As the crypto revolution has moved forward, the major credit card companies have maintained a curiously low-key approach to its evolution. Now, Visa appears ready to enter the space, having recently made significant investments in blockchain startups, and revealing plans to offer financial services that utilize the technology. These moves are a clear sign that the world’s largest payment network has accepted the fact that cryptocurrencies are now a permanent element of the global financial landscape.
Visa has not entirely ignored the evolution of cryptocurrencies. It has followed their development closely, and has filed for a number of blockchain-related patents. However, it is no secret that it, along with other payment processors, do not support their use. Most notably, purchasing cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin, with Visa cards is restricted in much of the world, and classified as “high risk” where permitted. Also, the company has been reluctant to work with exchanges and wallets to create crypto-linked debit cards, although in a few instances such cards have been issued.
Now, Visa may be changing its position. It has just announced a $40 million investment in Anchorage, a blockchain startup specializing in crypto custody. Anchorage intends to create custody solutions that go beyond mere cold storage, but also give clients greater flexibility in how their funds are managed. Perhaps Visa intends to play a role in this process.
Earlier this year Visa also announced the launch of B2B Connect, a blockchain-based international payment service. Similar to Ripple’s xRapid or IBM’s Stellar-based Blockchain World Wire, B2B Connect will facilitate cross border fiat transfers, focusing on business clients. Rather than use a public blockchain, Visa’s service will utilize Hyperledger Fabric. Visa is known to be collaborating with IBM on the platform, which is curious given Big Blue’s own foray into this sector.
The extent to which Visa can succeed with these new ventures is subject to debate. Critics have long asserted that custody solutions are an unnecessary and costly service that offer little extra security to the task of storing cryptocurrency. Also, the long-term viability of fiat transfer services has long-been questioned by crypto purists, as mass adoption may render fiat obsolete. Nevertheless, Visa brings a level of unquestioned experience and trust to these emerging business applications that could make all the difference in the eyes of a skeptical public.
There is thus the very real fact that Visa’s entry into the crypto space is adding a degree of legitimacy to the reputation of blockchain assets. Regardless of whether or not it succeeds with its current plans, Visa’s move is one more indication that traditional financial institutions are taking distributed ledger technology seriously.
Most notably, Visa executives clearly understand the threat cryptocurrency poses to their core business model of facilitating electronic debit and credit card payments. Soon crypto options will be available on virtually every point-of-sale terminal on the globe. Merchants will encourage their use to avoid paying Visa’s costly transaction fees. Although Visa has yet to create a clear response to this challenge, perhaps these new offerings indicate that the company understands that it must find new revenue sources if it expects to survive long-term.