The places and methods we have for purchasing bitcoins are rapidly expanding. Companies like Bitit and Bitboat are adding to the options, making it easier to walk into a physical store and purchase bitcoin in person. Services like these generally offer a card or voucher that can be redeemed for bitcoins, or traded for bitcoins on an online exchange.
Headquartered in London, Bitboat is an intermediation platform for bitcoin exchange between private parties; serving nine countries, the UK, France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Belgium, Portugal, Romania, Cyprus.
Bitboat offers a card or voucher that can be used at Bitboat to purchase bitcoins, which adds some complications. This option requires users to do the trading for themselves, selling their voucher to other users for bitcoin on a website.
“Our objective is to allow both the buyer and the seller to finalize the exchange in an automated and safe way, without any need for the parties to know and trust each other.”
Meanwhile, competitor Bitit’s prepaid bitcoin cards and the Bitaccess Flexipin vouchers in Canada, use a secondary payment network behind the scenes. However, cards and vouchers like this appear as a single-step process to the end user, where a piece of plastic or paper has a code number on it for claiming the bitcoin online.
French startup Bitit was created in March 2015, debuting at the Maison du Bitcoin in Paris, where the first plastic Bitit cards went on sale. To overcome the problem of risking a shortage of bitcoins when expanding to large markets, their platform integrates an algorithm to minimize exposure risk, and to maintain sufficient bitcoins for customer redemption.
The system works by balancing the rate at which Bitit buys Bitcoin against the rate at which customers purchase the cards and vouchers. It also minimizes fraud by only allowing small amounts of bitcoin to be purchased anonymously, at first.
To get larger amounts, the same card can be used, but personal information has to be supplied. “Our value creation is how we manage the risk,” CEO Nicolas Katan told Venturebeat.
“When you say Bitcoin and credit card, you think: fraud.”
– Nicolas Katan, Bitit CEO
This single-step-to-bitcoin option comes with low limits on how much customers can purchase; Bitit’s card is only sold in 25 and 50 Euro denominations, for example. Then there are the fees. Transaction fees alone go as high as 16 percent. For this high price tag, however, users get the simpler process and service all in one stop, and there is no price risk while waiting for an exchange to be made.
Meanwhile, the multi-step-to-bitcoin option, including Bitboat, usually has far smaller fees, set by individuals that would like to buy your card through an online exchange. These ‘over the counter’ exchanges operate in a similar way to LocalBitcoins and Paxful, where customers trade with each other, not directly with the company. Fees can be low, but vary, and there’s exposure to price volatility, and even scams.
Sometimes the two payment option types even have the same underlying payment network. Neosurf claims that there are over 20,000 vendors accepting their vouchers directly. They list selected vendors and two bitcoin exchanges on their website, including Bitboat and Coinhouse. Bitit was the latest bitcoin exchange to accept Neosurf vouchers, added just this month, although it’s not on the Neosurf list yet.
The French internet payment card company, launched in 2004 by Nicolas Saubie, allows customers to make online payments with a card or voucher, which both mimic a credit card for online purchases.
“When you buy a Neosurf voucher they charge you 10% with a total of 15.9% fee on Bitit when buying Bitcoins. We do expect the Neosurf fee to decrease as the Bitit transaction volume and worldwide Bitcoin liquidity increases.”
Neosurf has been steadily growing over the past 12 months. In March 2015, Neosurf was available at 54,100 locations in five countries; Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain. They are now available in approximately 133,000 locations in over 40 countries, including the five mentioned above, plus Cyprus, Canada, Romania, the United Kingdom, Ireland and 32 African countries including Morocco, and Nigeria.
Bitboat also accepts many other types of prepaid payment methods, such as paysafecard, Ricarica Postepay, JiffyPay, Mandate Compte, Neocode, and Ingreso en cajero. On March 10, Bitboat started accepting paysafecard.
Vienna-based paysafecard is a market leader in prepaid online payment methods. Founded in Austria during 2000, it’s available in 43 countries, with 500,000 sales outlets across Europe alone.
Although some of the 133,000 Neosurf locations could overlap with the 500,000 paysafecard locations, a quick search on their website locator maps shows that most do not.
The primary way of buying bitcoin through Bitit is via their prepaid, plastic, bitcoin gift card. They are available in Euro only, in either a 25€ or 50€ denomination. The fee is also 15.9 percent for redeeming one of these convenient cards.
Another way to buy bitcoin on Bitit is with cash by purchasing a Neosurf voucher at one of the participating locations then go to the Bitit website and fill out an online form. The form asks for various identifying information including name, address, phone number and date of birth.
The minimum purchase amount is 25 Euros, with a maximum of 200 Euros. However, for customers who fill out the form and verify their phone number with a 4 digit PIN, the purchase limit shoots up to 500 Euros worth of bitcoin per week. Neosurf vouchers have a maximum limit of 250 Euros per voucher.
After specifying the receiving bitcoin address, the customer will be directed to a purchase completion screen where the Neosurf code can be entered. Account creation is not required.
Bitit promises an immediate delivery of bitcoin after the Neosurf pin code is verified, but it can take between 10 to 20 minutes to show up in a bitcoin wallet.
The prepaid card market is growing fast. Recently, BitAccess announced the partnership with Flexepin, and now users can purchase bitcoin at over 6,000 locations across Canada. An independent Global Prepaid Opportunity report by MasterCard Worldwide predicts significant prepaid growth “at an annual rate of 22% through 2017.”
A separate report by research and consulting firm RBR finds “notably strong” growth in the prepaid sector in Western Europe. By the end of 2014, a total of 1.5 billion payment cards were in issue across Europe, a 2 percent increase from the previous year, RBR reports. Moreover, prepaid cards grew by 21% in western Europe even though it declined in central and eastern Europe because of Russian cardholders adopting electronic wallet solutions as an alternative.
“The prepaid opportunity continues to grow around the world and is expected to reach US$822 billion by 2017. The popularity of prepaid is driven by its unique and practical ability to solve for almost any payment need. It democratizes electronic payments for those outside the traditional banking system and provides a transparent, cost-effective alternative to cash and checks for both governments and businesses.”