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Digital coins: On verge of going mainstream?

Enthusiasts see it as the future of money

Legendary investor Warren Buffett once described it as a "mirage" to be avoided by any sensible investor.

JP Morgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon has famously described it as a "fraud" and last month warned that if "you're stupid enough to buy it, you'll pay the price for it one day."

Another global bank boss, Credit Suisse's Tidjane Thiam, calls the manic trading that has driven its price into the stratosphere the "very definition of a bubble" that's destined to end badly.

For Larry Fink, head of global asset management giant BlackRock Inc., its soaring value "shows you how much demand for money laundering there is in the world."

But other prominent financial voices such as Richard Branson, Nassim Taleb of Black Swan fame and most denizens of Silicon Valley see it as the future of money.

Welcome to the complex world of cryptocurrencies, where the only people without strong views on one side or the other are still trying to make sense of a red-hot asset that almost no one took seriously as an investment just a few short years ago.

"Cryptocurrencies are an important technological innovation that has the potential to change the way business transactions are conducted," says Andrew Lo, director of the MIT Laboratory for Financial Engineering in Cambridge, Mass.

"However, these are very early days for this technology ... so I would say that this is an area best reserved for the most sophisticated and well-heeled investors at this time."

Recalling the early internet search engines like AltaVista and Lycos and social media entrants like Myspace that fell by the wayside, Dr.

Lo warns that "there will be many, many failures and only a very few successes. So investor beware!"

Inside is a look at some of the issues, risks and opportunities.

© The Globe and Mail

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