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Bitcoin startup Circle unveils no-fee digital currency banking

Financial services company aims to provide a secure, insured banking service that will take the cryptocurrency mainstream.


Bitcoin is a hot commodity in the tech community, but its complexity is turning off many consumers.

Circle, a Bitcoin currency services startup founded in 2013, emerged from stealth mode on Friday with the launch of a suite of consumer financial services that bank on the belief it can take the cryptocurrency mainstream. The state goal of the startup's free product is addressing "the terrifying complexity and risk" many people associate with the digital currency.

Bitcoin has been the subject of wild rollercoaster value fluctuations in the past couple of years, skyrocketing from an exchange value of $2 a share in 2011 to about $1,000 last fall. Rather than facilitating speculation in the digital currency, however, Circle's Web platform is intended to allow users to create accounts for the everyday exchange of Bitcoin.

"Our goal is to make it easy for consumers to deposit and convert currency into a digital form that they can then use globally and instantly, not offer a trading exchange where they can bet on a speculative asset," Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire explained in a company blog post.

As Allaire explained, customers can deposit local currency into an account that converts the funds to Bitcoin and stores it for them without incurring any fees. Funds can then be sent and received globally in their digital form. Upon withdrawal, bitcoins will be changed back into the local currency and transferred to a bank.

To increase consumers' security confidence in its platform, Circle said it has instituted several features and processes to defeat the possibility of fraud or theft. The startup says its network architecture has been pressure tested by a cybersecurity company as well as black and white hat hackers who test the system's defenses.

The company also said it is employing "military-grade" encryption keys and keep funds in offline "cold storage" vaults it says are inaccessible to cybercriminals. "We maintain several geographically distributed secure vault facilities protected by multiple layers of access control, monitoring and armed guards," Allaire wrote.

To further assuage consumer fears, the startup notes that it's a regulated money transmitter in the US and promises that deposits made to its platform are fully insured, meaning that if a security breach results in the theft of funds, its customers are protected from loss.

The company is catering to Bitcoin's growing popularity and acceptance. Cryptocurrency ATMs have begun to pop up, some casinos have said they would accept digital currency payments, and even the US Federal Election Commission has said it would allow political action committees to accept donations in the form of Bitcoin.

Despite Bitcoin's growing acceptance, Circle still faces concerns over the curency's stability and security. The prominent Tokyo-based Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox filed for bankruptcy earlier this year after hackers stole nearly $500 million in bitcoins through a weakness in the company's system. Bitcoin bank Flexcoin also had to shut down after being hacked.

There is no official government consensus on Bitcoin's security status. One day before the FEC's decision to allow donations in the digital currency, the US Securities and Exchange Commission issued an advisory warning investors to be wary of Bitcoin and other virtual-currency related investments. Noting that the cryptocurrency is uninsured, unregulated, and volatile, the SEC said its chief concern was the risk of fraud.