For many people, cryptocurrencies remain an abstract idea removed from everyday life. Most people aren’t even aware of the technology.
But one application that can push cryptocurrencies into the mainstream is payments. Making it easy and safe for consumers and businesses to pay bills, buy and sell stuff, and deposit and withdraw funds offer significant opportunities for the technology.
The global payments market, currently dominated by traditional banks and financial institutions, is enormous. Last year, the industry generated nearly $2 trillion in revenue, an 11 percent jump from 2017, according to McKinsey consulting firm.
Payment service provider WorldPay estimates the transaction amount in digital payments alone will reach $876 billion globally by 2021.
As a result, we are witnessing a significant surge in efforts to develop crypto-payments.
Facebook, for instance, recently announced that it will launch its Libra tokens to facilitate payments across its messaging platforms.
Bakkt is reportedly developing a crypto-payment method called “Bakkt Pay”; Starbucks, Whole Foods, AT&T, and Nordstrom are potential customers.
Squarer recently debuted “Cash App” and “Square Market” in partnership with Bitcoin.
Here’s a quick guide to the plethora of companies, both traditional firms and startups, pursuing this hotly contested business.
Payment service providers
Coinbase and Visa jointly launched a debit card that people can use in off-line transactions in six European countries. The service challenges to a certain extent big international players like PayPal.
Since introducing its Bitcoin payment services in 2017, Square expects revenue from these businesses to reach $65.5 million this year.
Furthermore, the company is developing a service for users to transfer Bitcoin from outside wallets to Square. It’s not difficult to imagine that Square might eventually start a cryptocurrency exchange and offer services like money management and trusteeship.
In addition, Chinese tech giant Alibaba has created cross-border platforms for money transfer and payments between Hong Kong and the Philippines and Pakistan and Malaysia.
Tokens, of course, are the engine that fuels the crypto payments industry. BTC, XRP, BCH, LTC, and XLM make up the world’s five largest tokens in terms of market valuation. As of August 17, Bitcoin accounted for 68.4 percent of the total market value of all cryptocurrencies.
XRP and XLM, along with their respective mother blockchain Ripple and Stellar, are more focused on settlement and cross-border payments.
As for major privacy cryptocurrencies, Monero, Dash, and Zcash enjoy the highest market values while Beam and Grin are gaining wider popularity. With their strong focus on privacy, these cryptocurrencies are especially prolific in non-mainstream markets. For instance, Pornhub accepts Monero as one of its payment methods. Wall Street Market, the black market that global authorities eventually shut down, held a large amount of Monero tokens.
Banks have the most to lose as payments startups continue to encroach on their turf. Therefore, banks have invested considerable time and money in blockchain to defend their business.
According to Odaily, 38 percent of the 84 blockchain-related businesses that major banks like Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and HSBC are developing belong to payments and trade and finance. The four major national banks in China as well as China Merchants Bank are also exploring these areas.
The most impactful player thus far is J.P. Morgan. The bank’s decision to launch its own JPM digital coin provided a powerful boost to a market that was undesirable at that time.
Central banks are keeping a close eye on blockchain technology as the emergence of digital currency will deeply alter the global financial system.
Several developing countries have already launched digital money from their central banks. Ecuador and the Marshall Islands hope to lessen the connection of their money to the U.S. dollar. Venezuela, Tunisia, and Serbia want to fix domestic economic problems and complete financial reforms.
Central banks in major powers like France, the United Kingdom, Canada and China are studying the possibility of merging digital currencies with existing infrastructure.
For instance, the Bank of France launched MADRE in 2016, an initiative to speed money transfers. And the Bank of Canada and the Monetary Authority of Singapore have conducted cross border transactions with the support J.P. Morgan and R3.
For crypto payments to gain widespread acceptance, mainstream institutions need to embrace them.
For example, Microsoft accepted Bitcoin as a payment method as early as in 2014 in its Xbox store (due to the frequent fluctuation of Bitcoin, this service ceased operation in 2018).
Twitter allows users to “give prizes” to others with Bitcoin. However, the company does not directly operate the service but rather through the “Tippin” explorer. Furthermore, Tippin uses the technology of Lightning Network to support real-time transactions in small amounts of Bitcoin. Therefore, the giver and receiver of the “prize” both need to have a wallet that supports Lightning Network.
Overstock.com has accepted Bitcoin as early as in 2014. The company plans to focus solely on blockchain. Overstock also accepts other currencies such as Ethereum, Dash, Litecoin, and NEM.