In 1999, PayPal co-founder and CEO Peter Thiel stood before a group of mostly male 20-somethings in a Palo Alto, California office space that Google had recently vacated. “Paper money is an ancient technology and an inconvenient means of payment,” Thiel told the room. The 21st century, he said, required money that could be accessed from anywhere using an internet connection, according to The PayPal Wars, a book written by former PayPal marketing VP Eric M. Jackson.
Thiel was onto something (even if he was a little early). After a remarkable 1,000-year run, paper money’s days look increasingly numbered. The rise of mobile devices and the networks connecting them have already upended countless other industries. Now a competition is underway to grab what may be the biggest prize of all: The global infrastructure that allows people to pay for things.
There’s roughly $90 trillion of money circulating around the globe—coins, notes, deposits, and the like. And that is only going to grow as more people move out of poverty and build wealth. As they do, future generations could leapfrog old-fashioned paper currency and move directly to all-digital transactions.