The momentum and controversy around bitcoin continue unabated. Elon Musk invested $1.5 billion in it. Twitter is studying it for potential use. And a company called Sequoia Holdings, which sells analytics services to the federal government, is now offering its staff an opportunity to set aside part of their salaries to invest in it. All of this rages while bitcoin has been surging to new highs, marked by volatility and double-digit percentage point swings up and down (depending on when you look).
Crypto is edging into the mainstream. It was the topic of a PYMNTS interview with Sean Rolland, director of product for blockchain payment technology company BitPay, who said that mass payouts – using bitcoin now, and eventually other cryptos – may be the tailwind that takes digital coins into the mainstream for day-to-day transactions.
Among BitPay’s offerings: The company does payment processing, and allows consumers and businesses to buy goods and services using cryptocurrencies. Rolland provided the example of a consumer who wants to pay their AT&T bill using crypto, and can do so using BitPay. The company accepts cryptos on behalf of AT&T. “We deposit it into their bank account,” explained Rolland, noting that this service, overall, is tied to $1 billion in transactions annually.
The company also has a BitPay debit card in partnership with Mastercard in the U.S., which Rolland said is slated to become available in Canada and Europe in 2021. That card allows users to spend cryptocurrencies held in the BitPay app, anywhere Mastercard is accepted. The company’s BitPay Send lets organizations send bitcoin to anyone, with speed – and on a scale that makes it cost-efficient for companies to offer digital currency as a payment option. In terms of the mechanics, the mass payouts product allows businesses to pay employees and customers in crypto, without holding the digital coins themselves.
According to Rolland, sending mass payouts without having to buy, own or manage crypto can build use cases and adoption. As he noted, though cryptos, in general, have been around for 10 years, “it’s still a new thing – for consumers and businesses alike.” There is still a lot of pricing volatility around the cryptos themselves, whether it’s bitcoin, Ethereum or a host of other coins. Users may be hesitant to embrace cryptos in full force, he noted.
“There are a lot of questions about how businesses interact with cryptos,” he said. “Users may ask, ‘well, how do I hold it? Do I have to have a wallet? Can I put it in my bank account?’” Over time, those questions will be answered and hesitations will be addressed. Rolland predicts that a paradigm shift will take place, and a growing number of businesses will interact directly on the blockchain and with cryptocurrencies.
But to get to that comfort level, he maintained, businesses need a bridge, which BitPay offers. In a real-world example, he said, “let’s say Airbnb wants to pay all of their people who are renting their houses across the world. Right now, they have to interact with different payment networks and every single country” in which they have a presence.
Changing The Game
As Rolland contended: “Cryptocurrency changes the game.” A firm seeking to conduct mass payouts – in this case, hypothetically – would send a bank transfer to BitPay. The payment instructions would tell BitPay to send $100 each to 1,000 customers across the globe. BitPay, in turn, having signed up these different customers – no matter their country, geography or time zone – has been instructed to pay them in individual transactions in bitcoin, Ethereum or perhaps a range of stablecoins.
“So, the end user can actually choose how they receive those funds, and this is a unique use case,” said Rolland. It’s a model that differs from other mass payout activities focused on fiat (and where FX rates can add costs for cross-border transactions). Other mass payout solutions have inherent frictions, tied as they are to wire transfers, prepaid debit cards and banks.
“Maybe I can get paid in my digital wallet, but each of those connections needs a unique hookup by a mass payout solutions provider,” explained Rolland. “Maybe you’re an affiliate network, or maybe you’re even YouTube. The company has to pay out all these affiliates and advertisers and content creators all around the world.” It can take days for payments to cross networks and settle.
By way of contrast, said Rolland, cryptocurrencies and blockchain payments cross an “immediate global rail,” which can prove beneficial to emerging marketplaces or to the young startup that is working with freelancers and partners in far-flung corners of the globe. It can be difficult to scale if it takes 30 days to get people paid.
Looking ahead, Rolland said 2021 should prove to be “an exciting year” for cryptocurrency, and BitPay Send will be a key business focus. Additional cryptos beyond bitcoin will likely become available through BitPay Send. The company will seek to guarantee real-time payouts on a continuous basis across B2B and B2C commerce.
As Rolland told PYMNTS: “Cryptocurrency doesn’t sleep. There are no bank holidays. You could get paid on a Saturday or a Sunday at midnight, your time, across the mass payouts marketplace and use cases.”