Circle Internet Financial has unveiled a free platform for buying, storing and paying with bitcoin, promising to bring the crypto-currency to the masses.
Despite entering the public consciousness over the last year, bitcoin has a dubious reputation, considered confusing and complicated by many and associated with volatility, crime and regulatory uncertainty.
With $26 million in funding behind it, Circle and its founder, serial entrepreneur Jeremy Allaire, are bidding to drag the currency to respectability and widespread adoption.
In a blog post, Allaire says: "To the average consumer, early bitcoin products and services were complex, full of friction, unfamiliar, and some were also of questionable reputation in terms of the safety and security of money."
To address this, the new Circle platform - still in invitation-only mode - lets users deposit fiat currency into their account, which is then converted into bitcoin. When the user withdraws funds, they are instantly converted back and transferred to a bank account.
The service is free and Circle says that users can set up an account, make a deposit and access and use bitcoin within minutes. In a bid to attract users from outside the core bitcoin-demographic, the site even offers old-fashioned phone support so that customers can talk to a real person if something goes wrong.
With theft a major concern in the wake of the Mt. Gox hack, Circle also boasts comprehensive security with multi-signature architecture, offline cold storage vaults, two-factor authentication, and free insurance. The firm has also become a regulated money transmitter in the US, requiring it to maintain 100% of customer deposit value.
Separately, another bitcoin heavy-hitter, BitPay, has struck a deal to integrate the currency into point-of-sale software from Toshiba. The Toshiba VisualTouch software - used by more than 6000 firms - will use BitPay's POS-integration technology to grow bitcoin acceptance through brick-and-mortar retail locations.
Tony Gallippi, executive chairman, BitPay, says: "The ability for customers to use bitcoin at businesses with VisualTouch POS systems provides merchants an extremely loyal customer base who will go out of their way to support companies that accept bitcoin."