'Bitcoin and cryptocurrency, or anything like that, are not really currencies, they are assets. One euro is one euro: today, tomorrow, in a month, it's always one euro'. The words of Mario Draghi, former president of the ECB, help us to understand that crypto-assets are not to be considered as money, only as a highly risky speculative asset.
Virtual currencies (or digital currencies, crypto-assets or cryptocurrencies) are digital representations of value, used as a means of payment or held for investment purposes. They can be transferred, traded or stored electronically.
They are therefore completely digital (they are born, they exist and they are kept in electronic form) and they have no value in the real economy unless they are accepted as a means of exchange. It's estimated that about 50 million people hold these assets, and they still have a very small impact on the economic system.
As we said, crypto-assets are not currency, they are a speculative asset; in other words, an investment that is potentially very risky. We could say that they're useful for people who like taking risks. They are completely digital, although sometimes - in order to keep their value from fluctuating excessively - they are anchored to assets in the real economy, such as the US dollar, gold and oil (in this case we talk about stablecoins).
Central banks don't control the circulation of crypto-assets; this means that, according to the current regulations, they can't be considered as real currency. The relative legal framework is also still uncertain, and those who purchase virtual currencies bear all the risks of being swindled. They are therefore not suitable for people looking for a safe way to invest their money.
Trading platforms operate in a system that is entirely disconnected from the regulations and safeguards of States. This means there are no particular costs for investments or transactions in virtual currency, apart from those that online platforms could charge. This is why they are increasingly being used as a way to send money abroad. When you declare your income and investments (for example when you fill in an ISEE form - Indicator of the Equivalized Economic Situation), it is still of course mandatory to declare how much you have invested.
The system for transferring, buying and holding virtual currencies is currently operating in a minimal legislative framework. While Consob may become involved if people are caught up in a fraud, as a rule there are no safeguards. Pending a European directive that will ensure specific checks and rules, Italy has introduced - and is the first European country to do so - some rules for those operating in this market. Those who operate as 'virtual currency exchangers' must be registered on special lists for financial agents and more generally speaking, platforms for buying and selling crypto-assets must comply with the anti-money laundering laws.
It is easy to be deceived by bets with high returns, but we should always remember the basic rule for all investments, namely that for every high return there is an equally high risk. We can also sometimes be influenced by an initial moment of euphoria and optimism if an investment is going particularly well, and we might then take further and therefore excessive risks.
At the same time, behavioural economics warns us that fear of making mistakes could lead us to follow the choices of the masses (an effect known as 'herd behaviour') even when it is not advisable to do so. A typical example is a mass exodus from an investment that is beginning to lose value, because people fear the worst will happen. Specifically, the words 'virtual money' or 'cryptocurrency' have caused several misunderstandings among people who have heard them being talked about and contributed to creating false ideas about what these speculative assets are like. As with all very risky investments, it's good to know what the limits and possibilities are, so that we can make an informed choice as to how much and how to invest. Those who want to invest in virtual currencies should apply the golden rule, i.e. it's always better to diversify than to gamble on just one asset.
Crypto-assets work thanks to blockchain or distributed ledger technology; we can think of it as a kind of ledger or public register, where transactions between two users are stored in a safe, verifiable and permanent way.
Data on exchanges are saved inside cryptographic blocks (so they are safe and anonymous), which makes it possible to trace and check all the transactions made with the virtual currency. These encrypted blocks, a kind of virtual currency DNA, are generated by an algorithm shared by everyone in the community that uses the same currency.