Bitwala’s comeback: «Bitcoin is a mean for financial freedom»
Bitwala is back. The cryptocurrency wallet, formerly known as Nuri, has announced the relaunch of its crypto wallet and a Visa Debit Card, powered by Striga.
In 2022, Nuri filed for insolvency after failing to land fresh investments or to find an acquirer. There were also other reasons: the aftermath of the collapse of Terra Luna, FTX, and Celsius. And the war in Ukraine did not help at all.
We met Bitwala’s CEO, Dennis Daiber, at the Web Summit in Lisbon 2023. According to Daiber, everything was set to get that banking license: the documents, the applications, the approvals. But Nuri could not find the 50 million euros it needed for liquidity coverage.
AG: And that led Nuri to file for insolvency. Now, after more than a year, you are coming back with your original brand, Bitwala. Why are you?
DD: The product was working and Nuri had at least 200,000 customers. All our efforts were aimed at getting a banking license. We were ready, but it was not the right time to look for new investors.
The whole team was very involved in the project. So, to make a long story short, we sat with one of the investors that had collateral for all the intellectual property, and we reached an agreement. No one was going to buy the customer data and the tech stack. But we wanted to continue working on the core product that we had focused on for eight years.
That is how the new Bitwala was born. We took about half a year to refactor the app and onboard new partners. A few weeks ago we relaunched the product and we are basically back to our previous offering.
AG: And what is it that the new Bitwala is offering?
DD: In November 2023, we announced a VISA Debit Card at the Web Summit in Lisbon. It allows our customers to spend cryptocurrency (Bitcoin and Ethereum) at physical Point of Sales or online, or to exchange them for fiat cash at an ATM.
Bitwala also offers a virtual IBAN and is available in 29 European countries.
AG: How do you make money?
DD: We charge a 1% trading fee. The VISA Debit Card, the virtual IBANs, and the wallets are free. We also charge low fees for any card payment.
AG: How are you different from other cryptocards?
DD: Well, most of those cards are part of crypto custodial services. You need to send your Bitcoins into some wallet of some company you have likely just heard of.
If we have learned a lesson from FTX, Celsius, and Terra Luna, it is that self-custody is the key. We embrace the idea of self-custody.
Some other players present themselves with a veneer of Bitcoin ideology. But they are, in fact, coin trading houses. And they will incentivize trading, especially when hype on social media arises about some new coin.
What we offer is a wallet for the convenience of holding and spending your Bitcoins. We do not upsell other coins, we promote self-custody itself, so that there is no risk of losing your cryptocurrency.
I think it is important, for the crypto ecosystem, to have an offering that stays true to self-custody while still onboarding everybody and providing a simple UI and UX.
AG: Are you planning to expand beyond Europe?
DD: We are now live in 29 European countries, with the exception of Germany. We are looking to go to Latin America, North Africa, and Southeast Asia with our core product, the self-custody wallet.
AG: And will you offer a wallet to businesses and merchants as well?
DD: We may launch a B2B Premium subscription-based product. The crypto business is very complex because of KYC and AML compliance. Significant investment is required to implement processes and solutions.
At Bitwala, we pay some members of our staff in stablecoins or Bitcoin because they live in countries that suffer from high inflation. There is a strong demand for company cryptocards. International companies, digital nomads, and expats are interested in receiving their salary in USDC or in Bitcoin.
AG: Are traditional banks changing their attitude towards cryptoassets?
DD: I think banks are more looking at blockchain, as Bitcoin is, at its core, an antagonist to them. The blockchain technology is interesting, as they can put their assets on it or create one and sell them, saving money on settlement and custody fees.
But Bitcoin is a means of getting freedom from banks, not turning to them. So no, I do not really see banks adopting Bitcoin. They should actually hate it.
AG: You said Bitcoin can help people free themselves from banks. Can it be a means to improve financial inclusion and empowerment?
DD: That is a big question, indeed. But one of Bitwala’s major claims is freedom of transaction. Once you have your fiat converted to Bitcoin, you can use your wallet as you want and nobody can tell you what to do with your money.
You can send money to your family or friends in a faraway country, for example, without paying huge fees to remittance services. Maybe the recipient then goes to an ATM and withdraws fiat money. That is fine.
This whole peer-to-peer, permissionless way of transacting will become important to a lot of people. Look at Central Banks’ plans for digital currencies, CBDCs.
If you read between the lines, the central bank will be able to know who spends money and for what. I see a danger when Money and State come together. And for many people, this contamination between the money we use and our governments will be an eye-opener.
And I think Bitcoin is a good way to separate Money and State, like we separated Church and State in most parts of the world. It can become a means of oppression.
Bitcoin needs no intermediaries. You mustn’t fill in a form to get your money, you just scan a QR code. No one can block your money. Think about what could happen if the completion of a transaction were subjected to its carbon footprint or your social rating.
AG: Is the threat of social rating underestimated in Europe? Do you see a concern about privacy when it comes to CBDCs?
DD: Banks will be able to track everything I do and buy. Most people think what should not be, cannot be. But it can. Just because this level of surveillance is outside of everybody’s scope of vision, it doesn’t mean it cannot happen.