USD Coin (USDC) is a fully collateralised, US dollar-backed stablecoin that was launched in 2018 by a consortium of companies called Centre. It’s based on Ethereum’s ERC-20 standard, which makes it interoperable with most major wallet and custody services. As of 23 November 2020, it’s the second-largest stablecoin in the world by market capitalisation.
What is a stablecoin?
A stablecoin is a cryptocurrency that’s pegged to a single underlying asset, or a basket of assets. These 'stable' assets can be other cryptocurrencies, local fiat currencies, or even commodities such as gold. In the case of USDC, it's pegged to a single asset: the US Dollar. This means that for every 1 USDC, the issuer of the coin holds 1 US Dollar in collateral.
How is USDC pegged to the dollar?
A USDC token is created when someone purchases a token from an approved issuer. For every US dollar received, the issuer will apply an ERC-20 smart contract to create an equivalent amount of USDC. This is then sent back to the original buyer. The US dollar that was originally sent to the issuer is then held in reserve as collateral. The buyer has their USDC, which is redeemable against the issuer for the equivalent fiat currency US dollars. This guarantees that every USDC token is backed by a US dollar and it’s redeemable on a 1:1 basis.
How do I buy USDC?
USDC tokens can either be bought directly from the issuer as above, or they can be traded on exchanges such as Luno. When USDC is acquired through an exchange, the token is not being acquired from the issuer directly but from a third party, however you still own the token and will always be entitled to redeem it from the issuer, should you choose to do so.
How does USDC differ from other stablecoins?
We encourage you to familiarise yourself with the issuer directly, but USDC differs from other stablecoins such as Tether in that its issuers represent that they are regulated financial institutions with high standards of corporate governance, who are obligated to provide full transparency and who are regularly audited. This ensures that reserves are held on a 1:1 ratio with the fiat currency equivalent. All USDC issuers must report their USD holdings, which are in turn published by accountancy firm Grant Thornton LLP on a monthly basis. These monthly reports are available online to anyone who wishes to view them.
What’s the point?
Essentially, what USDC is doing is tokenising US dollars and putting them on the blockchain. This makes them easier to transfer, so they can be moved anywhere in the world almost instantly – unlike the traditional 'fiat version' of the US dollar, which moves relatively slowly as it has to contend with traditional financial institutions and their legacy processes. Tokenising the US dollar also provides additional functionality, making it easier to program with and to use in dApps.
From a user perspective, people use USDC for a wide variety of reasons. One of the primary reasons is to hedge against volatility during market dips – either in cryptocurrency or your own local currency. Another is that when selling crypto, you may want to keep your funds on the platform ready for your next play. If you keep it on there as USDC, you don’t have to pay fees for fiat on and off ramps.