David Fortier, a GIA graduate gemologist and seasoned gemstone merchant, is the owner of 'Paragon Universal Trade Co'. Located in Mahaesak Road in Bangkok, the center of colored gemstone trade, it has access to the finest gemstones with no middlemen in between.
Mr Fortier, as an American living in Thailand, married to a Filipino woman, you live an international lifestyle. What are your experiences regarding the traditional banking system?
Mr Fortier: My wife Melanie and I lead a global lifestyle. We live in Thailand because the gemstones are here, but we visit Melanie's family in the Philippines often, and sometimes we travel to the USA to see my family or to do business or both.
We both carry debit cards but have been caught up in various fraud alerts when our cards don't work. For some reason the global banking system can not imagine an American
living in Bangkok and vacationing in Cambodia. There is no scenario that our bank can imagine where our debit card isn't being used fraudulently.
We are polite and get in touch with our bank to let them know that yes, indeed, we did use our debit card in Thailand and Cambodia both yesterday. LOL. Or we tried to...their fraud algorithms shut us down though. Again.
For some reason this "convenience" of the Mastercard debit is less than convenient for us. It's just bothersome to have to regularly ask my bank in Ohio if it's OK to spend our money.
We never have to be homeless though- Expedia takes bitcoin for room reservations.
You accept Bitcoin payments for your works and goods since 2011. How
does Bitcoin fit into your daily routine?
Mr Fortier: Because we not only sell gemstones but also make custom jewelry, we've found bitcoin to be an ideal global partner. Typically when we make fine jewelry there are different stages of development. We might find the main stone for a ring, and require payment once that is sourced.
Next is usually a CAD drawing and preparing an estimate for the total project cost, and again a payment.
Some clients send checks in the mail, some use bank wires, but bitcoiners are the easiest to settle up with. Just a few clicks and the stone is paid for, or the initial payment for the jewelry is made. We don't have to wait for a check to arrive and we don't need Mastercard or Visa's permission to continue. Bitcoin doesn't force us to ask questions
about the client's nationality or country of residence, it doesn't need the flashing lights and warnings of the global banks, bitcoin just lets us work.
How does Bitcoin compare to creditcards, still the dominant payment option in international trade?
Mr Fortier: Some people might ask "Wow, a client sends money to you in Thailand? Aren't they being brave?" Of course Melanie and I know that we aren't crooks, so we don't worry about our end like the banks need to.
But we do worry about our clients. What if the client files a chargeback? What if Mastercard or Visa takes their side...after they have the gold, diamond, and ruby jewelry? Bitcoin doesn't give us worries like that, and it let's us decide who to do business with. Bitcoin doesn't offer assurances on either end...that is between us and our clients as it should be. Bitcoin also doesn't charge for this "protection" like Mastercard or Visa. That keeps costs low.
What is your prediction for working with Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies in general?
Mr Fortier: Melanie and I deal with rare items that have true value; it feels logical to accept bitcoin for items that we sell for that reason. There is a limited number of fine quality ruby and sapphire in the world, and a limited amount of gold and platinum...just like bitcoin. I sometimes have clients who are surprised at the rise in value of stones over time, but many of these people are not considering how much money central banks have printed over the same period. Sure, if you always denominate prices of precious gemstones in dollars, they will naturally rise over time as dollars and euros come off the printing presses. Selling fine jewelry for bitcoin makes sense.
I've been a proponent of bitcoin for a long time- to friends and family, and clients as well. Bitcoin has the power to change our financial world in significant ways, and I see it as an essential tool for society to move forward. It is very heartening to see all of the commitments to the bitcoin space from Wall Street and main street...significant personnel and capital are moving into cryptocurrencies and it is great fuel for growth and wider adoption. Companies like Overstock are leading the way, but I think small merchants like us have a part to play as evangelists for real money and for the utility and transparency of blockchain technology.
As we see traditional banks getting into the game and regulators and entrepreneurs engage in dialogue I see the real value of bitcoin shining through. I remember in 2011 I was beside myself with excitement about bitcoin and told my dad all about my big plans. "Son," he said, "nobody is going to pay you with bitcoin."
Of course in 2011 there was no robust market like now, liquidity was limited, and it was a hard sell. Now that we have more and more exchanges including offerings like Coinbase that make accepting bitcoin virtually risk-free, and that even offer an internal "cold storage" option, bitcoin is becoming very easy to use. I expect that to accelerate as merchants become more savvy about the advantages of bitcoin.
Thank you for your insights!