Following months of anticipation, some of Xapo's global customers, including the CoinDesk team, received the company's bitcoin debit card last week.
Though bitcoin debit card offerings have been on the market for some time, Xapo's product is unique in that consumers can make payments and withdraw money straight from their bitcoin wallets, rather than needing to load the card first.
As such, excitement was predictably high for the Xapo Debit Card's release, with many bitcoin users lauding the initial announcement on 24th April. Enthusiasm remained strong, even as Xapo lost support from its original card issuing banks.
Since then, the product has been plagued by delays and messaging issues. For example, the company's late release of a fee schedule for the card prompted outrage from customers, many of whom believed that they should have been more immediately informed of the costs. Xapo later attributed the additional fees to its choice of third-party card issuer, and offered to reimburse consumers for some unintended costs.
Upon debut, CoinDesk finds that the Xapo Debit Card has potential to be a useful bitcoin spending tool, but there are a few hiccups it must overcome first.
Testing it out
When the card arrived, we weren't actually sure what it was. Images of the card on Xapo's site clearly display the company's logo, but the card we received didn't.
Also, the envelope it came in didn't feature the words 'Xapo' or 'bitcoin' anywhere, and neither did the accompanying letter.
The letter referred to ‘My Choice’, which, research revealed, is a Gibraltar-based company specialising in digital payment solutions. My Choice is briefly included in Xapo's website FAQ, but there is no mention of cryptocurrencies on My Choice's website or its parent company, Wavecrest Ltd.
The card itself is a bit flimsy – it's not as thick as a standard credit or debit card, which makes it feel a bit cheap. When selecting the card we wanted, we opted for a GBP version, but we received a USD card, and we weren't alone – Reddit user iwaldo experienced the same issue.
Activating the card is easily done over the phone, and only requires the buyer's date of birth as confirmation.
We headed to a standard ATM and, first, checked the balance of the card. The screen told us the card had a balance of zero, which was a little concerning as we had loaded the card with 0.18 BTC a few days previously. Despite the apparent zero balance, we were able to successfully withdraw £10.
First, we tried buying a coffee from café chain Pret a Manger using the card, but the transaction failed, so we were forced to pay in fiat, which wasn't ideal.
In another shop, we used the self-service tills and the chip and PIN option wouldn't work, so we had to swipe the card instead and sign a receipt, which was only a mild inconvenience. It was third time lucky, though, when we visited a branch of Costa Coffee. Here, we were able to pay with the card via chip and pin, experiencing no issues.
The Xapo wallet is easy to use, with a simple layout displaying all recent transactions. One thing that is a bit confusing is that some transaction amounts are displayed in 'bits' and some are displayed in 'BTC'.
How it works
Until now, the only bitcoin debit cards in circulation, such as those offered by Coincard and Cryptex, were slightly less practical. Instead of funds being taken straight from their bitcoin wallets at the time of a transaction, customers had to top-up their card beforehand.
This effectively meant that they had to manually convert their bitcoins to fiat currencies before being able to purchase anything. In Xapo's case, the company does the work – when someone tries to make a purchase or a withdrawal using the card, the transaction is directly forwarded to them.
From there, it is established whether the user has enough bitcoin in their wallet or not, and if they do, Xapo immediately sells the corresponding amount of bitcoin via bitcoin exchange Bitstamp.
The merchant then receives the payment in their local currency. The only thing the customer has to do then is make sure enough bitcoins have been transferred from their Xapo storage vaults to their wallets.
Improvements on the way
According to the Xapo website, the My Choice card design is only temporary, as the current cards are part of an existing program. The next batch of cards will be Xapo-branded, and will clearly show that they are “international bitcoin debit cards”.
It may also become possible to have more than one card linked to a bitcoin wallet, if there is enough demand for it. The company hopes that it will soon be able to send its cards to the US and India, where they are currently not supported, because of an issue apparently linked to My Choice.
In a follow-up email to US and India-based customers signed by chief strategy officer Ted Rogers, the company elaborated on the issues, suggesting that less than 24 hours after the first cards shipped, it was notified it would not be able to extend the offering to those regions.
As a token of appreciation to select US and India-based customers, Xapo said that they would not be charged the $15 fee in connection with the card, and that $25 in BTC would be gifted to their accounts. Only early access users in the US and India who received the debit card or will soon receive the card are eligible for the incentive.
We contacted My Choice's parent company Wavecrest Ltd for comment, but they did not respond before publication.
Disclaimer: This article should not be viewed as an endorsement of any of the companies mentioned. Please do your own extensive research before considering investing any funds in these products.
Images via CoinDesk
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that only some US and India-based customers are eligible for $25 incentive.