Bitcoin ATM company Robocoin has announced that, from summer, it will introduce bitcoin bank branches—at least, that’s what it’s calling them.
In a release, the company explained that they’re introducing online banking and converting their ATMs into “Robocoin bank branches integrated with Robocoin Online Banking.” On their website, they claim to be “the first Bitcoin bank with a physical presence.” That’s one word you’re perhaps not used to seeing in relation to Bitcoin: “bank.”
The main change the machines (sorry, “branches”) bring about is that they cut down on the faff of digital wallets and private keys, which is undeniably a bit of a barrier to newcomers unfamiliar with the terms, nevermind how they actually work. Instead, you have an account which you access with your phone number, PIN, and palm-vein scan—the latest in secure biometric authentication. You can also send payments to a phone number, which the recipient can then pick up at any Robocoin kiosk branch.
Robocoin claims this method is quicker than regular bitcoin transfers because you don’t have to wait for block chain confirmations. Hugh Halford-Thompson, founder of QuickBitcoin, which operates a Robocoin machine in London, suggested it would also make it easier for iPhone users, who currently find it more difficult to use bitcoin wallets owing to Apple blocking bitcoin apps, and said it could remove some security liabilities when people write down their private keys and lose them (it happens).
But the main advantage has to be simply that it all seems less scary to people who don’t yet use bitcoin.
“It will mean that people who want to buy and don’t already have a wallet will be able to just use a Robocoin wallet,” explained Halford-Thompson, who’s also head of UK operations for Cointrader, which installed the world’s first bitcoin ATM in Vancouver. “I think for our experience as an operator, it will be easier to explain to customers.”
The goal is clearly to push for greater mainstream adoption, something epitomised in Robocoin’s rallying cry of “bringing bitcoin to the real world.” And that’s why the main development here—something Robocoin seemed to acknowledge in their statement—is not just the change in operations, but the change in wording. It’s an attempt at a rebrand, not just of Robocoin but of Bitcoin as a whole.
It’s pretty simple really. Having an “online account” rather than a “bitcoin wallet” sounds more comfortable to those who aren’t so well acquainted with cryptocurrencies. Using a “bank branch” seems more normal than visiting a “bitcoin ATM”, even if the bank in question doesn’t look anything like the conventional bricks-and-mortar high street version.
The changes also hint at an effort to make Bitcoin seem more like a regular currency than, say, something you buy and sell as an investment. For Robocoin, “buying” and “selling” have in fact been replaced with “depositing” and “withdrawing”—like it’s just the same as any other online banking account, you see.
As Bank to the Future’s CEO Simon Dixon told me, “One of the most important parts of mass consumer adoption is using analogies that people understand, and I think using the bank analogy is a really important tool.”
Of course, the more libertarian-leaning early bitcoin adopters and their cryptoanarchist pals probably won’t appreciate the decision to co-opt the lexicon of the same financial institutions they see Bitcoin as liberating them from. As manyReddit commenters complained, isn’t the whole point of Bitcoin to “be your own bank”?
“The community is certainly divided as bitcoin gets more adoption,” agreed Dixon. There are those who want to restore cryptocurrencies to their radical cypherpunk roots, and there are those who want to push for above-board, mainstream adoption and integrate them into the establishment via shiny new startup ventures. (And thenthere are regulators who don’t seem to know what they want just yet.)
The bitcoin community in general seems well aware of the power of branding, as evidenced by the recent discussion over peer-to-peer marketplace DarkMarket’s moniker—another project based on the code is now calling itself OpenBazaarinstead. But the exact impression bitcoin enthusiasts want to give and the aims they want to achieve as a result differ among factions.
Robocoin’s goal? To make Bitcoin more accessible so as to get as many people as possible setting up Robocoin accounts and using their ATMs, presumably. I mean, their bank branches.