In the developed world of workers in the United States and Europe, the ability to be paid in cryptocurrency probably would not add all that much to their daily life. It’s novel, of course – and the “ain’t it cool” factor might prompt some people to give it a try. And, of course, there are true bitcoin believers in every nation who want all their earnings, savings and investments in crypto form.
But as Robin O’Connell, chief revenue officer at Uphold, told Karen Webster in a recent conversation, when one is talking about the developed world and bitcoin and other crypto-based payments, one is probably talking about enthusiasts looking for a further way to participate – “maybe as an investment,” for example.
Besides that, Webster asked, “why would anyone want to get paid in a currency they can’t use to buy things?”
Answering that, O’Connell noted, requires taking a step back and looking at the broader international picture outside of the “U.S. lens.”
“Think about if you lived in certain parts of Latin America – we see a lot of interest in Brazil, Venezuela and Colombia, because platforms specialize in making it easier to move money digitally across the world in a lot of forms,” O’Connell explained.
Those are markets, he said, where the local currency is devaluing, or where it can be hard to access funds quickly and inexpensively. It’s why, O’Connell posited, that Uphold has seen crypto become so big in Latin America and Asia Pacific: Workers want to be paid, want to be able to access their funds and want to be able to move their funds right now – and their governments aren’t doing that for them.
And, O’Connell told Webster, those same governments also aren’t making it easy for businesses to pay their global workforce in a way that enables workers to easily access and use their wages.
But Uphold, in its newly announced partnership with cryptocurrency payroll firm Bitwage and Dash (a blockchain-powered cryptocurrency), is committed to making that wage movement easier – both for the employer and the worker.
A Natural Evolution
Bitwage, as a platform, specializes in paying workers in cryptocurrency – originally bitcoin, but eventually Ethereum as well.
About a year ago, however, O’Connell said that a need popped up, as an increasing number of Bitwage users started asking about getting paid in Dash via Bitwage.
And this, O’Connell told Webster, pointed to both a narrow and wider problem.
The narrow problem is that Bitwage didn’t offer Dash as a payment method for workers.
The wider problem for firms like Bitwage – in a world where the open-sourced nature of blockchain technology means there are a lot of digital currencies floating around – is that it’s hard to keep up with all the “...” coins out there.
“It becomes really challenging for them [Bitwage] to deal with each crypto form as it comes up, and then undertake the work of connecting to its blockchain,” noted O’Connell.
But Uphold can take care of that part, according to O'Connell, as it specializes in allowing firms to move money and change it from one form (fiat, for example) into another form (crypto).
By hooking into Uphold APIs, he explained, they can leverage those capabilities to “build their own use cases for moving money and interacting in the new digital economy.”
Use cases like, for example, paying workers in Dash instead of fiat currency. And, as it turned out, Uphold had already added Dash to its list of supported digital currency forms, making it a natural fit for Bitwage’s needs.
“This really was a community-driven announcement, from the standpoint that we knew they wanted it, and so all we really had to do was sit together as partners and figure out how to make this available for users,” noted O’Connell.
The combination gives the user access to Bitwage’s expertise with processing cryptocurrency in international payroll transactions and Uphold’s fluidity in moving funds through various currency formats, as well as access to Dash as a digital payments form.
The Wider World of Application
Getting paid in Dash is all well and good, Webster noted, but the reality is most merchants on Earth don’t accept Dash – or any other form of crypto currency, for that matter. And since workers, generally speaking, don’t work for the love of the game, but to get paid in currency they can spend, getting paid in crypto is only useful if one can also transact with it – buy food, pay bills, shop at retail stores.
That is starting to change, O’Connell noted, as players like airlines are beginning to inquire about how they could accept crypto-based payments in the future. Even so, crypto showing up in transactions as frequently as, say, Visa is probably a long, long, long way off.
Uphold, O’Connell contended, has already thought through that problem – which means for the payee, they offer not only a chance to get paid in Dash, but (in an increasing number of markets) also a chance to turn that Dash payment back into fiat cash.
In Europe, he noted, that often means simply cashing back to a bank account. In Mexico, it means working with a local partner of Uphold’s. In some markets, it involves loading funds onto a prepaid Mastercard.
“We are also investigating things like cash vouchers – we are always looking to expand our reach into the banks themselves where there is enough demand, or to find the places where there is this demand,” O’Connell said.
Because, he noted, demand is ever expanding – and coming from places one might not expect.
Like, for example, a private high school that wanted to accept bitcoin donations, but did not want to have to dedicate a member of the staff to figuring out cryptocurrency speculation. For that school, he noted, Uphold created an automatic switch, so that funds donated in bitcoin would hit the school’s accounts as whatever the dollar value of bitcoin was at the time of the donation.
“If you look at Dash, which is a major cryptocurrency with a market cap in the tens of billions, they have the same needs around paying their employees and vendors as everyone else.”
Vendors, he noted, don’t take cryptocurrency payments – and Dash employees “have bills to pay, which means they need local currency like everyone else.”
The goal, O’Connell said, is to make it easier for anyone to get paid, anywhere, and then to give them as much choice about what to do with those payments as possible.
“With money, people always want the same three things: faster, easier and more transparent. We think with Bitwage and Dash, we can continue to open that up for a lot more people all over the world.”