A Bitcoin Visa Card? Not So Fast

July 24, 2017, 3:49 PM UTC

A Singapore-based startup has big plans for digital currency: The firm, called TenX, intends to issue a pre-paid card that will “Take Bitcoin Into [the] Real World With Visa.” Or at least that’s what the headline says.

According to Bloomberg, which reported on TenX’s plans, the company will offer a Visa card tied a digital currency app. This arrangement is intended to let consumers make ordinary purchases at coffee shops and elsewhere using a card backed by bitcoin or other digital assets. Here are more details:

TenX is pitching its debit card as an instant converter of multiple digital currencies into fiat money: the dollars, yen and euros that power most everyday commerce. The company said it takes a 2% cut from each transaction and has received orders for more than 10,000 cards. While transactions are capped at $2,000 a year, users can apply to increase the limit if they undergo identify verification procedures.

TenX, however, is hardly the first company with ambitions to increase bitcoin’s footprint in the marketplace by piggy-backing on existing card networks. In 2014, the bitcoin storage company Xapo announced a Mastercard tied to digital currency wallets, but the credit card giant immediately disavowed the partnership. Since then, Xapo has created a bitcoin-backed debit card that works with Visa.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco-based digital currency exchange, Coinbase, launched the Shift Card, which lets users pay with bitcoin using the Visa network. From a merchant’s perspective, however, the transaction is no different from a regular Visa transaction since all of the bitcoin-related elements occur behind the scenes.

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Unsurprising, none of these cards appears to have caught on beyond a handful of hyper-niche users. The primary reason is likely that there is no real advantage to using them: Why go to the trouble of acquiring a card and funding it with bitcoin when you can just use a credit or debit card instead? And while it could provide a way to pay for those without bank accounts, such people already have an alternative—it’s called cash.

For ordinary consumers, a bitcoin-Visa card has an obvious drawback in that it doesn’t offer rewards points like any regular Visa card worth its salt will do. And for merchants, the “2% cut” TenX plans to take is no better than what they must pay out already.

As for the credit card companies, they are lukewarm at best. They may allow bitcoin companies access to their networks to process payments, but would no doubt them off if digital currency comes to present any sort of threat. Visa, which not reply to a request for comment about the TenX launch, is also conspicuously absent from any bitcoin-related marketing efforts.

The bottom line is TenX, like other firms, might carve out a tiny niche with hardcore bitcoin enthusiasts. But as for these cards “taking Bitcoin into the real world” and making them mainstream, there’s as much chance of that as bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto becoming head of the Federal Reserve.

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