The revival of a city via Plan B
The city of Lugano tied the knot with the world of cryptocurrency during a two-day event, namely the Plan B Forum, which witnessed the arrival in Ticino of 70 very different personalities but with a common thought and passion: the future comes from Bitcoin and, generally speaking, from virtual currencies. Last Friday and Saturday were two days in which you could sense Lugano's never-quenched nostalgia for those times when it used to express its role as a 360-degree global financial center. Now, the city would like to recapture it by treading new paths. A more than worthy goal, one that should get the citizens at large to agree but that, for the moment anyway, at least, generates inevitable skepticism. As an observer, it is striking, first of all, the City's comprehensive endorsement of the cryptocurrency system, with Mayor Michele Foletti personally embarking body and soul on this venture. The goal is clear: to boost Lugano's overall image as a financial hub, following long years of difficulties related to reduced tax revenues from banks and, as a result, the relative weight-loss treatment to which ambitions have had to be submitted. From this point of view, it must be said, the Forum has yielded good results already, obtaining a gratifying response in the foreign press and drawing investors and enthusiasts from all over the world to Lugano. Hosted by the City itself in collaboration with the cryptocurrency Tether, the event has launched Lugano as a reference point for the industry. One thousand seven hundred people turned out to pay for burgers with Bitcoin stored in their smartphones, shop in the 40 or so Lugano stores that now accept this cryptocurrency, and to discuss, at the Convention Center Palazzo congressi, the next steps to popularize it further.
The municipality itself has made it known that it wants to increase the number of public establishments that will accept Bitcoin to 1,000 by the end of the year. Also broadly included in Plan B are a downtown hub to accommodate companies and start-ups, a three-million-franc fund to help businesses integrate cryptocurrencies into their payment systems, an extra round of funding of 100 million targeted at companies designing facilities to enable the adoption of this tech, and, finally, scholarships for university students to learn how to use Bitcoin. In short, "a lot of stuff." It is almost the entrance to a new and futuristic world.
All impressive and worthy of praise, net of the question of what will be achieved and what will not. However, an underlying question remains, and that is to say whether cryptocurrencies can really be the perfect tool for a grand relaunch of Lugano. What we feel we must answer is that they are unlikely to replace the ecosystem of local and national banks in the coming years. The former operates in an environment that, yes, is sometimes over-regulated and subject to stringent limitations which then weigh on the everyday economy, but they also incorporate in their actions a hearty portion of guarantees to protect the customer and the saver. Over the roller coaster of the past three years, between pandemic, lockdown and war, banks have maintained a stronghold on the territory and fostered, in truly dramatic moments, a more relational and personal economy. For example, recall that it was banks that helped private companies access federal aid measures during the worst moments of the pandemic, managing a lot of paperwork, verifying requirements and opening lines of credit. Could cryptocurrency companies take on this role, should the need arise? We highly doubt it. Cryptocurrencies and blockchain are certainly opportunities to be grasped to the extent that they foster freedom and prosperity, but they remain technologies that need to be monitored and adopted with precise criteria, after testing them in all sectors and junctures of daily and economic life. Welcome the enthusiasm, in conclusion, but the Plan B should be a serious, long-term project, supplementing others, not a "bet," however thrilling to see. The credibility and image of Lugano and its "traditional" financial center, which is still a systemic component from which the city cannot disregard, is at stake.