AT&T has announced it’s the first US operator to accept cryptocurrency from its customers to pay their bills.
Now forward-thinking AT&T punters can use bitcoin and that sort of thing to reward AT&T for providing all that lovely connectivity if they feel like it. Specifically they can do so via the BitPay platform, which AT&T considers ‘a respected cryptocurrency payment processor’, when they pay online and through the app.
“We’re always looking for ways to improve and expand our services,” said Kevin McDorman, VP of AT&T Communications Finance Business Operations. “We have customers who use cryptocurrency, and we are happy we can offer them a way to pay their bills with the method they prefer.” BitPay doesn’t seem to have made a public statement, but it’s presumably pleased.
This seems to be part of a growing trend, at least among US tech-related companies. Earlier this year mega distributor Avnet said it had embraced BitPay to the corporate bosom. “We’re working with BitPay to facilitate secure blockchain payments for all types of customers so they can focus on developing their products, not how to pay for them. Whether it’s Bitcoin or Bitcoin Cash, we can handle it,” said Sunny Trinh, VP of demand creation at Avnet at the time.
Not everyone thinks this is such a great idea however. TNW notes that connecting one of your bitcoin addressed to your phone number, and thus your personal data, might not be for the best. It also reminds us that a UK locksmith which started accepting bitcoin four years ago has yet to enjoy a single cryptocurrency transaction. So this move seems to be more about future-proofing than responding to any immediate demand from the market.
JP Morgan has created the first cryptocurrency to be backed by a U.S. bank but you can’t buy any and it’s not obvious what the point of it is.
“The JPM Coin is based on blockchain-based technology enabling the instantaneous transfer of payments between institutional accounts,” said an announcement based on gibberish-based grammar. In essence this seems to be a digital mechanism designed to speed up the movement of money within JP Morgan’s systems, nothing more.
They gave the exclusive to CNBC, which also got to chat to Umar Farooq, head of JP Morgan’s blockchain projects, who likes to start his sentences with ‘so’. “So anything that currently exists in the world, as that moves onto the blockchain, this would be the payment leg for that transaction,” he said. “The applications are frankly quite endless; anything where you have a distributed ledger which involves corporations or institutions can use this.
“Money sloshes back and forth all over the world in a large enterprise. Is there a way to ensure that a subsidiary can represent cash on the balance sheet without having to actually wire it to the unit? That way, they can consolidate their money and probably get better rates for it.”
So in essence JP Morgan is offering to exchange their client’s dollars for cryptocurrency tokens representing exactly the same amount, which it reckons they’ll be able to move around more easily. This is quite a different concept to something like bitcoin, which has seen massive fluctuations in its value against the dollar. One JPM Coin will always be worth one dollar.
JP Morgan’s Q&A sheds a bit more light on the matter. It has much more in common with stablecoin than cryptocurrency in that it’s strictly pegged to the dollar, so it’s basically a digital IOU. The big difference is that JPM Coin is private and only available to JP Morgan institutional customers. Once again: the main point of it is to reduce settlement times, nothing more.
Right now JPM Coin is still in its prototype phase and the stated use-case feels like a bit of an anti-climax for people hoping this signifies the next phase of the cryptocurrency revolution. Maybe the such a public endorsement of the technology by a big establishment name will catalyse something, but it’s unlikely to be the kind of total financial autonomy for the individual dreamt of when bitcoin first arrived on the scene.