PayPal has 20 years of experience in online payments and manages 403 million user accounts. So, it caused ripples when it announced on 23 August it might allow UK customers to shop for and sell four cryptocurrencies: bitcoin prices rose to a three-month high. But will this – and last October’s roll-out within the US – push cryptocurrencies into the mainstream, or is it just another blip within the short but volatile history of decentralised money?
Customers within the US who have bought cryptocurrencies through Paypal log in twice as often as those that haven’t, says Jose Fernandez da Ponte at PayPal. “We expect digital currencies to play a crucial role in consumer payments over the long run,” he says.
Public interest in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is certainly growing, but only a minority have bought in. A YouGov survey revealed that by August 2019, just 3 per cent of individuals within the UK owned any cryptocurrencies. By July 2021 that had risen to eight per cent.
Giving many existing PayPal customers the power to shop for at the press of a button has enormous potential for increasing those numbers, but access to the currency isn’t the sole limiting factor. People need how to spend it.
A handful of huge companies, like Microsoft, have begun accepting bitcoin as payment, et al. like electric company Tesla have done so sometimes too. And while several other retailers, including grocery stores, coffee shops and hardware stores, have systems to simply accept cryptocurrency in some countries, using only this type of payment day-to-day would be no easy task.
PayPal users within the UK won’t be ready to use cryptocurrency to shop for goods or services – they will only buy, hold and sell the currency. But within the US, the corporate offers the power to use balances for payments anywhere that accepts PayPal. This effectively allows many thousands of shops to simply accept cryptocurrencies without having to form any changes or accept any risk, and receive US dollars from PayPal as normal.