Visa goes for USDC with Circle

Visa, the credit card giant, has joined with Circle to connect 60 million merchants to the US Dollar Coin (USDC), a coin on the Ethereum blockchain. This is yet another sign that cryptocurrencies are integrating even further with mainstream payment currencies.

Although Visa won’t have custody itself of the USDC, it is going to work with Circle to select Visa credit card issuers and integrate the USDC software with their platforms, so that it can be used for payments. What this means is that businesses will soon enough be able to make international payments in USDC to other businesses supported by Visa. The funds will then be converted into national currencies when they are spent anywhere that accepts Visa.

Circle is a part of Visa’s Fast Track program, and when it completes the course next year, that is when this new USDC program will begin, with the issuance of a new credit card that allows users to spend USDC. Visa’s head of crypto, Cuy Sheffield, said, “This will be the first corporate card that will allow businesses to be able to spend a balance of USDC. And so we think that this will significantly increase the utility that USDC can have for Circle’s business clients.” 

The partnership between Visa and Circle, helped by the $40 million investment Visa made in another firm developing a platform for holding similar assets issued on a blockchain, “is the latest evidence that the credit card giant sees the technology first popularized by bitcoin as a crucial part of the future of money,” Michael de Castillo writes at Forbes.

Sheffield said, “Blockchain networks and stablecoins, like USDC, are just additional networks. So we think that there’s a significant value that Visa can provide to our clients, enabling them to access them and enabling them to spend at our merchants.”

Currently, according to Visa’s data, “$120 trillion in payments annually are made using checks and instant wire transfers, costing as much as $50 each.” By contrast, since USDC settles on the ethereum blockchain, transactions can close in a little a[s] 20 seconds and, importantly, can be done for nearly free.

Visa has been making strong moves in the cryptocurrency sphere this year. In February 2020. Coinbase became the first company granted principal membership status by Visa. This means that Coinbase, one of the biggest crypto exchanges globally, can in turn issue cards to others.

Circle has done some rethinks of its own in regard to cryptocurrency. In 2019 it had a fire sale of its assets including Poloniex, Circle Invest and Circle Pay. It also rebranded its home page with a focus exclusively on stablecoins and central bank digital currencies. The attraction of the USDC is that it is built on the Ethereum block chain and only tiny amounts of the cryptocurrency ETH are used as “gas” to pay for the transactions.

Jeremy Allaire, the CEO of Circle Internet Finance, says of the new partnership and its probable outcome: “Imagine a capital marketplace that is for anyone who needs capital, or anyone who needs to offer capital that has the same efficiency that Amazon has for e-commerce, the same efficiency that YouTube has for content, effectively, capital markets with the efficiency of the internet, which is essentially zero.” He added, “And that will ultimately return trillions of dollars in value back to the economy, it will reduce costs for every business in the world, it will accelerate the way in which individuals can participate in commercial activity and commerce activity, in conducting their labor and interacting with businesses around the world.”

Why Bank Stocks Tanked in 2020

If there were ever an indication that the digital age is taking over in finance, it is the state of bank stocks. This year has been an extraordinary one in many respects, and the effects of the pandemic have thrown the banking sector into a quandary as fintech companies have outperformed the traditional players in he banking sector.

BNN Bloomberg’s senior anchor, Jon Erlichman, came to this conclusion after studying stock performance reports for banks, fintechs and the two largest cryptocurrencies, ETH and BTC.

A graph created by CryptoPotato, shows a YTD gain of 217% for ETH, while Wells Fargo bank shows a -58% loss. This is a massive change over a decade: “The stocks of some of the world’s largest banks were on a roll since the previous financial crisis over a decade ago. Bank of America shares had increased approximately ten-fold since 2009 to their highs in February 2020 of about $35,” writes Jordan Lyanchev. He also notes that in the same period, “Citigroup stocks went from $15 to $80, JP Morgan Chase & Co (JPM) from $20 to $140, and Wells Fargo (WFC) surged from $11 to above $50.”

What changed for banks in 2020?

