Crypto payment cards: where fiat meets crypto
Using cryptocurrencies in real life, for example, as a means of payment on a daily shopping routine or Christmas buying spree, has never been smooth and straightforward. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention, so it’s little surprise the cryptocurrency community came up with a plethora of ways to spend cryptos both in-store and online.
Crypto payment cards are hands down one of the most convenient ways of doing that – at least until cryptocurrencies are universally accepted as a legit payment solution of their own, hard cash style. So let’s put a bunch of these cards under the microscope and look at how they can help make life easier at the most earthly level, groceries and all.
A brief introduction to cryptocurrency payment cards
Early cryptocurrency enthusiasts believed that in the not so distant future they would be able to spend their precious coins directly just like regular currencies, preferably instead of them. And while the list of services supporting such payments is constantly expanding, especially on the Internet, this option is still far from being ubiquitous.
By and large, the most common path to using crypto for everyday needs involves converting it into a fiat currency, withdrawing the proceeds, and spending the funds in the traditional way, the fiat way. With crypto payment cards, a holder of such a card still effectively spends fiat, albeit the entire process of cryptocurrency exchange is automated and thus not visible to him. To the cardholder, however, it looks like his crypto stash is being expended.
By contrast, from the regular cashier’s point of view or the checkout system’s perspective, in case a customer is paying online, such cards are like any other payment card out there – either a little piece of plastic or a set of data that allows the customer to pay for goods or services. Little do they know what is hidden at the other end of the data processing chain.
With traditional payment cards, it is only fiat that is moved around. Сrypto payment cards, as the name suggests, also involve the conversion of crypto to fiat before the conventional payment processing network such as Visa or Mastercard is engaged. Put differently, such cards bridge two independent payment systems, one based on fiat and the other on crypto.
And this is where fiat meets crypto.
Understanding differences and particulars
There are a few dimensions along which a distinction between different types of cryptocurrency payment cards can be drawn, apart from their issuer. Most important is the list of cryptocurrencies supported as well as the list of fiat currencies with which it is possible to purchase items or which can be cashed out at ATMs.
Another distinction is regional versus global (or quasi-global). Many cards can only be used within a certain region, for example, in the United States or European Economic Area, or just in a few select countries. Some card providers offer global payment solutions encompassing either the entire world or its most economically developed parts like Europe, North America, and Asia-Pacific.
There is a subtle difference between prepaid cards and debit cards. Unlike cryptocurrency debit cards, which are linked to a crypto wallet or an exchange account, prepaid cards are topped up by sending a certain amount of crypto to a specified address. It may look like six of one and half a dozen of the other, but the difference between these two types of cards can be crucial for a number of practical purposes.
Prepaid cards are a perfect tool for hiding one’s expenses as they are not linked to a crypto wallet or a bank account and thus leave no digital footprint in case the cardholder wants to stay anonymous. With debit cards, their cryptocurrency variety included, the identity of the cardholder must be established as card providers require proper identity verification before issuing the card in the cardholder’s name.
It should be noted that all cryptocurrency payment cards are essentially either prepaid or debit varieties, at least in regard to their crypto balances. That means there is no overspending, no credit lines, and, for that matter, no credit checks or credit history either. Things may change in the future, but this is how matters stand for the time being, which is understandable considering the anonymous nature of cryptocurrencies.
Major cryptocurrency payment cards
Coinbase is one of the largest cryptocurrency operations that started in 2012 as an online Bitcoin wallet. In November 2015 it launched the first-ever crypto debit card, the Shift Card, available to US residents. After retiring this card in April 2019, Coinbase came up with a new VISA-based crypto debit card dubbed the Coinbase Card. It is available across most European countries and supports 9 cryptocurrencies for EU customers.
It is expected that the US customers will be able to obtain the card in early 2021 – with support for more than 30 cryptocurrencies. The card is linked directly to the Coinbase wallet, which allows users to draw from and add funds to their cryptocurrency accounts on the platform, and spend crypto in any place where Visa cards are welcome, with all the required conversions made in real-time.
Visa-branded Wirex crypto debit card from the eponymous company is a major competitor to Coinbase crypto card on European soil and elsewhere. According to official sources, the card supports 10 cryptocurrencies and major fiat currencies such as the British pound, Euro and US dollar. The card is reportedly accepted in 130 countries, which allowed it to increase its customer base to over three million active users.
In July 2020 Visa’s main competitor Mastercard granted Wirex principal membership status that allows the company to issue payment cards directly to cryptocurrency enthusiasts. Presumably, the new multi-currency Wirex crypto payment card will support 19 cryptocurrencies as well as add 5 Eastern European currencies to its list of supported fiat currencies, including Croatian kuna, Polish zloty, and Romanian leu.
Unlike Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, there are not many crypto debit cards available to US residents. BitPay is one such card that has been in heavy use on American soil since May 2016. It supports ETH, XRP, BTC, BCH along with a few stablecoins. The only fiat currency supported by the card is the US dollar. Before June 2020 BitPay used the Visa card network, but now it uses Mastercard processing.
It is noteworthy that the BitPay Card is a prepaid card as all cryptocurrencies sent to the card balance are converted to the US dollar, and users willing to use crypto with this card will have to pay a 1% conversion fee. As it stands, this card works more like a regular fiat payment card which can be topped up with a number of supported cryptocurrencies. Consequently, only fiat withdrawals and transfers are allowed with this card.
Coinbase, Wirex and BitPay are not the only crypto payment card providers whose products are available on the market today. A number of services such as Bitwala, Advcash, Coinsbank, Shift, etc that are well known in the crypto circles offer this payment option too. Furthermore, a few new players are now testing the waters with their own approaches to the idea of a crypto payment card, with Binance probably being the most notable example.
Binance enters the fray
The top gun in the cryptocurrency exchange arena, Binance, has been recently making inroads into diverse fields of the crypto space such as cryptocurrency mining, staking, yield farming, stablecoins, to name but just a few of their business endeavors. In a sense, it was only a matter of time till the exchange became interested in cryptocurrency payment cards.
Binance took an easy path in that direction, and instead of inventing the wheel and designing its own crypto-to-fiat payment platform, in April 2020 it acquired Swipe, a firm focused on developing crypto-fiat gateways and payment cards. When Binance swallowed Swipe, it had already been offering a Visa crypto debit card that supported 20 cryptocurrencies together with major fiat currencies.
The European clients of Binance have been able to order the card since August 2020, and the exchange is nurturing plans to tap into the American market in the near future. The card is tightly integrated with the platform, and users can freely move cryptocurrencies between the exchange wallets and the card account within their Binance account.
What to expect next
In October 2020 PayPal announced support for a list of cryptocurrencies that its customers would be able to buy, hold and sell right in their PayPal accounts. Although it was impossible to deposit coins into an account on the platform at the launch time, the users could spend their coins on goods from merchants that accept PayPal.
PayPal also rolled out a virtual card christened the PayPal Key, which is linked to a user’s account and allows shopping online. The next step would be to issue a real payment card linked to a cryptocurrency account that would enable PayPal customers to exchange their crypto assets into everyday purchases at brick-and-mortar stores across the world.
And if it ever comes to that, such a move would trigger an entirely new level of healthy cryptocurrency adoption that other crypto payment cards have already laid the solid foundation for.