The Hong Kong co-working space that wants to be the ‘Apple store’ of cryptocurrencies

Genesis Block hopes to take advantage of rising awareness of cryptocurrencies by giving them a physical presence in a prime city location

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 October, 2017, 8:03am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 October, 2017, 10:59pm

Hong Kong has a new addition to its burgeoning co-working office scene: a space dedicated to the trading of digital currencies that comes complete with bitcoin ATMs and which its founder hopes will become a showcase for virtual money as Apple stores are for iPhones and iPads.

Genesis Block, located in the city’s Wan Chai district, also aims to change an impression among the public that cryptocurrencies are connected with shady activities, its director, Wincent Hung, said in an interview ahead of the official launch of the location in early November.

“The impression most people have about cryptocurrencies is pretty negative,” Hung said. “But if you actually understand the technology behind it, you will see it is actually a good thing.”

“Eventually, I hope to see traders and beginners together, socialising,” he said. “Like the Apple store, you can come in and ask and it doesn’t matter if you buy or not.”

Bitcoin is the best known digital currency, and has become increasingly popular, with investors and governments taking note. The currency hit a record US$5,850 on Friday, surging nearly 25 per cent within the last 30 days, according to data from Coindesk.

The total value of bitcoin in circulation worldwide is now close to US$90 billion, bigger than the gross domestic products of nearly three-quarters of the world, website TechSpot reported.

In Hong Kong, Hung said, the trading volume is not very active, compared to other exchanges.

Hung said he funds the co-working space through cryptocurrency trading and hopes its prominent location will drive foot traffic. In August, he drew the attention of industry insiders after he left the street address of Genesis Block within the code of a cryptocurrency he was mining – an industry term for generating new coins.

Digital currencies however have had a difficult ride in recent weeks in China, with the authorities banning fundraising activities using virtual currencies and ordering exchanges to close, citing threats to financial stability. The crackdown prompted speculation that virtual money might be banned altogether and sent values tumbling.

Why has China declared war on bitcoin and digital currencies?

However analysts said that the latest speculation was that trading activity might be permitted to resume following the five-yearly Communist Party congress that opens this week, at which the leadership will set the country’s direction for the next five years.

“Speculators are bullish on bitcoin’s value with the anticipation of China’s reintegration with global crypto markets,” said Aurélien Menant, founder and CEO of exchange Gatecoin in Hong Kong.

“We’ve seen far more interest among both laymen retail investors and alternative asset managers in Hong Kong since the bitcoin rally began earlier this year.”

Hung said that he too was optimistic for the future of digital currencies, but sounded a note of caution.

“Hong Kong people love investing and gambling. Once a product is going up, it draws attention for people to put some money there,” he said.

“That’s dangerous. If they don’t understand the reasons and the technology behind it, their emotions will be easily affected by [the] ups and downs.”