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Thursday, March 9, 2023

Visa affirms commitment to crypto

Despite reporting to the contrary, Visa remains committed to the cryptocurrency market, according to Cuy Sheffield, Visa's chief crypto honcho. And Visa, it appears, is not alone. Reuters reported on Feb. 28, citing unnamed sources, that both Visa and Mastercard have put the brakes on plans to forge new partnerships with crypto firms. And several other news outlets picked up the story and ran with it.

But Sheffield, who holds the titles of vice president and head of crypto at Visa, quickly put the brakes on the rumor instead, insisting that as far as Visa is concerned, the news story is inaccurate. Recent announcements from Visa, as well as Mastercard, seem to back this up.

The crypto market has been in a free fall for the past year, with failures of industry big shots like FTX and Block FI shaking markets and prompting calls for regulation. The Reuters article claimed Visa and Mastercard got spooked by all that and had pushed back launches of new crypto products and services, pending improved market conditions and regulatory certainty.

"Despite the challenges and uncertainty in the crypto ecosystem, our view has not changed that fiat backed digital currencies running on public blockchains have the potential to play an important role in the payments ecosystem," Sheffield tweeted in response to the reporting by Reuters and others. "This is the time to build! Anyone building at the intersection of crypto and payments please reach out. We'd love to work with you!"

Mastercard has not made any public statements about Reuters article. But executives there have told news outlets that the company continues to investigate use cases for crypto's underlying blockchain technology.

"Our efforts continue to be focused on the underlying blockchain technology and how that can be applied to help address current pain points and build more efficient systems for consumers and businesses," a Mastercard spokesperson told the news outlet Blockworks.

Crypto still has many enthusiasts

In 2022, Mastercard launched a Crypto Source program to help financial institutions deliver secure crypto and other digital asset services to customers. "Our commitment is simple – to explore crypto and the underlying digital assets technology to support consumer choice in payments," Jorn Lambert, chief digital officer at Mastercard, said at the time.

More recently, on March 6, Mastercard stated it had teamed with Bybit, a UK-based company, on a crypto-backed debit card that can be used at merchant locations in the UK and certain European regions.

Visa, too, just unveiled a new crypto debit card for use at European merchants. Its partner in that project is Gate Group, a crypto pioneer headquartered in Lithuania. The Gate Visa card, like similar crypto cards launched here in the United States, converts a cardholder's crypto assets into a fiat currency for in-store and online purchases.

"Visa wants to serve as a bridge between the crypto ecosystem and our global network of merchants and financial institutions," Sheffield said in a March 9 statement. Officials at Gate said a waitlist has been created for FIs that want to register to issue the new debit card.

Merchants clearly seem to be keen on being able to accept crypto payments. A 2022 survey by leading acquirer Paysafe found just 15 percent of merchants don't ever expect to accept crypto payments. Seventeen percent said they already accept them. end of article

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