The simplest answer is the Covid-19 pandemic. Even in March banks were seeing a significant slump with some losing 50% of their valuation in a matter of days. Some have regained a little of their former value, but they will still end this year in the red. And it is not just banks; Western Union and American Express have also suffered. Lyanchev notes that Warren Buffett, a major investor, sold all his bank stocks this year.

Visa and Mastercard both took a bit of a hit, but have managed to pull back into the green by small percentages. However, they must be looking at companies like PayPal and Square with a feeling of envy.

PayPal’s stocks (PYPL) started 2020 at $110 and have increased by 94% since then. It did see a collapse to $85 in March, but as we can see, it has completely turned that around. Square’s yearly gains have even seen triple-digit percentages, and it has seen a 178% growth since January 2020. Both of them are now connected with cryptocurrency: Square bought Bitcoin valued at $50 million this year, and PayPal is allowing its US-based customers to buy, sell, and store several digital assets.

The crypto markets

It is undeniable that the cryptocurrency markets also took a hit around March. Today BTC is at $13,000, but it dipped to $3,700 back then. Ethereum, now at $400 dropped to $100. Both have overcome the slump, with Bitcoin in particular being increasingly seen as a safe haven asset in the same way as gold.

Analysts are unsure exactly why Bitcoin has seen a YTD surge of 80%, and whether it can be attributed to more interest from institutional investors, the May halving or large companies investing in it. Ethereum has been riding the wave of the growing trend supporting decentralised finance, as its blockchain operates as the underlying technology behind most DeFi projects. Even though this utility has highlighted some of Etherieum’s weak points, such as high transaction fees and slow transaction rates, “none of that matters as ETH has been on a roll during most of the year, especially since the summer.” Now the second-largest cryptocurrency has become the best-performing asset, with an increase of over 200%.

What we can take away from this is that Covid-19 has driven dramatic changes that have made people become more focused on the digital world. They are looking more to online ventures and digitally transferred funds. What we may be witnessing now is the real beginning of a mass movement to an online world that will leave traditional banking behind.

Are banking APIs the real revolution?

Application programming interfaces (APIs) have been around for 20 years, but, as Ron Shevlin points out, just one in five community banks in the USA had deployed APIs before 2020, and they aren’t even on the radar of at least 20% of the banks.

Contrast this with Europe, where 97% of UK banks are already using them, and even the lowest uptake country, the Netherlands, has 83% of its banks deploying APIs. The reason for this huge gap between the USA and Europe is the latter’s Open Banking initiative, however Shevlin says that American banks cannot simply use this as an excuse for their low adoption of the technology.

As a result of the lack of API deployment, US banks are missing out on a number of opportunities, including the reduction of time and costs in several business processes, particularly product application-related processes.

The best known API providers include Stripe, Plaid and Yodlee. These three have furthered the connections between financial institutions and fintech companies. However, Shevlin says there are three fintech startups that are “poised to have a significant impact on the banking industry: Pinwheel, Sila, and Codat.”

Pinwheel

Pinwheel, which has just announced a $7 million funding raise, offers an API for payroll data, “that handles everything from income and employee verification to easily switching and managing direct deposit.”

How would this revolutionise banking? According to a Techcrunch article, “For consumers, the main draw is automated direct deposit control, which will allow consumers to control where their paychecks go. For instance, if they want to split a direct deposit into multiple accounts, or regularly move part of their paycheck into a savings app like Digit or Acorns, Pinwheel can help them do that easily.”

Sila

According to Coindesk, Sila, “is an API platform that issues an ERC-20 stablecoin called SilaToken (SILA). Every transaction on the platform is done using the token, which is pegged 100:1 to the U.S. dollar. Sila plans to install card payments, international payments, business ID verification and begin issuing tokens within one business day. Its partner bank, Evolve Bank & Trust, plans to connect to the Clearing House system, a network started by big banks that provides access to instant payments.”

Techcrunch comments that Sila’s API would: “Supplant ACH as the payments choice for companies who need to move money. Sila’s API for identity verification, which empowers developers to identify users and use that info in the company’s banking API, allows users to debit their accounts and move funds from one account to another. On top of that infrastructure, Sila allows for the creation of smart contracts, which should allow for more rapid deployment of financial apps.”

