Wirex Limited, formerly known as E-Coin, recently announced that they have launched a new feature for their bitcoin debit cards. Users can now purchase bitcoin directly in their app. The company claims their flagship product is now the first “two-way” bitcoin debit card.
Cardholders can use the card to exchange fiat currencies for bitcoin, as well as spend bitcoin at places that only accept fiat.
“Wirex users can use our blockchain-enabled banking services to instantly send, receive, spend, store and transfer funds, using nothing more than a smartphone and Internet access. We aim to eliminate exorbitant banking fees and money transfer charges, along with the need for physical visits to banks and remittance service providers.”
Bitcoin debit cards, including Wirex, Xapo and Shift from Coinbase, allow users to hold a balance in bitcoins, and spend their value at everyday merchants and shops, even those that may have never heard of bitcoin. They accomplish this feat by converting bitcoin into the fiat currency needed for each purchase.
Xapo and Wirex (E-Coin) have both been available for well over a year, in many different countries, but not in the US due to strict banking regulations. In November, Coinbase partnered with Shift Payments to produce the first US card, which is available in 32 US states and proving to be popular.
“Since launch in November, over 10,000 people have signed up for the card and spent over $1,000,000 worth of bitcoin.”
Some might argue that the Shift card was the first two-way bitcoin debit card, you can use fiat currency to purchase bitcoin at Coinbase. However, since the Shift card is run from the Shiftpayments.com website, and not directly inside the Coinbase account, there is a technical difference.
Either way, the two cards are available in different markets. Wirex claims to support 130 countries for their plastic Mastercard debit cards, excluding the United States. All BRICS countries, excluding India, are present, as is the UK, Japan, and most of the largest and richest countries in the world.
Meanwhile, typical wallet functions with Coinbase, where you can send, receive, and store bitcoin, can be done from pretty much anywhere on Earth, or what Coinbase calls “190” countries, while not naming them. However, buying and selling bitcoin is currently restricted to 32 countries.
To load a Shift card, you have to be a resident of one of 32 US states. The other 18 states all have money transmission laws that restrict their use. However, the restriction is on residency, so the cards themselves still work at merchants in any state, the Shift team assures us.
Wirex appears to have much broader target market. Loading the account can be done in many diverse ways, although they are dependant on the country you're sending funds from.
Both of the largest mainstream payment methods in China can be used, Alipay and Unionpay, with fees of 3.5% and 2.5%, respectively. iDeal fee option is currently the cheapest from the Netherland's, at €0.60, while the PaySafeCard system can be used in more than 20 different countries, although at the scary rate of nine percent per transaction. Thankfully, traditional bank transfers provide a robust selection in most countries.
“Wirex supports international and domestic bank transfers directly to users’ accounts. With partner banks in over 68 countries, customers can make quick domestic transfers to their Wirex debit card accounts. Supported banks include Barclays, Lloyds, ING and the Royal Bank of Scotland.”
- Tim Frost, VP Marketing & Business Development at Wirex
Another interesting feature that Wirex cards offer is a non-physical, “Virtual” debit card, running on the Visa network. You can use it in your browser, with a Wirex account, to pay for online purchases in fiat.
Both the physical and the virtual cards have an affordable application fee, payable in bitcoin. “The virtual card costs US$3,” their website explains, “and the plastic card costs US$17 (including delivery).” Virtual cards are instantly available for use, while plastic ones need to be shipped and activated, just like traditional debit and credit cards.
Besides making purchases from online shop that accept Visa, there are a few other interesting uses for the virtual Visa card: “You can keep it as an easy way to convert your bitcoin into USD/GBP/EUR when the exchange rate is good,” the company suggests, noting that the conversation is fast. It also states that you can use it to verify your PayPal account.
At the time of this writing, only the older e-Coin cards are available for immediate sign-up, by going to the e-Coin website. However, those wanting the new cards can put themselves in line for one at the Wirex website, which states they'll be shipping soon.
Security is arguably the most impressive feature of e-coin and Wirex card accounts. BitGo teamed up with e-Coin in June, and brought with them some of the most impressive wallet security in the industry. All wallet funds are also protected by insurance.
“All wallets in our system are protected by BitGo’s multi-signature technology, so you can sleep well every night knowing your funds are safe.”
The company plans to finish complete the rebranding, upgrade to Wirex, and let go of the e-Coin name and website shortly. “E-Coin (and its variations) is also the name of one country’s alternate cryptocurrency,” The Wirex site explains. “It is the name of an alternate coin-bitcoin digital currency exchange platform, a fast-food administration page, an online shop specialising in beauty products, and even a rare coin in Super Mario World.”
Some of the new services under the Wirex brand include “the ability to overcome Bitcoin price volatility,” by being able to lock in rates in advance while loading debit cards, and also “the ability to integrate [traditional] debit cards into our mobile banking service via the Wirex app.”
“The best part? Wirex is available for everyone, not just the Bitcoin community. By opening up our market, we are doing our part to increase bitcoin’s adoption by the public.