How Electronic Money Will Change Your Life

Bitcoin, fintech, blockchain—will it affect me?
From the January 2017 Trumpet Print Edition

Manfred has a bit of advice for Heinz, who owns a bakery in Frankfurt, Germany: “The world is rapidly changing, my friend! If you don’t adjust your business today, you might be out of it tomorrow! Start digitalizing.”

Heinz isn’t sure what digitalization means, so he starts researching. He learns that it describes the integrating of digital technologies into everyday life. Heinz scratches his head. I already have a full electronic cashier system; all my price tags are digital, and I use software to keep track of much of my business. What more could I be doing?

He forgets about it and puts another batch of Brötchen in the oven.

A week later, Manfred stops by to see how his friend is doing. Seeing that Heinz has not acted on his advice, Manfred tries again to persuade him of the need to adapt. “Heinz, the world around you is changing,” he says. “You are one of the few businesses where customers still largely pay with cash. Cash-free payments are becoming more and more attractive to the everyday shopper. And all those paper contracts you store in your office will soon be redundant. You have to adjust—the world around you is changing.”

Manfred has the inside scoop because he works in Frankfurt’s banking sector, where these technologies are starting to receive increasing support politically and economically.

A Revolution in Banking

Electronic currencies like Bitcoin attempted to be independent from the banking system and the government. They failed to achieve that goal, but that doesn’t mean electronic currencies will not be part of the future. Bitcoin raised awareness of the new banking technology. The established giants are now looking for ways to make use of digital currencies. More and more people believe the efforts will lead to a revolution in all forms of business.

For many years, banks and start-ups considered each other threats. The start-ups hoped to totally replace the banking system; the banks hoped to totally stamp out the rising start-up scene. But the fact is, the banks have the power, influence and money—and the start-ups have the technology, innovation and vision. Now they are starting to see how they can complement each other.

Manfred is thrilled about the looming revolution and shares his excitement with Heinz. “The banking world is about to get its revolution,” he explains. “We want to establish a network where we are all so interconnected with each other that transactions will just take seconds, and the money will be immediately available for our trading partners! New contracts based on and executed by these technologies will save billions! A shared registry will make the so-called ‘clearing houses’ null and void. This will make our work much more efficient.”

Heinz still isn’t convinced. He struggles to see how abstract changes to the banking sector will affect his small business. “I’m a baker, not a banker!” he tells Manfred. “Financial technologies? What does that have to do with me?”

“Many business owners like you make the mistake of thinking you won’t be affected by the banks’ decisions. But that’s ignorance,” Manfred answers. “Did you know that the big central banks—those at the very top—are already preparing for a world without cash? Quite a few monetary authorities of the G-20 countries are looking for ways to replace the current currency with an electronic one! This financial crisis might actually lead them to try something innovative, even revolutionary, to solve their problems. It may be something that enables them to start all over, maybe with fewer nations involved.”

Manfred further explains that early on, financial technologies (“fintech”) were seen as something that would only impact banks and trading firms. But it has now become evident that they will fundamentally alter the personal and commercial finances of the everyday man.

In 2015, $330.5 million was invested in the German fintech scene. And that was just the spark of a growing revolution in the country’s banking sector. Frankfurt and Berlin are gearing up to take the lead in this revolution. Brexit, Britain’s June 2016 decision to leave the European Union, made victory for German entities all the more likely. One can expect Europe’s financial capital to shift from London to Frankfurt, where major trades will soon be conducted. Before Brexit, London led the start-up scene for new digital technologies, but this too is shifting to the Continent—with Berlin and Frankfurt leading the way.

With both the financial capital and the start-up scene moving toward Germany, Europe is rising to become a tightly interconnected financial center. This will usher the world into a new age. London never wanted Europe to unite in this way, since it would grant vast power to Germany.

The puzzled Heinz still struggles to understand how this will affect his bakery.

