Worldwide interest in Bitcoin continues to usher in new possibilities for free markets and global economies. This comes as growing numbers of global citizens are beginning to recognize its value as an alternative to fiat-based monetary systems.
Despite these gains, a prevailing challenge exists, namely, the lack of mechanisms for day-to-day consumer transactions. Enter the world of debit cards, a legacy tool for everyday payments or purchases that’s now making its way into the Bitcoin space. This mechanism of exchange, which became popular in the 1980s, has served as convenient means of purchasing goods and services throughout the world. Now, through a growing number of exchanges and vendors, Bitcoin enthusiasts can make use of both traditional plastic and electronic debit cards for their everyday purchases.
Two companies, BitPlastic and Xapo, were among the early entrants to the bitcoin debit card market. Since then, Coinbase (Shift Card), Wirex (previously known as ECoin), and several others have entered this emerging space.
Through the use of these cards, bitcoin can be converted into cash currency for everyday use. This alignment of legacy point-of-sale systems with the crypto world solves one of the major hindrances to Bitcoin adoption – the limited number of merchants and services that directly accept it as payment.
Consumers can also make use of bank debit and prepaid cards by linking them to either a bitcoin exchange or mobile wallet. Here, through a bitcoin sell order, users can fund their card via a traditional bank transfer. Once a card is funded, purchases can be made. Additionally, cash can be withdrawn through an ATM machine.
Wirex is just one example of a company that’s actively involved in the bitcoin debit card space. For a fee, they offer both a plastic card as well as a virtual one for instant, online use. According to their statistics, they have issued over 15,000 debit cards to users in over 130 countries in their brief existence.
The company has partnered with leading Bitcoin security platform BitGo, in order to offer superior protection to their debit card users. Moreover, all funds are protected by automatic insurance coverage.
Recently, Wirex developed an API integration with ShapeShift.io, an instant exchange for bitcoin and other blockchain tokens. This allows Wirex users to fund their Mastercard debit cards with not just bitcoin but Ethereum, Monero, Litecoin and dozens of other leading blockchain assets instantly.
And on October 11th it was announced that the alt-currency Dash has now partnered with Shake Debit Cards, thereby allowing Dash owners the ability to purchase from millions of merchants that accept Euros and USDs. This partnership establishes one of the first commercial applications for Dash’s InstantSend technology.
A New Normal For Spending?
Will debit cards ultimately solve one of the biggest concerns relative to cryptocurrencies, namely, a means for the masses to purchase products or services via crypto? The answer to this question remains to be seen. But it certainly appears that this creative application has promise.
Optimism aside, there has been plenty of talk among bitcoin debit card users about fees. Some view these expenses as out of alignment with efforts to ensure the affordability of bitcoin use. Others see it as simply a necessary cost for fresh innovation.
On the consumer side, identity fraud and/or having cash taken from one’s card account remains a major issue. Privacy is another concern, with identity theft ensuing from a trail of information tied to a debit card a real possibility. Finally, unlike the use of bitcoin wallets for transactions, debit cards typically require the same levels of financial disclosure as traditional financial institutions, which can lead to consumer spending level and other restrictions.
Long time Bitcoin enthusiast Mike Miller, despite advancements in the bitcoin debit card space, is reticent about their deeper utility. Says Miller: “I don’t really see the point. The main reason I have no interest in these cards is that they require you to give custody of your bitcoin to someone else. This defeats a significant part of the reason I use Bitcoin in the first place.”
Merchants see issues with debit cards as well. They have to contend with high swipe and other fees to settle payments through an increasingly archaic network of third-party processors. They are also subjected to those pesky customer chargeback claims, a problem that transactions made directly through bitcoin solve.
Despite uncertainty among both consumers and merchants regarding the intersection of bitcoin and debit cards, Software Developer and Colorado Bitcoin Network member Chris Guida says that he finds them incredibly useful. “They have allowed me to minimize my fiat holdings. The only thing I still need my bank account for is paying my rent. I’m currently trying to find a way to eliminate that as well so I can completely exit the dollar.”
Concludes Guida: “I realize it defeats the purpose of bitcoin to have to use an intermediary to spend my money, but I think debit cards are a necessary first step for consumer adoption.”