Bitcoin Payments Company Circle Scores Partnership With Barclays and E-Money License for UK Expansion

By Giulio Prisco for Bitcoin magazine

“Bitcoin Bank” Circle announced that people in the U.K. can now experience social payments over the open Internet in their native currency, pound sterling (GBP), using Circle’s updated apps for Android, iOS and the Web. The company was granted an e-money license by the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority.

Circle is extending the ability to hold and pay in U.S. dollars, available in all U.S. states, to Circle account holders in the U.K. British Circle users are now able to hold GBP and make GBP payments instantly, with zero fees. Circle also announced that it’s eliminating transaction and withdrawal limits for customers in all of the 150+ countries where Circle is available.

“Over the past year we’ve worked closely with such forward-thinkers in the U.K. government and banking sector to bring this new social payment experience to U.K. consumers,” said Circle co-founders Sean Neville and Jeremy Allaire. “As the first digital currency company in the world to be granted an e-money license, Circle will also offer the benefits of digital money to Europe’s 500 million consumers, and ultimately enable anyone with sterling or euros to send and receive value for free and with an experience familiar to anyone who uses messaging or social media.”

The move, and the envisaged extension to Circle customers all over Europe, is a godsend for the many users who wish to earn and spend Bitcoin without having to worry about the volatility of the digital currency. Though the Bitcoin exchange rates have been remarkably stable over the last few months, and some observers believe that the days of wild volatility are over, the fact remains that the more and more workers earning their wages (or part of their wages) in Bitcoin, with bills to pay and families to support, aren’t able to tolerate volatility and need effective shields.

Though often referred to as a “Bitcoin bank,” Circle ‒ which defines itself as “a consumer Internet company transforming the world economy with secure, simple, and less costly technology for storing and using money” ‒ is not a bank. “Circle is not a bank, and FDIC insurance does not protect you against the risk of our insolvency,” says a Circle Help Center page. Also, Circle doesn’t lend or leverage members’ funds.

However, it can be argued that, with the option for consumers of holding and spending funds in their local fiat currency, Circle is performing the most essential functions of a bank. The company is backed by $76 million in venture capital and counts Goldman Sachs among its investors.

“At Circle, we envision a new experience for money that builds on the experiences and possibilities we have with messaging, social media, and other forms of communication and information sharing that billions of people have become accustomed to online,” added Neville and Allaire. “We don’t need bank branches; we have billions of smartphones as our distribution channel, our core product experience, and our customer service fulfillment channel. We don’t need to employ thousands of compliance staff; we build machine learning algorithms and financial artificial intelligence to reduce risk and improve the experience of money. We ship new releases of our ‘bank’ every day and we’re constantly iterating on the consumer experience of digital money.”

Fortune notes that Barclays has become the first big British bank to form a partnership with Circle. Barclays Corporate Banking is providing the account that Circle needs to store sterling for consumers, and the infrastructure to allow transfers from any U.K. bank account in and out of Circle.

“We support the exploration of positive uses of blockchain that can benefit consumers and society,” said a Barclays representative.

The move was welcomed by the U.K. Treasury, The Financial Times reports.“Circle’s decision to launch in the U.K., and the firm’s new partnership with Barclays are major milestones,” said U.K. Treasury economic secretary Harriett Baldwin. “They prove our decision to introduce the most progressive, forward-looking regulatory regime is paying off and cements our status as the world’s Fin Tech capital.”

The Financial Times emphasizes that blockchain technology permits exchanging money without using a bank clearing system. According to Allaire, the financial services industry did not fully realize the potential of the open-source blockchain, concentrating instead on developing its own closed versions based on similar technology. Circle is, instead, betting on the public Bitcoin blockchain.

According to The New York Times, this is the first time that a large global bank has agreed to work with a Bitcoin company. “The announcement has the industry wondering if this is one of the turning points for the Internet of money,” said Eric Van der Kleij, the head of Level39, a London-based firm that helps nurture fintech startups, as reported by Bloomberg Technology.

It appears that Circle’s move to the U.K. has all the support it needs, from the financial and political establishment, to revolutionize consumer banking in the country. If Circle’s plans for European expansion will go ahead with similar support from the banks and the authorities, the revolution could soon extend to the rest of Europe.

First appeared in Bitcoin magazine