What Is a Non-Fungible Token (NFT)?
Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are cryptographic assets on a blockchain with unique identification codes and metadata that distinguish them from each other.
Unlike cryptocurrencies, they cannot be traded or exchanged at equivalency. This differs from fungible tokens like cryptocurrencies, which are identical to each other and, therefore, can serve as a medium for commercial transactions.
Examples of NFTs
Perhaps the most famous use case for NFTs is that of cryptokitties. Launched in November 2017, cryptokitties are digital representations of cats with unique identifications on Ethereum’s blockchain. Each kitty is unique and has a price in ether. They reproduce among themselves and produce new offspring, which have different attributes and valuations compared to their parents.
Within a few short weeks of their launch, cryptokitties racked up a fan base that spent $20 million worth of ether to purchase, feed, and nurture them. Some enthusiasts even spent upward of $100,000 on the effort.6 More recently, the Bored Ape Yacht Club has garnered controversial attention for its high prices, celebrity following, and high-profile thefts of some of its 10,000 NFTs.78
Though the cryptokitties and Bored Ape Yacht Club use cases may sound trivial, others have more serious business implications. For example, NFTs have been used in private equity transactions as well as real estate deals.9 One of the implications of enabling multiple types of tokens in a contract is the ability to provide escrow for different types of NFTs—from artwork to real estate—into a single financial transaction.
Why NFTs Are Important
Non-fungible tokens are an evolution of the relatively simple concept of cryptocurrencies. Modern finance systems consist of sophisticated trading and loan systems for different asset types, ranging from real estate to lending contracts to artwork. By enabling digital representations of physical assets, NFTs are a step forward in the reinvention of this infrastructure.
To be sure, the idea of digital representations of physical assets is not novel nor is the use of unique identification. However, when these concepts are combined with the benefits of a tamper-resistant blockchain of smart contracts, they become a potent force for change.
Perhaps, the most obvious benefit of NFTs is market efficiency. The conversion of a physical asset into a digital one streamlines processes and removes intermediaries. NFTs representing digital or physical artwork on a blockchain remove the need for agents and allow artists to connect directly with their audiences. They can also improve business processes. For example, an NFT for a wine bottle will make it easier for different actors in a supply chain to interact with it and help track its provenance, production, and sale through the entire process. Consulting firm Ernst & Young has already developed such a solution for one of its clients.10
Non-fungible tokens are also excellent for identity management. Consider the case of physical passports that need to be produced at every entry and exit point. By converting individual passports into NFTs, each with its own unique identifying characteristics, it is possible to streamline the entry and exit processes for jurisdictions. Expanding this use case, NFTs can serve an identity management purpose within the digital realm as well.