Taiwanese startup Maicoin has launched a system that lets users buy bitcoin at 10,000 convenience stores in the territory, both over the counter and at in-store terminals.
Maicoin founder and CEO Alex Liu said foreign workers using bitcoin for remittances would benefit from the over-the-counter service, as it does not require users to have a bank account.
In Asia, people routinely pay utility and postal bills at convenience stores by giving physical cash to store clerks who initiate electronic transfers.
To use the service, customers create an order for bitcoins using Maicoin's mobile app or web-based wallet, then simply hand cash to the shopkeeper to complete the transaction. They can also do the same via regular bank ATMs from their personal bank accounts, with a direct fund transfer.
Convenience store options
In January, BitoEX, Maicoin's competitor, launched bitcoin purchasing at thousands of Taiwan's FamilyMart, OK mart and Hi-Life stores, adding the country's largest chain, 7-11 last month. The service uses a cellphone number and PIN combination system to transfer bitcoins directly to users' wallets.
With MaiWallet, users set up a bitcoin purchase on their phone or tablet, which displays a barcode for a convenience store cashier to scan. Customers not using MaiWallet can still use the service, but will need to use the web interface to generate a code to enter at the convenience store.
The mobile app is currently available as a closed beta, though anyone can contact the company to request an invite. The company says it is looking at an official release for MaiWallet in late summer or early autumn.
Account top-ups with physical ATMs are limited to NT$500,000 ($16,200) per day to please AML regulators. Using Taiwan's 'eATM' system with home-based card readers, users are limited to NT$30,000 ($972) a day.
Within those limits, determined after consultation with local authorities, there is no need for Maicoin customers to provide any ID to use the service.
The system is purchase-only at this stage, and does not allow users to sell bitcoins in return for cash.
In operation for just over a year, Maicoin's bitcoin exchange services are aimed at the consumer, merchant and remittance markets, rather than professional traders.
It has raised $2m in venture funding over two rounds, and has over 30,000 registered users. Liu said the company has processed over $4m in consumer and remittance transactions in the past year, though this could not be confirmed.
Maicoin's only hiccup came in February with the collapse of alleged bitcoin-based investment scam 'MyCoin' in Hong Kong. The names, identical when spoken aloud, may still cause confusion but Liu said it has not adversely affected Maicoin's business to date.
Taiwan's consumer market shows great promise for bitcoin, especially through social media like Facebook, which Liu describes as "huge" in the territory.
Maicoin has just launched integration with Facebook Shopping Cart, allowing smaller Taiwanese online merchants to accept bitcoin. The company is also actively reaching out to local hotels, pubs and other bars to begin accepting bitcoin.
Maicoin has also partnered with Philippines exchange and remittance service Coins.ph to serve the large number of Filipino expat workers in Taiwan.
Using Maicoin and Coins.ph apps, over 78,000 foreign workers in Taiwan can send money to their home countries any time and in any amount, without incurring extra fees.
This could provide an advantage for workers who only get one day a week off (Sunday) and often spend that day at remittance brokers' branches transferring their money.
Liu said the biggest hurdle in getting regulatory approval for Maicoin's system was its handling of local currency, not bitcoin.
"The conversation here is no longer about the legality of buying and selling bitcoin. It's about being a full payment processor. That's a huge step forward from last year."
A recent hackathon at National Taiwan University (NTU ) called 'Bitcoin and Big Data' attracted over 300 students keen to explore the new field, he said.