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Visa has quietly warmed to crypto, along with PayPal and Square

The price of bitcoin is up 190% in 2020, and hit a new all-time high on Wednesday well above $20,000, topping its previous Nov. 30 high. The surge has mostly been attributed to two factors: institutional investment from Wall Street firms, and public buy-in from PayPal and Square, two very big consumer-facing payment names.

But Visa (V), a bigger company than the other two combined (by market cap or by revenue), has also quietly warmed to cryptocurrency.

Visa’s crypto steps in the past year have likely gone less noticed because they are partnerships, as opposed to the outright solo initiatives from PayPal (which will add bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to PayPal and Venmo next year) and Square (which added bitcoin to its Cash App in 2018, and this year bought $50 million worth of bitcoin for the company’s balance sheet).

But Visa’s steps might hold the biggest potential for mainstream adoption.

2020 has seen the announcement of a handful of bitcoin-related credit or debit cards with Visa’s imprimatur: Coinbase, the largest U.S. crypto exchange, will offer a Visa debit card that lets customers spend crypto from their Coinbase accounts (though amid the price surge, most people are holding onto their bitcoin as an investment, not spending it) and earn crypto rewards (1% in bitcoin or 4% in stellar lumens); Binance, the largest non-U.S. crypto exchange, is offering a zero-fee Visa debit card that offers cash back rewards based on how much of Binance’s token (BNB) the customer holds; Fold, a bitcoin rewards app, will offer a Visa debit card that offers bitcoin rewards in place of airline miles or cash back; BlockFi, an exchange that offers interest on customers’ crypto holdings, will offer a Visa credit card that gives 1.5% cash back in bitcoin. And there are others coming. (Coinbase Card already launched in Europe and the U.K. last year; Binance Card started shipping to Europe this week.)

FILE - This Aug. 11, 2019 file photo shows Visa credit cards in New Orleans. The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t stopped Americans from keeping up with their credit card payments, thanks in large part to government relief programs passed by Congress earlier this year. For some, however, the ability to keep buying things with plastic and then pay the bill likely depends on whether current negotiations in Washington produce another round of economic aid. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)
(AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)

Not all Visa-branded cards are launched through a direct partnership with Visa, since some go through an issuing partner. But all of them require explicit approval from Visa.

Visa tells Yahoo Finance it is "actively working with over 25 digital currency companies on a variety of bitcoin-related products and services, cards being just one area.” Visa notes it has an “enhanced due diligence process for any company that we work with offering a program connected to a crypto wallet.”

That’s not to say Visa publicly shouts the news of each crypto card launch from the rooftops. Unsurprisingly, it’s the crypto companies that push and broadcast the news.

But a Visa blog post from July makes the company’s crypto embrace clear. The post, which name-drops Coinbase and Fold, touts that Visa “has been working closely with licensed and regulated digital currency platforms... Visa has become the preferred network for digital currency wallets, which are eager to deepen their value to users by making it quicker and easier to spend digital currency worldwide.” Visa concludes, “We believe that digital currencies have the potential to extend the value of digital payments to a greater number of people and places. As such, we want to help shape and support the role they play in the future of money.” Visa also notes that many of its crypto partnerships have been borne out of its FastTrack fintech program.

This month, Visa inked yet another crypto partnership. It partnered with early crypto payments app Circle to add support for Circle’s USDC stablecoin (a cryptocurrency pegged to the value of the U.S. dollar), which means select Visa card issuers and merchants can send and receive international payments using USDC, then convert them to any local currency. And—surprise—Visa aims to eventually issue a credit card that will support USDC payments through Circle.

Daniel Roberts is an editor-at-large at Yahoo Finance and closely covers bitcoin and blockchain. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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