Manfred starts to explain: “Blockchain technology makes it possible. You can imagine it just like a chain that connects all the transactions you ever made. This means you don’t need physical contracts anymore. You don’t need cash or middlemen. All you need is to be a part of that technology. It’s basically a digital record of every step you and your business partners take. It leaves a digital fingerprint, and all involved leave their signature. If a payment is not made or a condition is not fulfilled, it’s noticed immediately, and you always have evidence of each transaction.

“If you are not part of that technology, nobody will want to trade with you,” Manfred continues. “In today’s business world, blockchain has become a buzzword. The impact it might have is hard to fathom. Some compare it with the Internet revolution, others with the innovation of the wheel! It’s still unclear how it will revolutionize the world, but few experts doubt that it will. And what we know so far gives us a good indication of what to expect.”

What the Digit-World Will Look Like

By 2020—just a few years from now—Heinz the baker may live in a world whose finances look like those of a science-fiction movie. Cash is obsolete. Paper contracts are nearly nonexistent. Bureaucracy is handled digitally. Transactions are made within seconds. Everything is digital.

A customer enters Heinz’s bakery and swipes his chip or phone to pay for a box of Käsekuchen. At the same time, the customer signs up for a “smart contract” offer, where he agrees on purchasing two loaves of bread each week, getting a third one free. The technology is preprogrammed and makes sure that all due payments are made and that the customer receives his purchases on time.

In an article for Handelsblatt, former German economics and defense minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg described how the installment payment for a new sports car could also be based on such a contract: “Suppose in a few years, because of your midlife crisis, you buy a wickedly expensive sports car from a slick car dealer, and you pay it in installments. However, your divorce is expensive and you cannot manage the third installment. Nonetheless, you want to cruise through Italy in summer; maybe [you want to] even stay there until your dealer or his lawyer notices that you are already over the hill—quite some time could pass [without notice] in the present year of 2015. The following could never happen with the blockchain technology: When you want to break up, your sports car remains closed. Here, not a classic contract (which can be easily bypassed) or a third party, but a digital “smart contract” prevents you from breaking the contract. The individual constituent parts are ensured self-sufficiently and digitally—triggering the installment payment, but also the digital closing of the sports car in the event of default” (Nov. 28, 2015; Trumpet translation).

Let’s imagine that a few more years pass, and Heinz’s business hits a low point. He finds himself unable to pay his bills. In this digital world, his unpaid bills cause his smartphone, laptop and tv to deny him access. His electricity and water supply are automatically canceled. After failing to pay rent for three months, his card key will no longer open his apartment. He finds himself excluded from all public services as he refused to pay taxes to the system he now abhors.

On the other hand, an electronic currency based on such a technology might revolutionize the merchandising between nations.

Remember the euro? It was quite a revolution in Europe. Without the euro, Europe would not have been nearly as successful as it is today. It made trading far easier because it eliminated the need to constantly switch from one currency to another. Now imagine if the next currency is electronic. Money transfers would take seconds instead of days. And instead of having centralized authorities to confirm transactions, everybody that has access to the blockchain would confirm them together.

What that means is that the world of trade would get its highway. Businesses and banks would not have to wait days to get the money for their goods. They could deliver immediately after a smart contract is made. Transfers overseas could be concluded at a much faster rate.

But the current problem that undermines the whole innovation is that different enterprises try to implement the technology in different ways. There are no set standards and regulations that businesses go by, so everyone tries to do their own thing. Here might be an open door for a government to take control of this innovation. Such control would give everyone in the market standards, regulations, relative trust and also security from cyberattacks.

If a government leads such a nationwide digitalization, as Mr. Guttenberg often suggests, a revolution could take shape in just a few years. And there is indication that this is happening.

Revelation Completes the Picture

Back to Heinz and his bakery. He managed to adjust to the technological advances and still marvels at the world around him. The nations in Europe have become much more interconnected, and, for a short time, it seems like they all get along pretty well. Within a few years, the implemented technologies allowed the European nations to rise to new heights, and they find themselves to be the financial center of the world.

Since Europe was first to implement these technologies, Europeans received an advantage in the business of merchandising. Their trade with each other is soaring, and so is their trade with the rest of the world. Their long history with Latin America and this new age of technology allows them to make trading deals with ease and on a scale that the world has never seen. Suddenly, it seems like all global trade is getting channeled through Europe. Everybody that wants in on the big deals has to talk with Europe. The Europeans become the merchants of the world. People start wondering: Who can challenge this superpower?

