‘Speed and simplicity’: How Square plans to bring bitcoin payments to the masses
- The internet needs a native currency that’s invented, evolved, critiqued and developed on the internet, Jack Dorsey said at the Consensus conference in New York Wednesday
- Square wants to make the user experience of its bitcoin wallet simple enough to scale what has so far been quite complicated
If bitcoin payments ever become real, Jack Dorsey and his team at Square will probably have something to do with it.
Despite the explosion of new interest in cryptocurrencies over the past year, everyday payments with bitcoin have never really become a reality. There are many reasons for that, a major one being that bitcoin simply wasn’t designed to move money on that scale. But Square, which was one of the earliest of the major financial services companies to introduce bitcoin capabilities, wants to make the user experience of its bitcoin wallet simple enough to scale what has so far been quite complicated.
“We want to go back to that original idea of having people purchase a coffee with it,” Dorsey said at Consensus, the New York blockchain and cryptocurrency conference happening this week. “Our focus is [on] how we get this to an everyday currency… We won’t necessarily be the company that comes up with the right framework, algorithms or technologies, but I do believe we’ll help with the simplifying of it, making it more straightforward and helping educate” consumers as well as regulators.
To do that, Square is leaning on its original approach of helping people complete sales and move money, rather than bucketing itself as a card reader or a software company.
Square was initially dedicated to building bitcoin in Square Cash so merchants could accept it without even knowing it; they’d be able to convert that bitcoin back to dollars using Square’s point-of-sale system. The company soon learned that was too difficult and went in another direction, buying and selling. The interfaces that existed were so complicated it felt inaccessible to everyday users.
“The thing Square is good at is speed and simplicity,” Dorsey said. “We want those same lines in everything we do. … Where we have done well — credit card systems — is complex, scary and can be emotional. We did a good job making the seller side more down to earth, something you don’t have to think about at all. We want that same approach with bitcoin.”
Square has been expanding its product line over the last eight years. Initially a provider of payments hardware and software it has added the 6-year-old peer-to-peer Square Cash app, created an optional debit card (which users are increasingly using as their main checking account, Dorsey said) and cashback rewards feature. Walmart and McDonald’s are the two most popular places people use Square Cash; several of the top 10 places showing highest transaction volume are also fast-food restaurants, Dorsey said. It launched bitcoin trading through the Cash app in January and sold $34.1 million in bitcoin in the first quarter. And earlier this month the company introduced a restaurant-specific POS system that would focus on hospitality needs. It also provides business financing to merchants using Square Capital.
Dorsey said he resists articulating a grand vision for the next five to 10 years but that it’s imperative that Square and other companies in the bitcoin and crypto ecosystems need to have the patience and give the air for applications on blockchain technology to grow and be adopted.
For Square, it’s crucial to continue watching how people use bitcoin today. There’s incentive built into the technology to just hold it, encouraging saving over spending, Dorsey acknowledged, but making it easy to spend and transact everyday is where Square is focused.
Beyond Square’s business, the internet needs a native currency that’s invented, evolved, critiqued and developed on the internet — and it will have it, Dorsey said.
“The internet deserves a native currency; it will have a native currency,” Dorsey said. “I don’t know if it will be bitcoin or not. I hope it will be.”
That will pave the way for companies like Square to release different apps in app stores globally rather than the five markets Square operates in today, removing the need to find banking partners in each market and work through the regulations specific to each jurisdiction. As a centralized corporation, however, it can be difficult to continue to encourage the openness of the blockchain ecosystem. Dorsey said he wanted to make sure nothing on the corporate side ever hinders development.
“If it was truly global for us today, we could release Cash worldwide,” Dorsey said. “That’s our intention but its going to take some time and education.”