American Express Partners with Bitcoin Wallet Abra

Digital bitcoin wallet Abra  is introducing its digital money transfer application to a vast landscape of new users thanks to its integration with American Express, the companies announced today.

“This is the first time a major credit card has partnered with a digital card,” Abra CEO and founder Bill Barhydt told Bank Innovation. “And it definitely opens us up to a new population.”

This integration will allow American Express cards users to fund their Abra wallets as well as instantly send payments or withdraw cash across the globe by using Bitcoin and avoiding exchange rates.

More importantly, Barhydt explained, this partnership expands Abra’s presence with two different kinds of populations: the “cash consumer,” and the “upper-income bank consumer.”

The cash consumer is a person that can buy a prepaid debt card like an American Express prepaid available in a local pharmacy or stationary store or a Walmart’s Bluebird Card (by Amex) and load that money into their Abra Wallet and then withdraw it as cash in the user’s local currency denomination. The upper-income bank consumer can enter their American Express credit card number and send money to another user through their phone.

For New York-based multinational financial services corporation, American Express or Amex, the decision to integrate Abra comes nearly two years after it invested an undisclosed amount in the company during its first round of funding in September 2015.

“This idea of integrating Abra into its services was contemplated from the beginning when they were investors,” Barhydt said. “They wanted exposure to this phenomenon of bitcoin and blockchain, and what we at Abra were doing with it.”

American Express could not be reached for comment.

Along with American Express, San Francisco-based venture capital firm, First Round Capital and billionaire Ratan Tata, of the Indian multinational conglomerate TATA Group were also investors in its first round of funding. The first round raised $12 million. Barhydt would not disclose the investment breakdown, but said American Express contributed a “big part of that amount.”

Currently, Abra has $17 million in venture capital backing, he said.

Based in Saratoga, California, Abra was founded in 2014 as a digital cash peer-to-peer network, where users can send/receive money or pay for things instantly in their local currency ​with or without a bank account.

“Think a global Venmo,” Barhydt said. “without the two to three day waiting period. We can do this because we’ve removed banks from the equation.”

He explained that unlike apps such as Venmo, Abra never actually touches the money, and thus avoids having to deal with any regulatory issues associated with transmitting funds.

The bitcoin aspect of the mechanism is so inconspicuous that Barhydt categories Abra users in two types, those that aren’t familiar with bitcoin and those that are.“A bunch of our users don’t even know that they are using bitcoins,” he said. The choice to receive funds as bitcoin or fiat cash is that of the receivers, he explained.

“The mechanism behind Abra is simple,” Barhydt explained. “Basically, the user sees it as one might see a conventional money transfer application. The bitcoin aspect happens on the backend of it.”

Say a user is sending money to someone. This user sees this transfer as a typical transfer, with money taken out of their bank and transferred to the designated person. However, what’s actually happening is the user is using that money to buy bitcoin and then transferring it to the recipient, who receives the bitcoin in the form of their local currency.

For those that don’t want to use their bank accounts to withdraw cash, there are also Abra Tellers, or  as Barhydt  calls them, “human ATMs.” This is a network of people who set their own fee and meet the user in person to receive cash deposits and credits them to the user’s account. To ensure the transaction, Abra issues contracts built on blockchain to protect the user.

In terms of future plans for Abra, Barhydt said expansion is definitely a priority.

“Our goal is to become the WhatsApp of the digital money transfer,” Barhydt said.“We hope to announce similar partnerships [like American Express] soon,” Barhydt said, but would not disclose any more information.

Abra is currently available in 54 currencies and in 175 countries. It is available on iPhone and Android.

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