Interview

Exclusive interview with Europes first blockchain enabled bank - Bitwala

Thursday 19 April 2018 09:25 CET | Editor: Melisande Mual | Interview

The Paypers has interviewed Bitwala’s CEO Jörg von Minckwitz to find out more about the Bitcoin-based startup and how are cryptocurrencies perceived in Germany.

The name you have chosen for your company is really interesting! Could you tell us what Bitwala means and share with our readers the idea that stood behind starting the company?

Bitwala has its roots in the history of money transfer. It comes from the word Havala which is the oldest way of transferring money. We thought of combining the old system Havala with technology, as the “Bit” in Bitwala represents the smallest electronic unit, and came up with a new concept – Bitwala.

The brand Bitwala started operating in the Netherlands in 2015, under a legal entity called Safaru, which itself was founded in 2014. Initially, it had over 70,000 customers and throughout the period before we had to suspend our services, we had processed over EUR 75 million in payments. Three years later, in 2018 the Bitwala GmbH took over the brand. The company is based in Berlin and together with our team of 22 people we are building a new blockchain banking experience that will allow people to buy and sell cryptocurrencies and manage everyday expenses from one account.

Congratulations on receiving a banking license! What did you find to be the most challenging in the process of achieving it?

To clarify: we haven’t yet received a full banking license. Instead we are working with our partner bank. The trickiest part was the groundwork that we had to do with our partner bank and the regulators. As Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies are so new and unlike everything we knew so far, it was hard to get our company into a fully regulated and compliant business.

The aim with our banking experience is to empower people to seamlessly flow between the crypto and the fiat worlds. That means owning, buying and selling crypto currencies alongside their salary.

According to a study presented by the European Central Bank in November 2017, in terms of number of transactions, cash was most used in the southern euro area countries, as well as in Germany, Austria and Slovenia. How does cryptocurrency find a home in cash-loving Germany?

Germans like cash and credit cards never really made it here. In most pubs or restaurants in Berlin you can’t pay with Visa, Mastercard or Amex. I think it is partly because of the fees and partly because for privacy reasons. When cryptos showed up with its low fees and privacy focus, many little shops started to accept it. There is also a growing number of crypto startups in Berlin and the community is one of the most vibrant in the world.

How would you describe the typical German user of cryptocurrencies?

Male, 20-45 years old, high education and a strong tech focus. You could call us “Geeks”. However, as crypto has gone more and more mainstream, especially in 2017, we expect the description to take a more general form. We’re already seeing people from all walks of life and from different age groups and financial/investment backgrounds pre registering to get a bank account with us.

On January 4th 2018, Bitwala’s prepaid card issuer Wave Crest has received direction from Visa to shut down all cards of its prepaid Visa card programs, including yours. How does this type of decisions impact the cryptocurrency price and does it affect the users’ trust in crypto?

Crypto and the companies in the field want to be taken seriously. If stuff like the Wave crest issue happens it does the opposite to the crypto world. We had to learn the tough way that you should choose your partners really carefully.

The cryptocurrency landscape always deals with trust issues, focusing on compliance, security, and data protection. How do you secure that trust with your customers?

This is one of Bitwala’s main focus. Our tech team works very closely with external security advisors to make sure that our users’ information and funds are safe. It is also a standard that we strive to maintain to be a fully compliant German blockchain banking provider.

We want to create a fully compliant, secure and data protected crypto company that enables people to use crypto on a daily basis without worrying about security, compliance or tax problems. With us it will be easy to file taxes, to secure your coins and exchange them smoothly.

Looking towards the future, what challenges and opportunities will 2018 bring for cryptocurrency enthusiasts?

I think a lot of trust was lost since the beginning of 2018. Many people lost a lot of money. I know it seems like a game when you look on the charts on a daily basis, but in fact it is real people losing real money. I think our biggest challenge is to rebuild trust after the crash and the flood of nonsense ICOs that came to the crypto space. We really need to take care that the crypto space doesn’t turn into a notorious penny stock market. We want to change the way we handle our financial life not making some people rich and a lot of people poor.

About Jörg von Minckwitz

Jörg von Minckwitz is the CEO and co-founder of Bitwala, a German fintech building a blockchain banking solution. Jörg’s role is to envision the new possibilities that Blockchain technology offers and to utilize it by developing new services for the financial and banking sectors. Jörg brings more than 6 year of experience in blockchain and cryptocurrency sectors. Prior to Bitwala, he founded Europe’s first Crypto Consulting, Crypto Incubator and first Crypto ecommerce shop. His work has been recognized and awarded by ICT Spring, Pioneers Festival and The German Innovation Prize, and covered by Wired, Wall Street Journal and CNBC.


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Keywords: Bitwala, blockchain, cryptocurrency, crypto, Germany, blockchain bank, Jorg von Minckwitz, fintech, Bitcoin
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Countries: World