Greece's Cash Crisis is Bitcoin's Boost

Greece's Cash Crisis is Bitcoin's Boost

At a coffee shop on a beach in Athens sits Thanos Marinos. The forty-something Greek prides himself on being the first to bring bitcoin, a digital currency, to his cash-strapped country a year ago.

"I didn't see it as much as a business case back then," says Marinos. "The main reason was to bring awareness about bitcoin and blockchain technology to Greece."

Demand has never been stronger, he says, up by 500 percent in four weeks.

When starting from zero though, even 500 percent doesn't go far. Greece is a country of more than 10 million and an average age of 43.5. A quick and un-scientific survey of 10 people on the street showed just two people had heard of bitcoin.

That hasn't deterred others from joining in. A bookshop in a northwestern suburb of Athens is home to the country's only bitcoin ATM. One man is stocking up. His name is Felix Weis, a computer programmer who's taken a year off to travel the world with one caveat: he can only use bitcoin, and cash as a last resort.

"I have to," Felix says, because "I cut up my credit card. In Greece I'm offering people 30 percent extra to try and convince them to start accepting bitcoins because I really believe in it."

Felix is 27 and from Luxembourg. He dropped out of a Computer Science and Economics program in Germany after just one year.

"I've been programming since I was young. I wasn't really learning anything new. From the economics side I didn't think the fundamentals were right," he says. "But not for everything."

He has an opinion about should happen in Greece too. "It's hard to compete in the euro zone. After all you look at Romania. Compared to what you see in Athens they're doing better, even though the minimum wage is lower."

All this is explained in a taxi ride to one of the only establishments in Greece accepting bitcoin, a family-owned Greek restaurant. After insisting on splitting the fare, there's no alternative but to open an account and accept the £3.43.

The restaurant is closed but it's not a problem for Felix. The bitcoin community is small and he knows Nikos Houtas, the owner's son, who breaks out the ouzo and salad. It's all paid for without a coin or card in sight.

Four or five customers in the past two years have paid using bitcoin, according to Houtas.

If it's going to be a viable alternative many more are going to have to cash in soon.

By Muhammad Darwish

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE