Bitpay CCO Sonny Singh: We Do a Bitcoin Transaction Every 10 Seconds in the World
Inspired by bitcoin’s possibility to change the world, BitPay was first founded in 2011 when bitcoin’s still in its early days, to provide bitcoin payment processing services for merchants. It has been one of the largest bitcoin payment processors since the company reached the milestone of 10,000 merchants actively using their service in 2013, in partnerships with big names including Microsoft, NewEgg, TigerDirect, Warner Bros. Records, etc.
In 2017, BitPay processed US$1.2 billion bitcoin payment; this July it became the first payment processor obtaining Bitlicense issued by New York State Department of Financial Services (NYDFS). Since its establishment, BitPay has firmly believed that bitcoin can be widely used and become a global payment method.
We (8btc News) have invited Sonny Singh, chief commercial officer at BitPay, to lead us to know more about this business, its standards for newly-added cryptocurrencies (currently only bitcoin and bitcoin cash are accepted), its attitude towards regulations (including the recent buzzword ETF), its opinion on the crypto market and the difference between Chinese and U.S. markets.
Sonny Singh’s 15-year experience in fin-tech payment in Silicon Valley has made what he is today. 5 years ago, he joined BitPay and since then he has been preaching bitcoin payment.
When it comes to market period, Sonny says we were currently in a three phases of a cycle called HRA phase (Hype, Reality, Adoption/Acceptance), and he thinks we can start seeing crypto adoption next year.
In his view, Asia is a very big market for BitPay. Compared to America where people rely too much on cash and credit card, the mobile payment market is Asia is more mature. Apple Pay spends millions of dollars on marketing every year, while by contrast, bitcoin is spread naturally and fast around the world, it just happens naturally because people around the world need this kind of product. It’s a shame that people just focus on the price and speculation part.
Below is the full text of the dialogue between 8btc and Sonny Singh.
8btc: How did you get to know about bitcoin?
Sonny: I’ve been in Silicon Valley for 15 years and been involved with many startup companies. Then my last one is a payment company, so I’m very involved with the Fintech payments. The company is called Jumio. It has specialized ID verification, which used by all the crypto companies now, ironically, which is pretty funny. After I left that, a lot of venture capitals came to me and wanted me to join bitcoin companies. I actually was joining my friend’s VC firm, but they kept coming back to me and said “bitcoin is great, one thousand dollars will go to 20,000 dollar, please join”. So I joined 4 or 5 years ago, right the time I joined the price crashed down to a few hundred dollars and stayed very low for 2 years.
I knew what bitcoin was, but I thought it was too early stage at that time. It was actually good, because when I joined BitPay, there’s only a handful companies like Coinbase, BitPay and Circle. And then when the price crashed, we had to run our sales team to find customers that would need bitcoin regardless of the price of bitcoin. So we have to find real pain points of bitcoin itself. So we focus on customers that need bitcoin irrelevant with what the price of bitcoin is.
8btc: BitPay has to integrate with merchants, right?
Sonny: Yes, we are the largest processor of bitcoin in the world. We processed around 1.2 billion dollars with the payments last year. Our customers include Microsoft, Newegg and a lot of companies use our service for cross border and B2B payments.
8btc: Usually will they come to you or you have to find customers yourselves?
Sonny: 4 years ago, we asked everyone, but 4 years later, they all come to us and saying “please can we sign up?” because now there are so many people spending bitcoin. Some of our merchants are doing between 1 million and 10 million dollars a month, which is very exciting.
8btc: What did you do four years ago to ask some merchants or companies to sign up?
Sonny: 4 years ago, you wouldn’t get 10 million dollars sales for one month. So that’s not exciting for large brands like Microsoft (accepted bitcoin 3 years ago) and Newegg, what’s exciting for these early brands was to be considered as innovative by accepting bitcoin. They saw bitcoin as a cutting edge technology that was going to be the future and they wanted to be early adopters and get all these exposures by doing that.
8btc: Recently, BitPay received Bitlicense from NYDFS. What effects do you think regulation can have on cryptocurrency?
Sonny: It was 3 years ago when Bitlicense started to come into existence. A lot of the bitcoin companies had to decide “do we want to apply for Bitlicense or not?” The application process is complex. Most bitcoin companies did not apply and moved out from New York. But BitPay, Coinbase, Circle and some of the largest ones said, if you want to do business in America, you have to follow up the regulations and the rules, and this is the right way to do it. Even with a lot of efforts, we still did it and we applied for it. And then 3 years later, we got approved. We are the tenth company to be accepted, and we are the first payment processor ever be granted with Bitlicense.
