New Frontiers: Wharton To Accept Crypto Payment For Exec Certificate Course

Wharton School's new Economics of Blockchain and Digital Assets certificate course will accept cryptocurrency as tuition payment.

Wharton School’s new Economics of Blockchain and Digital Assets certificate course will accept cryptocurrency as tuition payment.

Need to pay for your Economics of Blockchain and Digital Assets certificate course? Wharton School accepts check, credit card and … Bitcoin.

University of Pennsylvania’s business school is the first b-school in the United States to accept cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, and USD Coin for its new executive certification course, according to an announcement.  It will enroll its first cohort on January 3, and tuition for the six-week, asynchronous online program is $3,800. 

Economics of Blockchain and Digital Assets was developed in partnership between Wharton’s Aresty Institute of Executive Education and Prysm Group, a leading blockchain consulting firm. It is designed for professionals who want a better understanding of blockchain, cryptocurrency, and other digital assets. 

A BLOCKCHAIN COURSE FOR BUSINESS PROFESSIONALS

“We designed this program for business professionals and executives from a range of backgrounds, including traditional finance, management, and tech,” says the program’s academic director, professor Kevin Werbach of the Wharton School. “Blockchain and digital assets are not going away. We hope to equip business leaders, consultants, and entrepreneurs to identify the value drivers of these innovative technologies and to give them the practical understanding to build solutions.”

Wharton already has a solid track record in blockchain and cryptocurrencies. In May, it received a $5 million Bitcoin donation from an anonymous donor, its largest ever crypto gift. In 2018, Wharton and the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Science were among 17 schools around the world to partner with Ripple, a blockchain-based global payments company, in a $50 million venture to support academic research, technical development, and innovation in blockchain, cryptocurrency, and distributed ledger technology. And Werbach has been teaching courses on blockchain and cryptocurrencies to MBA and other students since 2018.

Students in Wharton’s new executive course will learn to identify relevant use cases for blockchain and digital assets and to understand its costs, benefits and downsides. They’ll also analyze vale drivers, the role of regulation, and the structure of decentralized finance applications. 

Poets&Quants recently caught up with professor Werbach to talk blockchain, crypto, and why executives can’t afford to ignore the technology any longer. The interview below has been edited for length and clarity. 

More course start dates are offered in February and April. Learn more about the course here. 

What was the need for a course like this, in your opinion?

Kevin Werbach of Wharton School

Kevin Werbach

We, like everyone, have been seeing the increase in interest in blockchain and cryptocurrencies and related developments. I personally have been doing research in the area for a number of years. I’ve been offering credit-bearing courses for Wharton students since 2018. There’s various other courses at Wharton that cover some aspects of the phenomenon. 

I think what we saw was really two things. One was that there’s more adoption and more activity in the crypto space broadly. They’re more people who are trying to figure out what’s going on and they’re looking for credible sources of information. At the same time, there are a variety of online courses and other resources, but most of them either weren’t from a trusted institution like Wharton, or most of them were developed a couple of years ago during the last boom in interest in blockchain and crypto. And they really didn’t cover all of the new developments like NFTs and DeFi, Central Bank Digital Currencies and so forth that have really taken off.

It’s interesting to realize that courses from even a couple years ago could already be out of date. 

It’s moving incredibly fast; Technology moves fast in general. The goal with a course like this is to offer something that is not only up to date, but also emphasizes some of the fundamentals that are not going to disappear over time. We talk about broad concepts like decentralization, trust, and regulation, so even if the specific example or controversy or some of the numbers about market size may change, the basic problem is still there and the basic learnings that you’re getting are still relevant.

Who do you think the target audience for a class like this might be? 

We see a really broad audience of people, including many who are in traditional established firms, who are curious about what blockchain is and how it might be relevant to them, as well as a growing number of people who are somehow interested in getting involved with cryptocurrencies. The course is designed to be accessible to a broad audience, starting with people who have limited familiarity, to people who understand the basics of blockchain but want to get a more detailed understanding.

Can you give an example of some of the lessons, or an overview of what students will learn?

First, there are a number of guest speakers who are industry experts – from the commissioner on the Securities Exchange Commission to the CEO of Circle, which is the creator of one of the largest stable coins. So, students will learn about various perspectives from experts in industry and related areas. 

There are also, I believe, seven case studies that actually dig into specific examples. These range from the Postal Service in Italy as an established firm, to something like Synthetix which is a derivatives protocol, to DeFI which is very cutting edge and totally virtual. So, the case studies examine a range of different kinds of applications. 

How important is it, in your opinion, for executives to have at least a working knowledge of blockchain and crypto? 

I think we’re at the point where everyone needs to know something about this phenomenon and to be able to have a well supported opinion about it. That does not mean every company needs to adopt blockchain or cryptocurrency or anything like that. But we’re beyond the point where you can reject it just based on not believing in the technology. If you believe that it’s not a good use case for you, you need to understand why that’s the case. If you believe that the tokens are overvalued and it’s being overhyped, again, you need to have a basis for that. I think we’re at the point where everyone needs to have a degree of familiarity with this technology.

What are some of the key takeaways you hope students get from the course?

It’s hard to come up with anything that specific because there’s a broad range of people who are going to take the class for a number of different reasons. What I would say, broadly, is that I want people to have an understanding of the major areas of activity, and also what this collection of technologies actually does – what it’s good for and what some of the concerns are about it.

Do you think courses like this will become more common in other business schools?

We’re excited about the course, and I think we’re going to see this sort of thing being more common. People are going to want to have this knowledge and, frankly, there aren’t yet that many schools that are really teaching this in detail to even to their own students. You can become an expert on blockchain or crypto without taking the course on it, but I think for most people, this is a convenient way to get an understanding.

How did your own interest in blockchain and crypto develop?

I’m a scholar of emerging technologies. My background is in law, but I more broadly try to identify important major technological shifts and then look at their business implications, legal implications and so forth. For me that started 25 years ago with the Internet. I’ve always tried to find things that are early on and potentially transformative. 

I first started hearing about Bitcoin, now, nearly a decade ago. I was fascinated by the technology. I was particularly interested in it as an investment opportunity, but the notion that it was possible to create value purely based on an algorithmic, decentralized system, and that it might be applied to other areas was an incredibly powerful idea. So it was something that I started learning about and trying to understand. 

It’s a challenging concept. There’s a conceptual leap you have to take to understand blockchain. Digging deep into the technology, there’s a lot that you need to understand because it comes from many different disciplines. In some ways, it’s counterintuitive, but that was the kind of challenge I like. 

As the market developed – especially as it branched out beyond Bitcoin to these platforms called smart contracts to build applications on blockchains – I started doing more active research and started writing articles. I wrote a book in 2018 called “The Blockchain and the New Architecture of Trust.” I’ve also been running a research initiative at Wharton where, among other things, we run workshops with regulators, legal experts and private sector legal practitioners from all over the world to work through some of the legal and regulatory challenges. 

Clearly, it’s been in a boom and bust cycle. Clearly, there have been bubbles and there are people who are getting ahead of themselves. Clearly, there’s a lot of fraud, illicit activity and regulatory avoidance. There’s lots of bad, but that partly interests me as well – to find what’s the bad and what’s the good and, as a legal expert, to try and work on how to resolve some of those tensions.

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