If you’re reading this story in the U.S., you’re probably someone who’s heard a lot about Bitcoin, but doesn’t know anyone who actually owns any.
If you’re a European reading this story outside the Eurozone, or perhaps a resident of Hong Kong or Russia, the reverse may be true: A majority of your compatriots may not have heard of Bitcoin, but anyone sophisticated enough to have read up on it now likely owns some.
As Bitcoin enters its fifth year in the wild, its largest concentrations of users can now be found not in the U.S. — which enjoys a stable banking system and a galaxy of existing mobile payments services — but rather in places where Bitcoin’s core offerings — a hedge against inflation, a means of quickly executing transactions over long distances — can actually be tapped into.
“The reality is that in North America, consumers have access to a fairly decent set of financial services,” Peter Smith, COO of Bitcoin wallet firm Blockchain, told BI in an email. “This isn’t the case in the majority of the world. In fact, a huge portion of the world has little to no access to anything that would give them an even base level of financial capabilities.”
Here is what the chart looks like for per-capita downloads of Bitcoin software from SourceFourge. In the lead are all the countries in Europe that have not yet adopted the Euro. The U.S. ranks 15th.
On a currency basis, RMB-denominated Bitcoin transactions now outrank USD despite a seemingly never ending stream of threats out of the People’s Bank’s of China that they will end all transactions.
The list of most Bitcoin nodes, or Bitcoin transaction confirmation servers, by population also shows the U.S. barely cracks the top 10, although there is a bit of a skew towards countries with cooler climates.
Even in Europe, there are more than a dozen countries who don’t use the euro, making cross-border transactions on the continent problematic.
Ironically, overall investments remain concentrated in the U.S., though that may simply be a function that this is where the money is. Still, a third of all Bitcoin VC funds are now outside the U.S.
In an interview with BI last month, Jeremy Allaire, the founder of digital currency payments startup Circle, admitted that while the service is aimed at 18-34 year-olds across the world who have digitized everything else in their lives, he said he wouldn’t be surprised if there were inordinate concentrations of adoption in places like Turkey and Brazil with shaky sovereigns.
“We’ll be wathcing to see orgnailly where pockets of users come,” he said.
Further evidence can be found at Bitpay, which just closed on the largest-ever round of funding for a Bitcoin investment firm. The location of the firm’s newest office? Amsterdam. Its other two offices outside its Atlanta base are in Buenos Aires and Montreal.
Smith named Russia, Indonesia, Malaysia, East Africa and South America as Bitcoin’s next major growth regions, thanks to their “wildly volatile” currencies and/or large underbanked populations.
“At Blockchain.info, we are seeing huge growth come from emerging markets,” Smith said.