September 27, 2013

Canada isn’t just ahead of the U.S. in its advancements in mobile payments, it’s also laying the groundwork for the widespread adoption of virtual currencies as well. While cases involving Bitcoin and its regulation are still working their way through the U.S. courts, the Royal Canadian Mint is already developing its own virtual currency called MintChip.

Although there hasn’t been a great deal of press about the Mint’s efforts, it has held a developer contest for building apps for using the MintChip, and is planning to pilot it some time later this year.

Several companies that I’ve met with along the Canadian mobile payments tour that I’m participating in this week have mentioned Canadians’ dislike for their real currency. Canadian currency has more coins than American currency, and nobody likes carrying around a ton of change. Over the last few years the average value of debit transactions has been falling as debit replaces cash for smaller transactions that would typically involve those coins. So it isn’t inconceivable that an alternative digital currency could take hold in Canada in those smaller transactions.

[See Related: CIBC Expands Mobile Payments]

One of the companies that presented on the tour today, DonRiver, which provides a digital wallet for banks and telcos, said it is already looking into the combination of mobile payments and virtual currencies. For instance, the company can build Bitcoin acceptance into its mobile point of sale solution with an app that can scan a barcode generated on a consumer’s phone, and then charge that consumer’s Bitcoin account, Brent Ho-Young, DonRiver’s managing director of its mobile and financial services practice, said.

With MintChip, the company can use the digital currency’s API’s and integrate them into its own mobile platform to enable virtual currency payments through its mobile wallet, Ho-Young added. DonRiver could also enable mobile remittances with virtual currency since its mobile platform is integrated with Western Union’s IT infrastructure for mobile money transfers.

In anticipation of wider virtual currency adoption in Canada and elsewhere, DonRiver has developed its own virtual currency for its mobile financial services platform, which can hook into other digital currency platforms and exchanges, enabling these type of uses for virtual currency in mobile commerce, Ho-Young explained.

And just as the Royal Canadian Mint can export currency overseas, it can also provide its digital currency technology to other counties, Ho-Young pointed out. If mobile can provide relevant and convenient use cases for virtual currency in consumers’ everyday lives -- like the examples above of virtual currency payments and transfers -- then it could provide a path for greater adoption of those currencies. And if that model is successful in Canada and the Royal Mint decides to export its MintChip technology, then maybe virtual currency could gain popularity in other countries as well.

[To hear about Mobile Devices — Technologies and Trends, attend the session at Interop on October 2.]

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jonathan Camhi is a graduate of the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism, where he focused on international reporting and interned at the Hindustan Times in Delhi, ...