Coinme CEO Neil Bergquist: ‘Why Not Let People Choose the Currency They Want To Live In?’

It’s easy to dismiss a bitcoin ATM as a novelty, a fringe technology used for the crypto-curious to dabble in a niche asset. But listen to Neil Bergquist, co-founder and CEO of crypto exchange Coinme, and you start to see how these physical kiosks are a critical component of the growing infrastructure facilitating tangible use cases for digital currencies.

According to Bergquist, there is now a Coinme-enabled location within 5 miles of nearly 90% of the United States population. There are more Coinme locations nationwide than branches of America’s largest retail banks. These kiosks offer a convenient way to convert dollars to cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, ether, and litecoin. Users can also convert those digital assets back to cash.

“It’s not just about dollars in a crypto world.” says Bergquist. “Maybe you want to live in bitcoin, maybe you want to live in litecoin, maybe you want to live in dogecoin. Why not give people a choice of what currency they want to live in?”

Coinme’s Nationwide Network

Rather than deploy crypto-specific ATMs, Coinme has focused on crypto-enabling existing financial infrastructure that consumers already widely use and trust. The company powers the purchase and sale of crypto with cash  at easy-to-access locations like grocery stores and retail check cashing stores through partnerships with Coinstar and MoneyGram.

“We want to make the cash-to-crypto buying experience as simple as possible,” Bergquist says. “Now the purchase is linked directly to the customer’s mobile phone number and loaded into their Coinme wallet all before they leave the grocery store.”

With 40,000 physical locations across the U.S., Coinme has now surpassed $1 billion in total cumulative transaction volume across its network of cash-to-crypto locations.

Sending Money ‘Faster and Cheaper’

Neil Berquist explains that remittances — payments to friends or family across national borders — are an important use case for how “living in bitcoin” can be more cost-effective than living in dollars.

“Now you can put cash into a Coinme location, get crypto and send that anywhere faster and cheaper than a lot of existing solutions,” he says.

Legacy remittance options like bank wires can be prohibitively slow and usually charge fees upwards of $30 per transaction for moving money internationally. Bitcoin and crypto represent an alternative method of sending value worldwide nearly instantly and with minimal fees.

Bergquist notes there is over $50 billion sent from the U.S. to Latin America each year, and it is sent almost entirely through antiquated cash-to-cash channels.

“If you send dollars via Western Union, you have to pick it up via Western Union,” he says. “Bitcoin is interoperable. You could send it via Coinme peer-to-peer, [and] pick it up via Bitso or any other wallet or exchange, because that’s the beauty of a blockchain: It creates this interoperability network.”

“You could send crypto on-chain for pennies to nearly any wallet in the world,” he continues. “So there’s transfer costs that you’re saving. And then for us, it’s free to custody crypto in the Coinme wallet. There’s no minimum, it’s impossible to overdraft, and there’s no account fee.”

While Coinme has long supported remittance use cases, a recent partnership with global digital payments platform CiNKO bolsters the company’s cross-border reach. Coinme users can now send funds directly to CiNKO wallets, accessing a network of cash-out points across Latin America and the Caribbean through Cinko’s network of physical locations.

“Coinme is proud to be aligned with CiNKO in a vision that both companies share,” said Bergquist in a statement on the partnership. “Our mission is to provide more individuals around the world with access to a better financial future via cryptocurrency.”

Cutting Out the Middleman

Bergquist also describes a second Coinme user group that views crypto more as a medium of exchange, a way to cut out payment processors and intermediaries when transacting online.

These users are usually younger, more technically savvy individuals transacting in crypto for everything from mobile games to e-commerce purchases. Bitcoin’s underlying technological assurances around transaction irreversibility and fraud prevention obviate the need for legacy interchange fees. The selling point from the merchant side is clear: Accepting crypto payments can eliminate the 2% to 3% fees charged by the major credit card networks, and merchants can pass these savings on to consumers in the form of lower prices for transacting in bitcoin.

This is a realization of bitcoin’s original intended use as a peer-to-peer electronic cash system. The 2008 bitcoin white paper outlines a digital payments system with no trusted third party, one that guarantees transactions through computational proof rather than financial intermediaries.

Digital Gold

A third major Coinme user persona views bitcoin not necessarily as a payments system, but as a sort of “digital gold,” an inflation hedge and store of value, favored during periods of economic uncertainty. Bergquist notes the prevalence of this kind of use case accelerated amid the pandemic-era inflation spike that continues to hang over the global economy.

“When in periods of inflation, real assets generally go up in value,” Bergquist explains. “Stocks, real estate, things that are tangible, and bitcoin has really proven to be a tangible asset. It’s tangible because it cannot be mimicked or copied. It’s unique.

“No one can get elected with a new idea and change [bitcoin’s supply],” he continues. “It’s hard-coded into the bitcoin blockchain, and that creates the trust.”

Trust is core to Bergquist’s model for crypto adoption. A licensed, regulated financial operator, Coinme creates trust both through its approach to compliance and through its physical presence at brick-and-mortar establishments like grocery chains and pharmacies. This contrasts starkly with early bitcoin culture.

“The days of meeting strangers in a coffee shop to swap cash for a USB stick with bitcoin are far behind,” says Bergquist. “Coinme delivers a simple, trusted, instant, and affordable way to buy, sell, store and manage crypto.”

While plenty of crypto exchanges have launched following the crypto boom of the last decade, few of these companies are making crypto assets accessible at physical locations. Whether those assets ultimately serve as payment rails, stores of value, or decentralized representations of wealth, access is key. And access is what Coinme provides.

“New technologies and asset classes are usually only available to a select few,” Bergquist reflects. “True to the servant ethos of bitcoin, we’re pleased to have made bitcoin accessible for all.”