

At the moment, cryptocurrency exists a bit separately from the traditional world of money, but there’s a lot of bridges being built between those worlds. Easy Crypto is one of those bridges – it allows you to buy and sell cryptocurrency.

With low to no fees and no barriers to entry, cryptocurrency is an incredibly powerful way to democratise financial services by making digital payments and other financial products and services easily accessible to more people.

Crypto is becoming a more common component of a well-diversified portfolio. A recent Financial Services Council survey found one in five Kiwis have considered investing in crypto and one in 10 already have.

It should be treated just like any other investment, in that it carries a degree of risk and the potential for returns. As more investors take crypto on, it is becoming less volatile and can give high returns, so I believe any modern diversified investment portfolio should have at least 1% invested in cryptocurrency.    

Why do we need a NZ-specific cryptocurrency?

It’s an interesting idea that the Reserve Bank of New Zealand is consulting on right now. A few weeks ago, Nigeria became the first African nation to launch its own digital currency, or Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) as it is known.

There’s a lot of reasons why Reserve Banks around the world are looking at doing this. Crypto has been seen to improve financial inclusion by helping those marginalised and unbanked by providing a trustworthy secure system with easier access and lower fees.

The crypto sector is extremely transparent and makes it hard to hide criminal usage and environmental impact.    

Digital money is also programmable, which means you can tell it to do different things based on different conditions. For example, imagine you are a small business that accepts payments electronically. The IRD can set up a system that automatically remits 15c of every dollar you receive, so you don’t have to worry about setting aside funds to pay your GST bill at the end of the year.

If CBDC is something that interests you, check out what the Reserve Bank of New Zealand is considering and have your say on what you think New Zealand should do.

Can you tell us a little about yourself, and how your interest in cryptocurrency began?

My career path has been somewhat unconventional! My approach has always been to do what’s interested me, which has led me to collect a lot of different skills, all of which have proved fantastically useful for where I’ve landed today – as the CEO of a fast-growing start-up. I didn’t really enjoy school and I left as soon as I could, then waited until I was in my mid-20s before going to uni.

During that time, I worked in all sorts of jobs, gained some great experience and figured out what I really enjoy. I’m fascinated by the psychology behind how money works and the human behaviour that drives what people do with it, so I studied economics and tacked on a finance degree at the very end, thinking it was a qualification that would make me more employable. I quickly realised it wasn’t something I wanted a career in!

Studying later also meant that by the time I got to uni, I had the skills and experience to command a higher salary, so I graduated with no student loan, a decent skill set and enough savings to buy my first house aged 26.

From there I went on to work in local government and as a consultant at PWC. This led to a few years in strategy for a couple of New Zealand’s biggest corporates – Westpac and Air New Zealand – and on the side I founded Easy Crypto with my brother Alan.

I first got involved in cryptocurrency in 2014 when I came across Bitcoin. The internet had given us a global village where we could communicate instantly all around the world, yet we didn’t have a digital payment system. It just made so much sense to me that we needed a global payment system to go with the global village.

In 2017 when Bitcoin started to hit the headlines, it was because people were making money out of it – the interest was driven by speculation. That wasn’t the case for me. My interest stemmed from a genuine belief that cryptocurrency is something that adds value by giving people a way to transfer value, receive payment for work, send money to friends and family and earn as equal global citizens, no matter where they are in the world.

As a woman in tech and finance, do you think you face any additional challenges?

Unfortunately, yes. We see a lot of amazing female role models across all industries, and I think that lulls people into a false sense of security that we’ve achieved equality when we haven’t. I also think a lot of people assume that because they wouldn’t discriminate against a woman, most others wouldn’t either.

I recently raised $17million in a Series A funding round for Easy Crypto. Off the top of my head, I can think of three examples of overt gender discrimination that I encountered during that process. One man told me: “I never thought I’d invest in a company run by a woman.” Another commented how it was really good of Easy Crypto to send a woman to represent them.

On more than one occasion I was asked if I plan to have children. What’s so disappointing about that is that it’s grounded in the assumption and cultural expectation that the burden falls on females to fulfil domestic duties and care for children and always will, when in fact stay-at-home dads are increasingly common. To face that kind of prejudice is unhelpful if you are a female founder and for society in general.

Those are just examples of people who are prejudice enough to state their thoughts out loud. There’s no way I can prove that because I’m a woman it was harder for me to fundraise, but there are studies that show women are so much less likely to get funded for their ventures than men. It’s something I would love to change and bring awareness to by letting people know that these attitudes still exist and are not uncommon.

“One man told me, ‘I never thought I’d invest in a company run by a woman.’ Another commented how it was really good of Easy Crypto to send a woman to represent them.”

Janine Grainger

You describe cryptocurrency as one of the most misunderstood areas of finance – what do you think the biggest misconceptions are?

I think the main misconception is the environmental impact of cryptocurrency. Interestingly, Bitcoin uses less energy than all household fridges in America. According to the Bitcoin Mining Council, the global Bitcoin mining industry now uses 56% sustainable energy, but information like that rarely shared by the media. The difference is that the impact cryptocurrency has on the environment is much more transparent than any other financial investment, or in fact most other activities in life.

For example, if I watch something on YouTube or invest in a stock, I don’t have any idea what the footprint or energy consumption of that behaviour is. Separating impact from transparency is really important. With cryptocurrency, you get a crystal-clear understanding of the impact of your actions.

The transparency of cryptocurrency is incredibly powerful and drives innovation. The bad news stories we so often hear about Bitcoin focus on first generation issues. The equivalent would be if the media were to still report on the first ever mobile phones – how they weighed a kilo, took ten hours to charge for only ten minutes’ talk time. Meanwhile the industry – and consumers – have innovated and moved on. There are similar misconceptions are around criminal activity and money laundering, but the environmental impact of cryptocurrency is probably the biggest. 

How would someone begin their cryptocurrency journey?

To start your cryptocurrency journey, you need two things. To set up a virtual wallet to transfer funds and store your digital assets, which can be downloaded as an app on your phone, and find a platform – such as Easy Crypto – to buy and sell cryptocurrency.

One of great things about crypto is that your wallet acts as your bank. Your funds aren’t held on the platform you buy and sell on like a bank – they are completely in your control.

Next, you’ll want to start exploring which cryptocurrencies you are interested in. Everyone’s financial situation is different, and you’ll want to seek advice, but I believe diversification is a really important part of wealth building and cryptocurrency is a space worth looking into to achieve that.

Knowing which cryptocurrencies you want to invest in can be daunting. Think of it like buying shares – you’ll want to understand what a company is doing, what their future outlook is, who the team behind it is and whether you think it’s a concept with legs before you put your money into it. A good place to start is our Live Rates page, which tells you what other New Zealanders are buying and offers lots of information about each different cryptocurrency, so you can start to build an understanding of what you think has value.

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