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01.05.17

Will Starbucks Make Bitcoin Mainstream?

Bitcoin, which has long nursed an outlaw persona, seems to be transforming into a yuppie. In the latest sign that the digital currency is moving into the mainstream, iPayYou, a U.S.-based bitcoin platform, said its technology now will enable coffee and food purchases at Starbucks, a chain typically associated with middle- and upper-class urban and suburban lifestyles.

The partnership comes as bitcoin approaches new highs, with its price shooting past $1,100 in recent days. Earlier today, the average price of bitcoin across all exchanges stood at about $960. The Starbucks bitcoin program could increase the popularity of the digital currency. The move “was a no-brainer, as the company currently boasts 24,000 stores and [has more than] 1 million customers using the Starbucks mobile order and pay program per month,” said IPayYou Founder and CEO Gene Kavner. Starbucks says it is has no “relationship” with iPayYou, and is not “affiliated” with its product, but offered no further comment; a spokesman for iPayYou says there is no formal integration with any Starbucks technology, and only ” allows users to transfer bitcoin from their iPayYou wallet to their Starbucks account, usable in stores everywhere.”

Here’s how the program works: A consumer must have the Starbucks and iPayYou apps. Before a purchase, that consumer selects the amount of bitcoin he wants to use via the iPayYou digital wallet. The consumer selects the payee, and then iPayYou converts the bitcoin into local currency. IPayYou said it usually charges consumers between 15 and 30 cents per transaction, though it did not specify how much Starbucks purchases would cost.

The Starbucks announcement adds to a burst of recent news that suggests bitcoin is starting to outgrow its reputation as a tool for drug purchases, money laundering, tax evasion and other criminal transactions. Late last year, for instance, a Manhattan judge, in a case involving JPMorgan Chase and others, ruled that bitcoin is money; the ruling was the latest instance of a court declaring that bitcoin should be considered money for legal and regulatory purposes. And in the wake of last year’s Brexit, some analysts—including in this Pay Op-Ed—have considered the prospects of treating bitcoin as a safe haven for investors seeking to protect their assets.

That’s not all. Also late last year, blockchain, the decentralized transaction-verification system that underpins bitcoin, received a major boost when Microsoft and Bank of America said they would team up to further develop the technology.

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