What is USDC and how does it work? A guide to Circle's stablecoin


USDC -0.06% is a type of digital currency known as a stablecoin. It was first issued by the Centre Consortium, a collaboration between Circle and Coinbase, two key players in the cryptocurrency market. In August of 2023, Circle announced it would take full control over USDC issuance and governance as part of a deal that saw Coinbase take an equity stake in Circle. 

The purpose of USDC is to maintain a stable value, in this case, it is pegged to the U.S. dollar, meaning one USDC is designed to always equal one U.S. dollar. This stability is a key trait that separates stablecoins like USDC from other cryptocurrencies, which are often subject to significant price volatility.

The stablecoin was developed with the intention of providing a secure and cost-effective way for users to participate in the world of cryptocurrencies. It was designed to overcome challenges that discourage people from using cryptocurrencies, such as complex blockchain systems and market volatility.

Originally called USD Coin, USDC was first based on the Ethereum blockchain, adhering to the ERC-20 standard, which is a popular choice for many digital currencies due to its robustness and versatility. It's now interoperable for what Circle describes as a multi-chain world and available natively on 15 blockchains including Algorand, Arbitrum, Avalanche, Base, Ethereum, Flow, Hedera, NEAR, Noble, OP Mainnet, Polkadot, Polygon PoS, Solana, Stellar, and TRON.

USDC has gained popularity due to its utility in various applications. It can be used for payments, lending, investing and trading. It also offers a solution for unregulated exchanges that do not provide conversion to fiat currencies and for customers with restricted access to foreign currencies. Furthermore, USDC offers transparency, as it is backed by U.S. dollar-denominated reserves and is regularly audited to ensure compliance.

"USDC is a digital dollar backed 100% by highly liquid cash and cash-equivalent assets and is always redeemable 1:1 for US dollars," Circle says on its website. "A portion of the USDC reserve is invested in the Circle Reserve Fund (USDXX), an SEC-regulated money market fund managed by BlackRock."

What makes USDC useful?

USD Coin presents substantial value to its users, primarily due to its stability in the volatile landscape of cryptocurrencies. Users can seamlessly transition their assets into USDC when the broader cryptocurrency market is undergoing significant price fluctuations, thereby safeguarding their capital from potential losses.

Moreover, USDC enables swift and cost-effective transactions, making it a preferred option for international remittances and payments. Given its foundation on the Ethereum blockchain, USDC transactions are settled within minutes, offering a highly efficient alternative to traditional banking systems. This feature is particularly beneficial for users in jurisdictions where access to conventional banking services may be limited or costly.

Moreover, USDC is a versatile tool in the sphere of decentralized finance (DeFi). It can be utilized for lending, investing, and trading, providing users with numerous opportunities to grow their capital. It facilitates seamless exchange between different cryptocurrencies, enabling users to stay within the cryptocurrency ecosystem.

USDC also ensures transparency and regulatory compliance, key factors that increase its value proposition in the crypto market. The reserves backing USDC are held by regulated financial institutions and are subject to regular audits, fostering trust among its users. 


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Risks and Challenges with USDC

While USD Coin offers many advantages, it also faces certain risks and challenges. One of the main risks associated with USDC, like any other stablecoin, is the potential for regulatory changes. Given that USDC is pegged to the U.S. dollar and backed by reserves held by regulated financial institutions, any changes in regulations or policy decisions by these institutions could impact the stability and value of USDC.

Furthermore, while regular audits are conducted to ensure transparency and trust, the risk of discrepancies or inaccuracies in these audits could potentially affect the confidence of users in USDC.

While smart contracts used to make stablecoins are designed to automate and secure the issuance and redemption process of USDC, they are not immune to bugs or security vulnerabilities that could potentially be exploited by malicious actors.

Moreover, there are also risks associated with the reliance on third-party services. For instance, if a third-party service used to pay the associated fees in USDC transactions were to experience downtime or technical difficulties, this could disrupt the smooth operation of USDC transactions. Lastly, while USDC has gained popularity and widespread acceptance, it still faces the challenge of achieving mass adoption, particularly in regions with limited access to digital financial services or where cryptocurrencies are not widely accepted.

The value of USDC, meanwhile, is also only as good as the assets that back them. Circle aims for its reserves to be what it says is "bankruptcy remote," which means they're held separately from Circle's operating funds. 

"USDC is fully backed by cash and short-dated U.S. Treasuries, and those reserves are held in the custody and management of leading US financial institutions," Circle says on its website. 

Disclaimer: This article was produced with the assistance of OpenAI’s ChatGPT 3.5/4 and reviewed and edited by our editorial team.

© 2023 The Block. All Rights Reserved. This article is provided for informational purposes only. It is not offered or intended to be used as legal, tax, investment, financial, or other advice.

About Author

Nathan Crooks is the U.S managing editor at The Block, based in Miami. He was previously at Bloomberg News for 12 years, where he helmed coverage of South Florida after roles as a breaking news editor and bureau chief in Caracas, Venezuela. He's interviewed presidents, government ministers and CEOs, and, besides crypto, has covered major news events on the ground from earthquakes to hurricanes to the Chilean mine rescue in 2018. Nathan, a native of Clarion, Pennsylvania, holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Toronto, where he completed a specialist in political science, and an MBA from American University in Washington, D.C.