News & Analysis

Roll your eyes all you want, but bitcoin is here to stay with CoinJar launching Australia’s first bitcoin debit card

- September 18, 2014 3 MIN READ

As it turns out, bitcoin is here to stay. Australian startup CoinJar, which provides businesses with virtual wallets for bitcoin transactions, has today announced that it is trialling CoinJar Swipe, the first EFTPOS card that allows bitcoin holders to spend their digital currency anywhere they like. This is great news for those who have long aspired to buy their morning coffee with bitcoin – after all, a regular debit card or a $5 note is completely insufficient in this situation.

For those who are like Nicole Kersh, Founder of 4cabling.com who has since left the company, and liken the legitimacy of this unidentified, unregulated, faceless currency to that of unicorns, here’s a simple explanation: bitcoin is virtual money or ‘the currency of the internet’. As with anything new, the concept is difficult to grasp. At first, you may think it refers to the coins you earn in computer games. In actual fact, it’s distributed, worldwide, decentralised digital money.

Unlike traditional currencies, bitcoins are issued and managed without any central authority. Since no government, company, or bank has regulatory power over Bitcoin, this unique payment system is far more resistant to economic instability, inflation and corrupt banks. As such, you can transact freely and essentially be your own bank.

In a blog post, Bitcoin Foundation says that cryptographic money is a “reaction to three separate epochal developments largely emanating from the developed economies: 1) centralized and oppressive monetary authority; 2) a dominant and complicit legacy banking system; and 3) the eradication of financial privacy.”

The purpose of bitcoin is admirable. But there remains scepticism around the technology. Criminal activities such as money laundering have been linked to bitcoin, spreading concern about national security – unhelped by the fact that terrorism is a major problem at the moment.

Nevertheless, it appears bitcoin is here to stay. Earlier this month, fast-growing digital currency platform, igot.com, launched the first bitcoin exchange online platform in the United Arab Emirates, enabling users to save up to seven to eight percent in international transaction costs and currency exchange. This was a significant move for the Australian company and its plans of tapping into the UAE’s reported $25 billion remittance payments market.

Locally, bitcoins are being used by an estimated 500,000 Australians. CoinJar has reportedly processed more than $50 million worth of bitcoin transactions in the past 12 months for more than 30,000 individual and business customers.

The growing uptake of bitcoin has even seen Australian-headquartered investment firm, Future Capital Bitcoin Fund, launch a USD$30 million global investment fund targeted towards startups leveraging bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

There’s no denying that bitcoin has got some noteworthy fans. Apple, who initially banned the bitcoin wallet app started accepting apps that comply with state and federal laws. Amazon also initially avoided bitcoin, but now own a bitcoin-related Cloud Computing Patent.

Following the footsteps of other bitcoin cards issuers like BitPlastic, Xapo and Cryptex, CoinJar Swipe wants to bridge the gap between the digital currency bitcoin and traditional payment methods, in order to improve the bitcoin experience for consumers.

Now with the CoinJar Swipe card, customers taking part in the trial will be able to withdraw from their bitcoin account convert to Australian dollars at any ATM or purchase items at any retail outlet. I’m not a fan of the word ‘revolutionary’ because it’s overused and attached to nearly every new development in technology. But revolutionary might be appropriate in this situation.

Asher Tan, co-founder and CEO of CoinJar, said the Swipe trial was an important leap in taking bitcoin into the mainstream Australian economy: “We created Swipe because we simply wanted to make it easier for our customers to spend their bitcoin. Swipe demystifies bitcoin and makes it accessible to everyone through a secure platform. Our team is really excited about Swipe, and we look forward to receiving feedback from our customers.”

As part of the trial, 100 cards are being distributed to pre-registered CoinJar DNA members, who were asked the following question on social media: What would you do with your CoinJar Swipe? The startup received answers like “Pay my bitcoin business bills” and “buy a sausage roll, sauce and an iced coffee for lunch”.

The CoinJar Swipe cards will be allocated evenly between early adopters, everyday consumers and other demographics. Customers will get their hands on the card next week.

Sceptics may roll their eyes, but those who firmly believe in bitcoin won’t let the technology fade away into the abyss and be remembered merely as a buzzword.