PayPal is warming up to bitcoin

By Ian Kar for Quartz

PayPal is slowly dipping its toes in the bitcoin waters.

The company has partnered with Coinbase, a virtual currency wallet and exchange, so Coinbase users can sell bitcoin and cash out to their PayPal accounts. Buying bitcoin isn’t possible yet, but the small integration is a noteworthy first step.

PayPal did not immediately respond to Quartz’s request for comment.

While bitcoin and its underlying technology, blockchain, has caught Wall Street’s attention, consumer tech giants have largely stayed away from the technology until now. Recently, Quartz reported that Airbnb “acquihired” a bitcoin company and its engineers. Other tech giants, like IBM and Microsoft, have been exploring blockchain tech more closely. IBM developed open source code that’s being used in the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger consortium. Microsoft has been integrating blockchain services into its Azure cloud platform.

Behind the scenes, PayPal’s been showing signs of interest in virtual currencies. A recently published patent application from PayPal shows the company has explored integrating bitcoin and other virtual currencies like LiteCoin and Dogecoin into physical smartphone payments. The patent application was filed in December 2015.

PayPal also held a hackathon in December, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the event. The purpose? To find out new ways for PayPal to use bitcoin and blockchain technology. The attendees included Snapcard, a B2B bitcoin payments company, Coinbase, and Chain. Developers tested things like cross border payments, merchant processing, and creating a digital wallet using bitcoin.

For bitcoin’s growth, even a slight interest in bitcoin on PayPal’s part would be a big win. PayPal has over 180 million customers and processed $1.4 billion in payments in the first quarter of 2016. The payments giant recently added Wences Casares, CEO of bitcoin wallet Xapo and a renowned bitcoin advocate, to its board of directors in January 2016.

First appeared at Quartz