Could bitcoin ATMs take currency mainstream?

AccessTimeIconApr 25, 2013 at 4:08 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 10, 2021 at 10:42 a.m. UTC
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If a Canadian entrepreneur has his way, we could soon see the bitcoin equivalent of a cash machine gracing our shopping malls.

Jeff Berwick plans to install a bitcoin ATM in San Diego early next month. The machine will be similar to a regular ATM, but instead of simply dispensing money from a bank account, it will serve as a point of exchange between bitcoins and US dollars or Euros.

Users will be able to insert either of the two physical currencies in any denomination, and enter a bitcoin address by scanning a QR code, Berwick says. The ATM will then deliver the bitcoins to their account. Alternatively, they can pay the machine from their bitcoin address, and retrieve US or European currency.

The first machine will be installed at an unspecified location in San Diego on May 2, Berwick promised.

But why?

"There are people that are interested in bitcoins, but it's hard to buy them," Berwick told CoinDesk. "For those that have bitcoins, they would love the opportunity to take dollars from their accounts and use them on a day-to-day basis."

He sees this as a far better option than the conventional banking and international money transfer system.

"It takes weeks normally to open a bank account," Berwick said. "It takes you $100 to transfer money around the world. But you can transfer bitcoins in seconds, and it's a free transaction."

Currently living in Mexico, Edmonton-born Berwick has the type of cred that's respected in the bitcoin world. In 1992, he founded Stockhouse, a financial news service based in Canada, and served as the company's CEO. Nowadays, he runs the libertarian website The Dollar Vigilante, and has no love lost for the central banking system.

A self-proclaimed anarchist, Berwick describes bitcoin as a way out of the "dying fiat currency system."

"I think that what has happened in Cyprus is going to happen in the US," he said. "The central banks are going to destroy their own currency. The US is so indebted that there's no way out for it other than to print (more of) its own currency."

Berwick plans on installing an ATM in Cyprus sometime after the San Diego roll out, although the timeline has yet to be decided. For now, he is processing over 200 order queries for his ATM machines.

The units, made by popular ATM and kiosk manufacturer Genmega, cost $10,000 each.

"We won't be looking to make a major profit on the machines; that will come from the transactions," he said.

Berwick plans to take between 3 and 5 percent on each transaction running through the ATMs. Each machine will be able to hold $100,000 in currency.

Bitcoins accessed via the ATMs will be delivered from a hot wallet, and the company will also hold a bitcoin reserve in an offline cold wallet. Within the next quarter, Berwick plans to start his own bitcoin exchange, to reduce his reliance on other exchanges when processing his currency.

"The software will be proprietary -- we are not going to do anything off the shelf," he said. "Our biggest issues there are just the regulatory ones. That's the biggest thing holding us back. We already have a lot of the programming in place."


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