13 December 2017
Alex Letts

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Alex Letts - U

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Why I said No to a Bitcoin debit card

06 December 2017  |  3800 views  |  1

I got a call from a trusted chum who has been a wonderful source of advice and inspiration to me in building our non-bank for the credit impaired.  He is London-based, progressive, innovative and fearless.  He also knows a thing or two about creating brands, with a globally successful one of his own.

“Have you thought about doing a bitcoin debit card?”

I explained that I have already given it quite some thought, but for 3 reasons I had parked it:

  1. Bitcoin has unfortunate associations with, ehem, somewhat irregular financial activity.  Our ability to move e-money within the banking infrastructure might attract unwanted types if we advertised a Bitcoin cash card!
  2. Our business plan calls for focus on providing a first-class account, with a first-class service for those 15m people incompatible with the bank model.  If we do that, we will be very successful. But it is both an opportunity and a daily challenge. Focus on simple is key
  3. Those unsuited to the banks, or underserved, probably don’t care about spending Bitcoin.  They care about putting food on the table at the end of the month.

He pressed on.  “Think how you will feel if one of the other non-banks does it?”  I felt pretty lame. “Violently green with envy” is the only possible human reaction I could imagine.

On reflection, I am still drawn to Bitcoin like a fintech moth to the media light.  It would be super cool.  The digital evangelists might even credit us with being the disruptive force we are.  Hell, they might even add us to the market infographics that they put all their chums on.  I might even be (reach for the sick bag) “honoured and humbled” (or not) to appear on a Power List of UK Fintech.  The temptations are legion.

But the reality is that there comes a moment when even to a media tart like me, a great tactic does not and should not over-ride a good strategy.  Our users couldn’t give a toss about Bitcoin, any more than they care about Open Banking.  Most people in the UK think Blockchain is a supermarket product for clearing your sink.  Open Banking will be great for banking…..sometime.  Indeed, knowing where I bought my last low fat latte in London might be valuable on some dimension, but for the normal citizen, it doesn’t really register in a life where every penny counts. (Don’t get me wrong; the ideas and innovations that drive our banking industry are important, but more so, right now, for the hipsters in their hi-viz lifestyles.) 

But actually, for pure invention and disruption, how about this?  Take half the population who the banks don’t want to serve, and offer them a better service and better product than the banks currently do.  Create a viable alternative to Banks.  Now that’s disruption.

So on further reflection, my answer on a Bitcoin debit card for us up North, remains boringly South London:

“You’re having a larf, mate’.

 

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Comments: (2)

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune | 06 December, 2017, 16:25

Offering a better product and better service to people whom banks don't want to serve would be disrupting whom? Not banks surely.

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Alex Letts
Alex Letts - U - Sheffield | 06 December, 2017, 16:27

Just checking you were still reading me Keth!

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job title Chief Unbanking Officer
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member since 2014
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