Wall Street’s Bitcoin Bet: The New Payment System

Jacob Harper  |

To its most devoted backers, bitcoin is the code to freeing the world from the shackles of Wall Street and the “fiat” currencies underpinning them. Unsurprisingly, Wall Street isn’t too keen on being upended in any sort of revolution anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean the powers that be look at bitcoin as the hammer the world will use to smash them into oblivion. They just see another tool to to make money with.

And make no question, that money, at least on their end, will be in USD, thank you very much. Bitcoin’s main allure for investors is the ease with which bitcoin facilitates money transfers. And for that, bitcoin isn’t a revolution, per se, but a potentially very valuable piece of software.

Transferring funds, especially internationally, can get pricey. Apps like XOOM Corp. (XOOM) and old stalwarts like Western Union (WU) routinely take five percent (or more) off the top to transfer fiat currency, to say nothing of conversion rates once the money gets there. Bitcoin’s transfer cost, regardless of physical distance, is by contrast zero. Which is, well, certainly a more attractive option.

Still, accepting bitcoin wallet-to-wallet without an intermediary to convert to fiat means the receiver is accepting a currency whose price can swing unpredictably in a single day. The bitcoin market is pretty volatile, and not all merchants or other BTC receivers like to expose themselves to such wild price movement.

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That’s where companies like Bitpay come in. Recently valued at $160 million, and counting tech luminaries like Richard Branson and Yahoo (YHOO) co-founder Jerry Yang as major backers, Bitpay puts some buffer between bitcoin sender and bitcoin receiver, giving comfort to more traditonally-minded merchants.

Using Bitpay won’t completely fulfill bitcoin’s “third-party free” secure transaction promise. But until bitcoin completely replaces USD and the like (and that’s not happening anytime soon) Bitpay looks to have found a niche in the tranfer-conversion game, and seems to be the best bet for a bitcoin-related company succeeding in the big leagues of finance.

Here, Melissa Lee of CNBC’s Fast Money talks about the rise of Bitpay, and Wall Street’s increasing fascination with the digital commodity/currency:


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