I think crypto regulation is a good thing. The industry wants regulations. They want to know they are doing everything in a right way. We’ve been trying to get regulations in the last 4 years. They came up with Bitlicense, which is a little bit too much than we thought, but we still did it anyway. Because we want to let them know this is the right way, we don’t do anything illegal, we are not trying to do money laundering, we do proper customers checks, we do everything the right ways. So regulation makes it cleaner and easier for big merchants to start something like bitcoin, because they like something that is comfortable and safe. We still have a lot of customers that use our product, but they are afraid to announce it to the public, they think it might get them into trouble for some reasons.
8btc: What other businesses does BitPay do except payment service?
Sonny: BitPay is the first company and now the largest one to accept bitcoin. But we also have BitPay debit cards, which is very exciting. The debit cards now have been available in America for the last 2 years. People can put bitcoin on their debit cards and convert to USD and spend their debit cards anywhere Visa is accepted in the world. And our plan is to launch this to the whole world eventually.
We work with an issuing bank in America. We don’t have any problems because they trust us as a brand BitPay. They know we are creditable, we’ve got the Bitlicense, we raised a lot of money, we have a board member used to work at SEC, and we follow all the KYC rules and regulations. So big banks and regulators are pretty comfortable working with BitPay.
8btc: Why does BitPay accept both bitcoin and bitcoin cash?
Sonny: We added bitcoin cash support about 4 months ago. The reason why we added that was because in Q4 of last year, bitcoin mining fees were getting so expensive. So we need to have bitcoin cash involved with the mining fees will always be cheap.
BitPay is neutral, we do whats best for our merchants. When you are going to make a payment, you can choose which one to use according to the miner fee, bitcoin or bitcoin cash. It’s totally up to you.
We always want to give our customers more options of different thing they can choose for payments.
8btc: Will you consider to add more cryptos in the near future?
Sonny: Yeah, we would like to add more. We are very slow and methodical in the evaluation and testing that we do. Every time we add a new currency, it’s going through vigorous tests and we have to talk with our banks and regulators, make sure they are ok with it. And we talked to our merchants to find out which one to accept. So we want to make sure it’s a superior and trustworthy option. So it’ a long process, not gonna be like we are adding currencies every month or so.
Bitcoin has lightning network, it’s not alive yet. Whenever it does come out live, BitPay will test it and look at it and evaluate it. If we think it’s great, we’ll try to add it too. We are open to all new ideas and we want to keep developing, whatever is the best and safest for our customers, we’ll implement.
8btc: What can we do to make bitcoin a more common payment method?
Sonny: The key thing is solving use cases and pain points to make it easy for customers. 4 years ago, it was very hard for customers to get bitcoin. Till today, it’s still hard for customers to get bitcoin, right? We have to change that and make it easy to spend bitcoin. Right now, you still don’t have a lot of merchants that accept bitcoin. People are not aware of that it’s in our wallet, it’s quicker and easier to use than a credit card.
In America, everyone’s so used to credit cards or goes online and types credit card numbers. But it’s safer and easier to do this through QR code, because you don’t have to give your credit card numbers. However, it’s about getting people to have the habit of paying with bitcoin. The merchants save money in America by paying with bitcoin, because they pay 1% of the transaction fee, but with credit cards that’s 4%. So the merchants can make a lot of money if you are paying with bitcoin. But yet they don’t understand it, they have to be educated about it. And the consumers have to get the habit of spending with bitcoin. For them, it’s better and quicker than credit cards, and better for privacy.
Again, nothing moves faster than Fintech. And bitcoin has been around for about 10 years, and it’s moved the light speed around the world and so popular around the world now. Nothing in Fintech has move so fast ever before. Bitcoin is actually working, it’s amazing, I’m very confident that it will become a main street product in the next couple of years. It just takes a little time, but it’s moving very fast in Fintech time.
8btc: What do you think is the greatest use case for blockchain?
Sonny: Just to have everyone around the world to access it and it’s counterfeit proof so to speak. It’s an irreversible database. People who don’t know each other but they trust the transactions which is really great and very scalable that way.
We are pretty excited about it obviously. We do a transaction at BitPay every 10 seconds in the world. We see it grow rapidly and we are really excited about the opportunity that bitcoin is now and going to the future as well as blockchain and all the projects we are working on.
