I’ve been an investor, miner and advocate for all forms of cryptocurrency for some time now, but only a small percentage of my transactions have been around actual use, as opposed to investment or transfers. It occurred to me that if I am to fulfill my self-proclaimed role of cryptocurrency evangelist, I’ve got to up my game in terms of spend and adoption.
Those of you who follow my blog already know that I have taken Bitcoin directly as a retailer using Bitpay, but I always found it cumbersome and clunky at point of sale. Now, as a consumer, finding places that take it directly is tricky as overall adoption rates in this area are still very low and have actually fallen in the last eight months. This is almost certainly due to the bear sentiment that is currently in complete control of the markets, despite the slew of very positive news that now exists around the industry. Nevertheless, adoption is a key part of the whole picture, so finding ways to make it work is important.
I was very excited about Litepay earlier in the year, but of course we all know how THAT ended up. TENX has been working on various solutions and Coinbase’s Shift card is – I think – still available in the US. There have been other attempts as well going back even further, but Mastercard and Visa are not overly friendly to cryptocurrency in general as it represents such a threat to their business going forward. But one company that caught my eye recently who is having a real go at creating an easy way to spend your cryptos is Wirex, and this time it’s available right on my doorstep and easy to get. Getting a Wirex debit card was a no-brainer in my view – it would mean I could spend my cryptos in real time wherever Visa is accepted. So I logged on to the site and began the process.
The site is a little slow, but simple to use. I still managed to fall at the first hurdle, however. No bank account is required for these cards of course, but the usual verification via passport and selfie is definitely mandatory. This has to be done via your smartphone on IOS or Android, neither of which I have, and it can’t be done online via the site, so after a quick communication to customer support, I learned I was able to borrow a phone, install the app, do the verification and delete it afterwards. Not ideal, but then again I can’t blame Wirex for that. IOS and Android now cover some 99% of the market. I’m just one of the 1%. I like to be different.
It took only 3 days for the card to arrive in a very nice, very small double slide out cardboard container. It’s plain, simple and comes in a nice turquoise hue, but it was barely out of the box before I’d tweeted a picture of it in front of ‘Big Blue’, our mining rig. Honestly, I was like a child on Christmas Day morning.
However, before I could use it, I had to activate it and was pleased to see that this was easily done on the phone, which, of course, I had to borrow again. Simply hold the phone over the card, confirm the details it scans and the card is live. Press ‘next’ for the PIN which is displayed on the screen for a few seconds and you’re ready to go. This process is painless, quick and simple – just as we would expect in this day and age.
I decided to use Bitcoin for my first transaction and logged into my Exodus wallet, although can you also transfer Ripple or Litecoin. This part I did on my PC as it was easier to copy and past the address and transferred a modest amount, but it could just as well have been done on the phone if you have a mobile wallet. The Bitcoin network was reasonably quick at the time and it arrived in a just a few minutes, registering correctly both on the app and the PC. Now all we needed was a place to make our first transaction.
We were going out as a family anyway to a local charity event supporting the Ollie Young Foundation held in a large field outside Wokingham. Although not an ideal place to find a Visa accepting merchant, I was hopeful nonetheless and, at the end of the afternoon, we hit the jackpot; not only did we find a merchant who accepted Visa, we found one who was serving the most amazing alternative food, Vegan Blue. Since we’re all vegetarians, this was bang on.
The owners, Ann and Mark, were simply lovely and I was happy to discover that the food they sold was home made and was of an extremely high quality – we genuinely loved it and I’d not hesitate to recommend it to anyone, meat eaters or no. It was quiet and we had time to chat whilst the food was being prepared, so I popped the question I’d been excited about asking all day – would they be happy to accept my first Bitcoin transaction and allow us to take a photo? They would. We were on!
With camera lined up and – in my own mind – a drum roll gently building to a crescendo in the background, I tapped the contactless element of their wireless PDQ machine … and was greeted by the words ‘Declined’. Hmmm. No matter, perhaps it was a contactless issue, so we tried via PIN which I had, fortunately, memorized from a few hours prior. The result, however, was unchanged. Perplexed, disappointed and slightly concerned that these lovely people who had been patiently listening to me talking excitedly about how the system works were thinking we might actually carrying out a long con to get some free chapatis, I quickly logged back into the app.
My wallet showed a balance of £0.00. What? How was this possible? And then, quite suddenly, it dawned on me. I’d transferred the Bitcoin, but hadn’t converted it to sterling, it was still sitting there in the wallet. The card had been asked to settle a payment from an account that had a zero balance – of course it had been declined. Embarrassed at my oversight, I quickly transferred Bitcoin to sterling with the swipe of the finger and just a minute or two later we were in business. Again.
My patient creditors watched with great amusement as we, once again, touched our pieces of technology together only to be greeted this time with a ‘Thank you!’ on the screen. We had done it. It was, in the end, incredibly easy, very quick and was exactly the same as paying with any debit card which was, of course, precisely the point. The Bitcoin we spent had been generated that very day by Big Blue, and I’d spent in on veggie food from a van. In a field. That’s quite incredible when you think about it.
Like everything, we’ll get used to it in due course, but you never forget your first do you? I hope I see Ann and Mark again some day, perhaps at another summer event, and we’ll buy some more veggie BBQ and sweet pickle baps. This time with Ripple … just to mix it up a bit.
Update: I have been asked if I am being paid to promote Wirex or Vegan Blue, but can confirm I have no association with either, nor have I received payment. These reviews and comments are my own experiences and I have chosen to blog them to help other people who may be looking for these services. However, if you have enjoyed this, or any other of my stories, perhaps you’d consider tipping. Thank you.