By Jeremy Alexander
Amidst the uncertainty created by the Mt. Gox shutdown, the first Bitcoin ATM allowing cash-to-virtual currency transactions opened in Singapore yesterday. Created by Tembusu Terminals and claimed to be the first ATM of its kind in Asia, the machine accepts transactions of as little S$2 (US$1.58) and dispenses QR codes. These QR codes will then be accepted at around thirty outlets throughout Singapore.
Each transaction results in a 5 percent service fee.
While customers cannot currently deposit Bitcoins in exchange for physical currency, Tembusu has stated that this function will soon be added. “[There are] customers going up to shops saying ‘we want to pay you in Bitcoins, but we don’t know how to get the Bitcoins to pay you,’ so we want to fill this market,” said Peter Sik Wee, managing partner at Tembusu.
To do this, the company plans on installing around 100 machines throughout Singapore by late 2014.
Created in 2009, Bitcoins are a peer-to-peer virtual form of currency able to be bought or sold on online exchanges. While the value of a single Bitcoin is very volatile, the total value of Bitcoins worldwide is currently estimated at between US$7.5 and US$10 billion.
Singapore’s new ATM is one of the first of its kind worldwide, following a scant few already operating in Canada and the United States. Growth is picking up quickly, however, with new Bitcoin ATMs planned in locations as diverse as Japan, the United Kingdom and Australia.
Tembusu’s move comes just days after Singapore’s Finance Minister announced Bitcoin would not be recognized as legal tender by the country’s central bank. Alongside this announcement, Mt. Gox – the world’s largest Bitcoin exchange – went offline this week after the reported theft of US$409 million in Bitcoins.
Despite these setbacks, however, Tembusu remains undeterred.
“We’re glad how resilient the currency has been in the face of the Mt. Gox fiasco. Before this happened, there was a shadow hanging over regarding whether the currency could survive Mt. Gox falling from grace. We can safely say it has,” said Jarrod Luo, managing partner at Tembusu.
In order to prevent security issues that have plagued other Bitcoin service providers, and to comply with Singaporean regulations, Singapore’s first ATM may soon offer identity and thumb-print scanning as well as other anti-money laundering capabilities, according to Tembusu.
Tembusu’s ATM will be joined today by a Hong Kong-based platform for trading virtual currencies known as ANX. The ANX initiative is the first in the city to allow customers to buy and sell Bitcoins in Hong Kong dollars.
Despite the rapid expansion of Bitcoin services and use, there are still concerns among both investors and regulators about the currency’s stability.
Bitcoin’s market price continued to decline this week to US$566 as of 3:33 pm, Singapore time from a previous high of US$1151 – partially in response to Mt. Gox’s closure.
Additionally, law-makers the world over have echoed concerns that the virtual currency could be used for money-laundering and fraud.
Despite these concerns, Bitcion remains largely unregulated, with the Monetary Authority of Singapore warning citizens that wish to engage in its use to proceed at their own risk.
Addressing Parliament last Friday, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, called on business to “think twice and be cautious about accepting or dealing in virtual currencies.”
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