Codat

Codat, which is based in London, has an API focused on small businesses, and is signing up 10,000 new customers per month. According to TechCrunch:

“Codat is building an API that connects with all the systems that hold all the relevant financial data. That type of information is usually spread across multiple systems, and small businesses often use different systems. On the other side, banks, insurance companies and more can speed up their internal processes and give you an educated answer for your next loan or insurance product.”

Codat is especially on point right now as small businesses are struggling and need funds. However, the current lending processes are time-consuming and confusing. Its API simplifies and streamlines the flow of data between small businesses and financial institutions, and could potentially disrupt the way SME loans are handled today.

Blockchain

On the other hand, perhaps APIs aren’t the ultimate answer for a banking revolution. Brian Platz, co-CEO of Fluree, says, “The answer isn’t to build a better API; rather, it is to turn the database inside out and let data escape from the walls that confine it. Blockchain is how data frees itself. It’s time to end the era of data APIs and begin to look into the blockchain.”

Blockchain solutions to surge by 2023

According to a new study by CB Insights blockchain tech has gone far beyond its beginnings in banking and cryptocurrency, with annual global spending on blockchain applications having almost tripled since 2017. Furthermore, CB Insights’ Market Sizing Tool predicts this annual spend could shoot up to $16 billion by 2023.

As the report says, everything from insurance and gaming to cannabis and industries are seeing the potential power of blockchain. The big companies, such as Facebook, Amazon, Samsung and LG have already dipped their toes in the water, and LG has introduced it using a “Facial recognition service that combines AI and blockchain to make payments in digital currencies,” according to Luke Fitzpatrick in Forbes.

What does blockhain give to industries? According to Ilker Koksal it provides:

Greater transparency

Increased efficiency

Better security

Improved traceability

And which industries will benefit the most and see the biggest changes by using blockchain applications? Here are the four most likely to make the most of blockchain.

Digital banking

Digital banking has made great progress over the last decade and decentralized finance (DeFi) could be a catalyst for taking banking fully digital. Atul Khekade, cofounder of XinFin said, “The FinTech industry is growing at the rate of 23% year-on-year and blockchain is about to make finance more efficient.” He expects to see traditional finance firms and governments understanding the advantages in the near future, and it is almost certainly the case that countries with large numbers of unbanked people will take advantage of blockchain solutions. If they aren’t already, they should be.

Supply chains and logistics

While banking has been the most prominent user of blockchain, industries that rely on the supply chain sector are also embracing blockchain with good reason. As Fitzpatrick says, “The technology by its very design offers an unprecedented level of efficiency in the recording and tracking of goods,” and this didn’t go unnoticed by IBM for tracking goods. Carrefour, a French supermarket, has also used the technology for the tracking of food products from farms to stores.

Fitness and wearables

Wearable technology had already made big consumer inroads, and the Covid-19 pandemic has increased interest in wearables that monitor steps, heartbeat and calories consumed amongst other things. Herbert Sim, an advisor to BeFaster said, “The fitness is gaining momentum over the past 10 years. According to forecasts, in the US alone, the income of the fitness industry by 2023 will exceed 20 million.” The need for social distancing has also led to new app creations for tracking. Allan Zhang, the founder of DxChain said, “Post-lockdown, the technology could be fully embedded into the wearables industry and this will provide immense value to customers in the long run.”

Asset management

Fitzpatrick says, “According to a recent study, artificial intelligence, distributed ledger technology (DLT) and the blockchain technology will have the biggest impact on asset investments in the upcoming years.” The industry is already valued at $74 trillion. Ernst and Young (EY) said, “Asset managers need to proactively consider valuation challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on financial markets.” Yubo Ruan, a 23-year-old venture capitalist, said, “Pragmatically, this means financial products like ETFs and mortgage-backed securities can be synthesized on blockchain platforms at significantly lower costs,” adding, “ blockchain-based asset management platforms tend to require lower minimum balances to invest, which is a major positive for adoption.”