Canadian Companies Introduce Bitcoin Debit Card Services

November 4, 2013         By: David Mindich

Canada was in crypto-currency headlines just last week after Robocoin announced that the first ever bitcoin ATM was operating in a coffee shop in Vancouver. Now it seems the Canucks are going full bore over bitcoin adoption with Canadian companies Coinkite and Virtex announcing their bitcoin debit card services to the public.

Coinkite, the more ambitious of the two, has its sights set on becoming what they call a “Crypto-Bank.” What this means, essentially, is that they plan to offer many of the same services as banks like checking and savings accounts, just only for crypto-currency. This avoids many of the regulatory issues involved with calling themselves a traditional bank. Among Coinkite’s more intriguing services is their physical bitcoin debit card. Using a new POS system supplied to merchants from Coinkite, users with a Coinkite account can swipe their bitcoin debit card in-store, transferring funds instantly between the customer and merchant.

While Coinkite’s bitcoin payment service is certainly novel, the company must still deal with the difficult task of convincing merchants to pay to use and set up new POS hardware to make their bitcoin debit cards usable (merchants can print out a QR code and have users pay through their phone, but as we’ve seen, mobile payment adoption is a hassle all on its own.

This is where Virtex’s bitcoin debit card shines as a truly viable bitcoin payment service.  Technically a bitcoin exchange service, Virtex handles both digital and standard currency. Utilizing this, Virtex has been able to bypass virtually all of the hassles that come with bitcoin payment services by treating their bitcoin debit card like a standard prepaid card. Users can exchange bitcoins from their account into Canadian Dollars and load them straight onto their Canadian bank branded cards. These cards work with Interac POS systems and ATMs, of which there are over 750,000 and 58,000 terminals already available in Canada.

Like all debit cards, there are still fees attached for most transactions. Withdrawing money at an ATM will cost you $2 from Virtex plus whatever the ATM charges itself, and paying for things in-store will run you $1.50 per transaction.

While you could say exchanging your bitcoins into standard currency before using it with Virtex is technically cheating, until Coinkite’s POS system catches up to Interac, Virtex may be the easiest way to pay with bitcoins yet.

Regardless of which company catches on, both are major breakthroughs in bitcoin payment services and liquidity, and another step towards universal bitcoin adoption.