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Last updated: Aug 4, 2022

Now is the time to add a crypto payment gateway

Author: David Kornhaber
Last updated: Aug 4, 2022
What's inside

We all know that crypto isn't exactly experiencing its finest hour, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't consider letting your customers pay you with it. Companies like Overstock, Shopify, and PayPal (with its 429 million active accounts) are still riding the digital-money train, despite crypto's very public downturn. That tells you something: If companies that large aren't dismantling the crypto payment option — which would be relatively easy — in response to the headlines, then they probably think it's here to stay.

So rather than running for the hills the moment the word "crypto" is mentioned, it might be just the right time to embrace it in a relatively low-risk, potentially high-impact way by adding crypto payments to your B2B or B2C payment gateway.

A crypto-positive mindset

Vention's Head of Fintech Andrew Haines suggests a balanced approach when considering crypto. "There was a tremendous amount of hype surrounding crypto, followed by a significant drop in valuation and some high profile bankruptcies," he says. "Many see all this fluctuation as justification to reject digital currencies."

Andrew views the crypto market's swings as more the natural growing pains of a still-germinating asset class than as a deal-killer.

"You don't have to have an opinion on the future price of Bitcoin or Ethereum to accept cryptocurrencies as a method of payment," he says. "It simply makes business sense to give customers the option to pay with crypto if that is their preferred method."

And if that statement doesn't resonate, think of the converse: Not accepting digital currencies limits your earnings.

Also, consider that the timing is right. Crypto is taking a deep (though likely temporary) breather, meaning that there's less pressure to rush your crypto payment solution and more time to do it methodically.

To have is not necessarily to hold

Once you've decided to accept digital currency, but before you implement a crypto payment gateway, you have to plan what you'll do with your earnings.

Crypto payments are deposited into a "wallet" — another word for an app that lets crypto users store and retrieve their digital assets.

There are two primary flavors of wallet:

  • One that you possess yourself (commonly on a physical hard drive), or
  • A third-party wallet (such as Electrum's bitcoin wallet or a wallet from a crypto-currency exchange Coinbase)

No matter which one you choose, when a customer conducts a transaction with you, the customer deposits the appropriate sum in crypto-currency into your wallet.

Crypto-currency transactions revolve around specific, non-duplicatable "keys" that prove that an individual (or entity) owns that currency. Crypto keys store the essential information about a particular amount of crypto-currency, including its history of ownership and its current whereabouts (its "address" in your wallet).

If a five-dollar bill had a key, it might say something like: "This bill was printed in St. Louis on July 5th of 2022. It was acquired by Joe's Barber Shop on July 8th, then transferred from Joe to Carmen's Coffee Emporium on July 12th. It is now in Carmen's cash register."

Deciding whether to maintain a wallet yourself or manage a wallet through a third-party operator comes down to your level of risk tolerance. If you keep your crypto keys in your own wallet, and something happens to that wallet . . . you're pretty much out of luck. Stories abound about people who lost their entire crypto fortunes because they forgot their password or lost a hard drive.

For this reason, many just starting with digital currencies choose to keep their wallet with a third-party vendor. Management of crypto-currency through a third party mimics the experience of online banking, which most of us are at least passingly familiar with.

A third way: grip it, then flip it

Another route for those who accept digital currencies is to receive the deposit, then immediately flip it into dollars (or just about any other fiat currency).

Exchanging crypto-currency for traditional currencies does, however, entail a small amount of risk. Andrew's take: Converting digital currency into dollars, Euros, or anything else is the same as any other currency exchange. It entails a small degree of risk. "You have to be OK with the idea that currencies fluctuate against each other, and you might not always get the absolute best exchange rate when you make the switch," he says.

But for many vendors, the pro of holding deposits in one single currency outweighs the con of potentially losing a relatively small amount of earnings. "Big operations can afford the personnel or computing power to track transactions to a fraction of a fraction of a penny," Andrew says. Smaller businesses are less likely to be able to afford it.

Many of those smaller operations get their feet wet in digital currencies by enlisting the services of companies like Bitpay to accept digital payments on their behalf and convert them into fiat currency payments. So a merchant can tell customers they can pay with, say, Dogecoin — but those Dogecoin transactions are deposited in the merchant’s bank account in the form of Euros (or whatever fiat currency the merchant chooses). Meanwhile, the merchant gains the confidence to eventually take on the task themselves.

One other argument in favor of flipping crypto payments to another currency: Tax rules on crypto are murky at best. While every company's situation is unique (and one of your first crypto-prep calls should be with your tax advisor), crypto-currency transactions have tax implications that can make flipping preferable to holding.

Adding the functionality

So, you've recognized the benefits of accepting digital currencies, made your wallet choice, and decided what to do with crypto revenue once you have it. Now it's time to install a crypto payment capability into your system.

The options depend on your current platform. Some ecommerce hosts (including Shopify) allow vendors to accept crypto payments directly, while platforms like Etsy get out of the way and let vendors and customers handle crypto transactions themselves.

Larger operations running their own platforms need to configure their existing payment rails or build and implement a customized widget. Andrew says that the complicating factor here is not the complexity of the coding.

"We've built tons of payment gateways," he says. "Integrating a particular crypto-currency into an existing payment system is no more complicated than integrating with Stripe or Square." But the more tokens you want to transact in — Bitcoin, Ethereum, SHIB, MATIC — the more gateways and wallets you have to support. After a certain point, it becomes unsustainable.

The more prudent course? Select two or three digital currencies and build a custom system that can accept them now and a few more in the near future. (One area that bears watching is the emergence of Central Bank Digital Currencies, which promise to remove the overhead that go-betweens charge on transactions.)

Adding a crypto payment gateway will entail a bit of homework and a modest adjustment to your current platform. But if there's one universal truth about business, it's that the more ways you give people to pay you, the more money you'll make.

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