Back in 2014, the internet saw the launch of OneCoin, a Ponzi scheme peddled as cryptocurrency by Ruja Ignatova, a Bulgarian fraudster who remains wanted by authorities worldwide, including the FBI. The British newspaper The Times called it one of the biggest scams in history, embezzling $4 billion from millions of investors in 175 countries. The Missing Cryptoqueen, as the title of a BBC podcast dedicated to her read, had convinced them to purchase digital tokens and packages of educational materials for hundreds of thousands of dollars. The promise, as scripted, was always the same: an easy, immediate and zero-risk gain.
Many other scams have followed; most recently, CoronaCoin, a financial speculation on Covid victims, the extent of which is currently difficult to measure. A simple yet macabre scheme: there are 7.8 billion people in the world, and each one is given a token, which increases in value every time there is an infection or a death and, therefore, the population decreases.
Financial swindles have of course always existed, as demonstrated by the incredible story of Charles Ponzi who, with only two dollars, earned 15 million in a few months, swindling at least 40 thousand people. That was back in 1920. The methods are changing, a letter sent by post, a phone call from a self-styled broker, an e-mail from the fake bank, and today the fake cryptocurrency. The common thread that seems to bind all scams, and which still makes them possible today, is the absence of adequate information and education, of a solid literacy both on economic issues and on the digitalisation that underlies them. And this lack of knowledge can easily lead us to fall into a trap or, conversely, to distrust everything that is new and unknown.
How much, then, do we really know about the new financial reality, its instruments, risks and possibilities? How prepared are we for the economy of the future? To find out, during Phygital Week, we followed PHYD’s talk “The disruptive influence of Fintech“, hosted by Paolo Piva, with Riccardo Carnevale, Partner & Head of events of Starting Finance, the largest Italian community of young people passionate about economics and finance, Gianluca Comandini, member of the blockchain task force for Mise, and Ivan Mazzoleni, CEO of Flowe, a Mediolanum Group benefit company dedicated to innovation and sustainability in the field of digital banking services.
Blockchain, anti-fragile technology
There are now an estimated 1,500 cryptocurrencies or virtual currencies in the world, the most famous of which, created in 2009 at the height of the economic crisis, is Bitcoin. We are talking about virtual currencies, which exist and are exchanged in peer-to-peer mode only by telematics and only by knowing the access keys for their decryption. These new international payment methods lay the foundations for a radical transformation of the current economic system. Gianluca Comandini explains why: “We have been using the same monetary system for 10,000 years and we have always needed a trust infrastructure. Today, however, we are moving towards progressive decentralisation and disintermediation. In a few years’ time, therefore, cryptocurrencies and the blockchain may make all those jobs — 60% of them — that rely on trust brokerage systems disappear. In practice, however, they will create new ones instead”.
While blockchain technology has been around for more than a decade, it is only now that we really understand its functionality and future potential. In this respect, the pandemic has been an incredible accelerator, leading many companies (not only start-ups) to invest resources in this new and, to some extent, unexplored world. This is why, Comandini tells us, we can define blockchain as the perfect expression of anti-fragility, the ability to turn a crisis into an opportunity.
Study is the secret word
Riccardo Carnevale cites the 2019 Consob Report, according to which 54% of Italians do not know how to calculate a percentage and 30% ignore instruments such as current accounts, bonds, mutual funds and, of course, Bitcoin altogether. Italians are also unable to recognise a good investment or to weigh the resulting risk. It is clear, he says, that what is lacking in our country is a solid financial culture and education. So how can we work from the ground up? There is just one solution: study, but perhaps it would be more correct to say, acquire a new mindset.
Ivan Mazzoleni believes that education is an essential keystone of change and lies at the heart of Flowe: “We want to educate the Next Generation on the issues of innovation and sustainability, we want to raise awareness in the management of our own resources, with the ultimate aim of fostering an entrepreneurial spirit. You have to become your own entrepreneur, to not depend on anyone, to be the pilot and not the passenger of your own life”.
So what is the role of schools and universities? For the lecturers, there is a profound gap between reality, its rhythm, and the current school system, provocatively defined by Mazzoleni as ‘the factory of unemployment’. According to Comandini too, schools are lagging behind society, so new channels and a new methodology should be found to prepare young people for the future, not only to face it, but also to recognise its prodromes in the present.
More than teaching problem solving, problem finding should be taught. What counts is asking the right questions.
Ivan Mazzoleni, CEO of Flowe
The economy of the future will be better
What will the future hold? Gianluca Comandini tells the story: “Today we no longer have the certainty of natural scarcity to attribute value to, the only thing really scarce is that which is artificially scarce, like Bitcoin, mathematically created to be scarce. And what else? A song, a painting, a work of genius. I believe in a new Renaissance in which our currency standards, our safe haven assets, will be the work of art. Tomorrow, my son or grandson will probably invest their savings in Lucio Battisti’s music catalogue or, if they want to risk it, they will choose a niche artist.”
We need to look for new reference points, blockchain, AI or something else. We have to ask ourselves what will happen not tomorrow, but the day after tomorrow, only this will allow us to go and see beyond.
Gianluca Comandini, member of the Mise blockchain task force
The greatest scarcity, Mazzoleni points out, the most precious currency is happiness. He believes in the better being economy, in an economy not aimed at profit, but at a more sustainable lifestyle with a strong social impact, which focuses on the individual, his talent, his raison d’être, perfectly expressed by the well-known Japanese concept of Ikigai, one’s own happiness.
Find out what you love to do, get good at it, make your work profitable and make an impact on the world.
The new economy is not about scams like OneCoin, it is not about apps that reshape our experience as customers and consumers, nor is it about the intangibility of cryptocurrencies. Owing to digital technology and, above all, to a different way of looking at the day after tomorrow, as Comandini would say, the new economy is much closer to its original etymology, that οἰκονομία, which in ancient Greece indicated the ‘administration of the home’, i.e. a place that we know, that we inhabit, that we have designed according to our needs and in which we can live happily. A place like home or like the whole world.
You can view the talk and learn more about these issues by registering on the PHYD website.