Visa reaffirms commitment to crypto payments & fiat on-ramps

The payments giant is bullish on stablecoins, but may be overlooking the potential of DeFi

During the Visa Q1 earnings call on Thursday, chairman and CEO Al Kelly devoted a portion of his comments to reaffirming the financial giant’s commitment to crypto payments and onramps, as well as explaining “how Visa thinks about crypto in general and our approach.”

The financial services firm with over $72 billion in assets as of 2019 has been aggressively pursing crypto payments as of late, including by way of partnerships enabling crypto debit cards, and investing Zap, a crypto payments startup. Additionally, earlier this month Visa was forced to abandon a $5.3 billion acquisition of payments platform Plaid on antitrust grounds.

Thursday’s comments make it clear that Visa still has long-term plans in the sector, and that the company believes itself to be in an excellent position to pursue them. According to a transcript of the call, Kelly said “we believe that we are uniquely positioned to help make cryptocurrencies more safe, useful and applicable for payments,” by virtue of Visa’s size, integrations, and brand recognition.

Fans of Ethereum and the explosive growth of DeFi might be taken aback by the company’s somewhat antiquated view on smart contract platforms, however.

Kelly said that Visa groups blockchain assets into two categories: “cryptocurrencies that represent new assets such as Bitcoin” and serve as a store-of-value, and “stable coins that are directly backed by existing fiat currencies” which are more routinely used for payments.

For store-of-value coins, Kelly said that Visa will angle to serve as a fiat on-ramp: “Our strategy here is to work with wallets and exchanges to enable users to purchase these currencies using their Visa credentials or to cash out onto our Visa credential to make a fiat purchase at any of the 70 million merchants where Visa is accepted globally.”

When it comes to stablecoins, however, Visa is taking a much more bullish stance, calling the cryptocurrencies “an emerging payments innovation that could have the potential to be used for global commerce, much like any other fiat currency,” and said that public blockchains can be thought of as payment rails similar to RPT or ACH networks. 

The company also told investors that Visa would be poised to take advantage of any crypto that emerges as a dominant force in payments due to relationships with wallet providers such as “Crypto.com, [BlockFi], Fold and BitPanda,” as well as a possible direct integration with their 160-currency payments network.

The focus on payments echoes similar sentiments expressed by JPMorgan Chase executives, who also appear to be overlooking DeFi’s remarkable rise throughout 2020.
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