According to the Boston Globe, the cryptocurrency-ATM company Coinmover has over 100 machines in stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Washington state — and plans to have 1,250 machines in 18 states by the end of the year.
Bitcoin ATMs are leading the way in making it easier to buy cryptocurrencies across the country. According to the industry tracking site Coin ATM Radar, there were approximately 6,000 such machines in the United States at this time last year, but there are now over 26,000, with hundreds more being installed every week.
And this only includes “pure” bitcoin ATMs, which only sell cryptocurrency. Thousands of traditional cash-dispensing ATMs have also been modified to accept cryptocurrency purchases.
Then there’s Coinstar, which manufactures the coin-counting machines found in many supermarkets across the United States. Approximately 7,500 of these machines now sell bitcoin, with a total of 10,000 expected by the end of the year.
Researchers at a different website, How Many Bitcoin ATMs, have added these hybrid machines to the mix, estimating that there are over 42,000 bitcoin vending machines in the United States today.
NCR, a financial technology behemoth, has also entered the fray. NCR acquired LibertyX, one of the first bitcoin ATM companies, based in Boston, last month. LibertyX now primarily develops software to add crypto vending capabilities to standard ATMs and retail point-of-sale devices — the modern equivalent of cash registers.
NCR is a world-leading manufacturer of ATMs and point-of-sale devices. The LibertyX acquisition means more than just thousands of crypto-capable ATMs. It could also imply that cryptocurrency will be sold in thousands of retail outlets in the same way that candy bars are.
It is already taking place. LibertyX has agreements with CVS, Rite Aid, and 7-Eleven to allow bitcoin purchases at select locations. A customer enters the amount he or she wants to buy into a LibertyX smartphone app, up to $500 per day. On the phone’s screen, a barcode appears. The barcode is scanned by a clerk, and the customer hands over the cash. It is immediately credited to the customer’s bitcoin account, minus a $4.95 transaction fee.
According to LibertyX, this service is now available in over 20,000 retail locations. Many retailers, however, are unaware of this. Four CVS locations contacted by the Globe said they had no knowledge of bitcoin sales.
According to LibertyX co-founder Chris Yim, “that appears to be a cashier awareness issue,” and that “we have a lot of volume in Massachusetts.”
To buy bitcoin at a retail store, the buyer must first download the LibertyX app and provide detailed personal information, such as source of income and place of employment. Federal banking regulators require this information in order to prevent criminals from using bitcoin to launder illicit funds. It takes several days for the information to be confirmed and the user to be cleared to buy bitcoin at a retail store.
However, by simply providing a name, e-mail address, and phone number, anyone can immediately purchase up to $2,500 in bitcoin per day at one of Coinmover’s ATMs. Those wishing to purchase in larger quantities must provide more detailed information and wait several days for approval.
A Coinmover machine sells cryptocurrencies other than bitcoin, such as Ether, Litecoin, and Dogecoin. The user downloads and installs a cryptocurrency wallet app on their smartphone, which displays a QR code. Then they press the phone screen against the ATM’s scanner and insert the desired amount of money. The ATM reads the wallet code from the phone and deposits the appropriate amount of digital currency into the wallet.
The procedure takes about a minute, but it is very expensive. The transaction fee for purchasing a bitcoin ATM ranges from $2.95 to $5.95. In addition, the buyer pays a markup of 10 to 15% above the market rate for the currency. For example, a recent $20 bitcoin purchase resulted in the buyer having only $12.36 worth of the currency after fees and markup.
So, who would make use of these machines? Anyone with a traditional bank account can use smartphone apps to purchase cryptocurrencies for a very low fee. For example, using a debit card and a program called Cash App, it costs only 45 cents to purchase $20 in bitcoin. Other personal finance apps, such as PayPal and Robinhood, support low-cost crypto trading.
According to Francisco J. Alvarez-Evangelista, a banking analyst at Aite-Novarica Group, bitcoin ATMs may make sense for people in developing countries who do not have access to banks. However, the United States “is a difficult market to enter,” he said, “because there are so many easier ways to acquire and sell bitcoin.”
Nonetheless, the machines may appeal to US crypto investors who are obsessed with privacy, as well as people looking for a quick and easy way to send money overseas. After purchasing bitcoin at an ATM, a person can instantly transfer the funds to a relative’s bitcoin address located anywhere in the world. Despite the fees, Scanlan claims that “we are cheaper than Western Union in certain places.”
Furthermore, cryptocurrency purchased through a bank cannot be spent until the transaction has completely cleared, which can take several days. “With these machines, you get your cryptocurrency right away,” Scanlan explained. “That is why people are willing to pay a higher price.”
According to a University of Chicago survey, 13% of US adults purchased or sold cryptocurrency in the previous year. That equates to nearly 33 million people. How many more will join when thousands of retail stores and ATMs are converted into bitcoin trading locations? We’ll find out soon enough.