No matter the spectacular rise of bitcoin. Cryptocurrency enthusiasts and the technology they rely on, the blockchain, gathered this week in New York, remain far from the exuberance that gripped the sector last year.
"There is clearly less buzz and bling-bling," said Wes Fuldord, general manager of a Canadian bitcoin mining company, Bitfarms. "It's a reflection of a more mature market."
The previous edition of the Consensus show, hosted by the specialist CoinDesk news site in a large Manhattan hotel, took place four months after the virtual currency surged to nearly $ 20,000 a unit and the sudden appearance millionaires of bitcoin.
Luxury cars were lined up at the entrance, lush organized parties.
This year, it is time for more sobriety. And more concrete blockchain applications, a computer protocol allowing a community of users to keep online a kind of large, common, tamper-proof registry.
"In 2018 on the stands, we had just Powerpoint presentations, this year we have real products," said Francois-Xavier Thoorens, founder of the company Ark, which offers companies solutions for the simple and personalized creation of a blockchain.
At the Deloitte consulting firm, for example, three screens and a series of cables representing a new cybersecurity tool are displayed in a secure case.
A few meters away, the start-up Riddle & Code shows an application able to authenticate the provenance of a high-end watch.
Leading pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and AstraZenaca had to talk about the use of blockchain in clinical research and IT giant Microsoft detailed its digital identity project backed by the bitcoin blockchain.
There is also much talk of solutions allowing companies to hold virtual currencies on behalf of third parties, a condition sine qua non for their expansion in the financial markets. Just like the development of protocols, governance or regulation.
– Difficult year –
Enthusiasm is still present even though the year was difficult for bitcoin, which collapsed to $ 3,200 in December and rekindled doubts about the technology it relies on, the blockchain, or "string of blocks ".
The recent revival of the virtual currency, passed since the end of March from $ 4,000 to $ 8,000, did not attract the same crowds at Consensus: 4,800 people were registered this year, compared to 8,000 last year. Many advertisers did not come back, some just disappeared.
Fluctuations in bitcoin do not frighten Wes Fuldord, boss of Bitfarms. On the contrary. In the face of falling prices, many small players in the sector have abandoned their "bitcoin mining" business, leaving more room for established companies.
The recent rebound of the virtual currency is especially, according to him, the consequence of the mass arrival of many investors who waited for the bitcoin "touches the bottom" to invest fresh money.
Other observers of the sector evoke, without certainty, the rise of bitcoin as a safe haven against trade tensions between the United States and China. Or the anticipation of possible announcements at the Consensus fair. The reasons for the renewed vigor of bitcoin remain unclear.
"We are still at the stage of discovery (in this industry) with an alternation of euphoria and despair," says Thoorens. With the rise in regulation, volatility and market manipulation should fade.
Only two years ago, banks could close an account at the slightest sign of a transaction with a cryptocurrency platform. "This is no longer the case," says Thoorens.
For lawyer Margaret Rosenfelds, blockchain specialist at K & L Gates, "all technologies go through the same phases", from marginality to experimentation and then adoption by the general public.
The finance industry is arguably the most advanced in the management of cryptocurrencies or the use of blockchain. But all sectors, from logistics to accounting, are trying to become familiar with these new tools.
And in the same way that the general public does not care about the intrinsic functioning of the internet to send an email, she assures, "it will not need to understand how the blockchain works in detail to adopt it".