Heinz sees that he made the right decision to digitalize early on. His bakery is booming, enabling him to take over many other bakeries. One morning, he sits in his main office enjoying his goodies and a cup of coffee while reading the newspaper.

An ad grabs his attention. It reads: “The world you live in was prophesied in your Bible.”

Heinz is keen to find out what that is about. He thinks that such an age of incredible innovations could hardly have been foreseen by ancient writers.

Nonetheless, his interest is sparked, and he orders the literature offered in the ad. In it, he reads that the Prophet Isaiah foretold that Europe would become the “marketplace for the nations” (Isaiah 23:3; New King James Version). He also sees that the book of Revelation warned of a rising merchant power in the heart of Europe more than 2,000 years before it happened. He sees that in Revelation 18, the word “merchants” is used four times to describe the people of modern Europe.

Then he reads Revelation 13:17: “[N]o man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.” What could this mean?

This literature explains by quoting what world-renowned educator Herbert W. Armstrong wrote in 1952: “Everyone wants to be able to ‘buy or sell.’ In this scriptural usage, the expression ‘buy or sell’ more literally indicates being able to buy—not that stores or those from whom one might make purchases of the necessities of life would refuse to accept the money, but that the one refusing the ‘mark’ would not be able to buy, would not be able to earn a living, to earn a wage or salary, or to engage himself in business” (emphasis added).

Suddenly, Heinz remembers the words of his friend Manfred who told him years earlier that if he would not be part of that new technology, he would be out of business.

Fascinated by his discovery, he talks to Manfred about these prophecies. But Manfred dismisses them as “crazy conspiracies.” “Bible prophecies? Who put that nonsense in your mind? Do you want to be out there like all those other crazy fellas shouting, ‘The end is near, the end is near? Or do you want to keep making good money?”

Heinz is shocked: Why can’t he see that these things that are happening are directly described in the Bible?

This is discouraging to him, but he continues his study.

The Mark of the Beast

Heinz then finds out that the Bible prophesied that Europe would unite, and that it would be pared down to 10 nations (Revelation 17:12-13). He is even more fascinated to learn that even Europe’s relationship with Latin America was prophesied. And that it was prophesied Europe would replace America and Britain as the world’s top superpower, financially and otherwise.

Now he wonders what exactly the “mark of the beast” is. He requests Herbert W. Armstrong’s booklet Who or What Is the Prophetic Beast? and finds out that the mark of the beast is setting aside Sunday as a day of worship.

Mr. Armstrong’s booklet reads, “The Roman church caused people to receive the mark of pagan Rome—the Sunday observed by the pagan Roman Empire—and the penalty for disobedience was death! Fifty million or more were put to death—so says history.”

Referring to Revelation 13:16, Mr. Armstrong continued: “The Sabbath commandment is the only commandment the world will not accept in its mind (forehead) and obey (by work or rest, with the hand). It is the only commandment that can distinguish between those who have the mark of the beast or the sign of God. …

“Yes, the mark of the beast once again will be enforced! No one will be able to hold a job or engage in business without it. … But if you obey God—if you are watching, praying without ceasing—you shall be accounted worthy to escape—and come under Gods protection (Luke 21:36).”

Heinz remembers that over the years he was always encouraged to close his bakeries on Sunday, but that nobody was able to force him to.

But if the government would now enforce a six-day week and establish Sunday rest as it often promises, then everybody would either accept that “mark” or be out of business the very next day. Hence this new technology is not the prophesied “mark of the beast,” but it could be a powerful tool used to enforce it.

Heinz decides to trust the Bible more than the government and promises himself to never take on that mark, but to instead rely on God’s protection.

If that sounds like a good decision to you, request our free booklet He Was Right to find out about the future prophecies concerning Europe and this world. Also request our free booklet Which Day Is the Christian Sabbath? by Mr. Armstrong to find out how to receive God’s protection in this rapidly changing world.