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Bitcoin Awareness, Ownership and Use: 2016–20

Available as: PDF

As technology evolves, so does the way Canadians make payments. The Bank of Canada is therefore interested in researching the potential need for a digital alternative to cash. In a 2020 speech, Deputy Governor Tim Lane highlighted two scenarios that could warrant the launch of a central bank digital currency:

  • a decline in the use of cash
  • a rise in the use of cryptocurrencies

The Bank conducts regular surveys to monitor trends in cash, payments and cryptocurrencies. These surveys use weights to ensure the data are representative of the Canadian population with respect to key demographic characteristics. In this paper, we use data from the Bitcoin Omnibus Survey and Cash Alternative Survey. These data allow us to identify trends in the ownership of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies annually from 2016 to 2020.

We find that in surveys since 2018, about 90% of Canadians had heard of Bitcoin while only 5% owned it. The most common reason for owning Bitcoin remained for an investment. Bitcoin users were varied in how they obtained Bitcoin, with most using web or mobile exchanges. We also find that Bitcoin adopters (past and current) were susceptible to financial and security risks: about half experienced price crashes, loss of access to funds, scams or data breaches. It is important to continue monitoring cryptocurrency trends so that the Bank can make informed policy decisions related to currency and financial stability.