Last year, I said that we are in a three phases of a cycle called HRA phase. H is the hype phase. And hype is all about the news and media talk about everything is crazy, but that was all hype with no real fundamentals behind that. And this phase, phase two is reality phase. That means the price is stabilized and going back down again. But people actually start to realize that this is a real product, when you see companies like Binance doing a billion dollars profits, it’s not a fad anymore. So that means companies like Fidelity, Square and Visa, they are all planning now to get involved with bitcoin. And then next year is the A phase, which is the adoption and acceptance phase. That’s when companies like Fidelity, Square, Visa and Goldman Sachs roll out products for mass people to use, bigger than what Coinbase and BitPay could do. They got much more exposure. I think we can start seeing that next year. That’s sustainable, unlike it was with last year. This year we’ve seen the price go up 10% and go back down again because there’s nothing sustaining except rumors. There’s rumor like Goldman Sachs’ new CEO likes bitcoin, so the price went up; there’s rumor that ETF might happen, price goes up. Well next year, the price will go up based on real fundamentals, real companies with real products. I’m excited about that.
8btc: Do you think bitcoin ETF can get approved?
Sonny: I think as soon as you see companies like Fidelity and all of them start doing it, bitcoin ETF will be approved a 100%. When you see small companies launching ETFs which is happening now, they may be rejected. But once large brands like Fidelity trying to figure out how to get involved in this space, and once they decide to launch a bitcoin trading desk or bitcoin ETF, they’ll do it with the regulators’ approval and will be very easy. That’ll happen either in this year or next year.
8btc: What do you think of the current bitcoin market?
Sonny: The price has gone down quite a bit, so a lot of people are struggling. And they are all looking for the big next bump to happen. It’s gonna go up and down, and be very volatile until either bitcoin crashes or bitcoin succeeds with real mass adoption.
You can’t keep doing this rumor based trading. You either have to have next year real adoption by real companies or next year nothing happens and you start to see the price really start dropping then. And people will be discouraged that it’s been 2 to 3 years with no real products being developed.
8btc: Are people in America familiar with bitcoin?
Sonny: A lot of people in the tech community know about bitcoin and have bitcoin. A lot of people in America have heard of bitcoin, but not a lot of them own bitcoin. Even the tech people and college kids bought bitcoin, they’ll not spend it. They bought it only for speculation. And if you ask them about bitcoin, they can tell you about the price but nothing else, because they treat it as an investment tool. We need to get these people to actually start to spend bitcoin.
I have to say that Asia is a very big market for BitPay and for bitcoin overall. And it will be that way for a long time, not just for trading, but for businesses as well. If you in China or Korea and you have to pay an invoice to America, let’s say a million dollars, and you use bank services, it’ll take you 3 to 5 days for that payment to happen and it cost 3% to 4% in fees. We can do the whole thing in one day for 1% fee by bitcoin. That’s how bitcoin solves a real pain point. It’s cheaper and quicker than bank wire in most regions of the world.
8btc: What do you think about the difference between Chinese market and American market?
Sonny: I think there’s huge difference between these two markets. Chinses market is used to using mobile payments, but American market is not; Chinese market always has currency issues, but American market does not.
In America, everyone trusts the US dollar, no one has any other currencies in their back pocket in their home. In China, no one really trust the Yuan. People are moving money out of the country for other currencies. That’s why the rest of the world outside of America are such great places for bitcoin.
The key thing is that bitcoin is actually being used all around the world for things other than speculation and trading. We did 1.2 billion dollars last year in payments, and that means people spent 1.2 billion dollars of payments using bitcoin system. The cross border trade is amazing. We help companies all over the world pay their suppliers all over the world with cheaper and quicker methods compared with bank wire. They don’t care about bitcoin price. They just buy bitcoin to pay invoice.
Bitcoin is actually working. I mean people say “wow the price has gone down so much, it’s crashing”, that’s not relevant to what I’m doing. I’ve been in Fintech for 10 years, nothing has moved faster than Fintech, it’s amazing.
In America, no one even uses Apple Pay, they just can’t do it, and they are so used to credit cards. No one use mobile wallets in America. The great thing about bitcoin is everyone around the world knows what bitcoin is. It’s spread naturally, so fast, so far around the world, it sure is remarkable. Apple Pay spends millions of dollars on marketing every year, right? But with bitcoin, it just happens naturally because people around the world need this kind of product. It’s a shame that people just focus on the price and speculation part.