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Barclays-Circle Partnership to Facilitate App Launch in UK

After obtaining an electronic money license from U.K.’s top financial regulator, Financial Conduct Authority, the social payment app Circle is all set to foray into the nation on Wednesday. The move will be further facilitated by the Boston-based start-up’s tie-up with London-based Barclays PLC BCS, which is the first global bank to join hands with a Bitcoin company.

The license granted by the U.K., another first for a virtual currency firm, indicates the government’s efforts to attract virtual currency start-ups and make London a hub for the development of financial technology or fintech.

"Circle's decision to launch in the UK, and the firm's new partnership with Barclays are major milestones," said Britain's Economic Secretary to the Treasury Harriett Baldwin in an email. "They prove our decision to introduce the most progressive, forward-looking regulatory regime is paying off and cements our status as the world's FinTech capital," he added.

Founded in 2013, Circle uses Bitcoin, the virtual currency, to allow users to make payments to other customers using a mobile app. The process is termed as “social payments” by the company and its investors list includes The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. GS and IDG Capital Partners.

Circle users can hold dollars and also pay any merchant that accepts Bitcoin anywhere in the world. Circle will instantly convert the dollars into Bitcoin at the time of payment and its users can accept Bitcoin payments, which will be immediately converted into dollars.

The British license will enable Circle users in the U.K. to do the same. Consumers will be able to instantly transfer money between dollars and British pounds, thus facilitating domestic and international payments.

“For the first time any consumer in the U.S. and the U.K. will be able to beam sterling and dollars back and forth, instantly for free,” said Jeremy Allaire, the co-founder of Circle. “That’s just never been possible.”

Apart from money transfers, Circle users can also send emojis and animated "GIF" videos, along with written messages, at no charge, similar to China's WeChat Pay and AliPay.

Moreover, Circle is expected to allow transfers in and out of euros soon, when it launches in the rest of Europe later this year.

The affiliation with Barclays will provide Circle with the required infrastructure to enable transfers from any U.K. bank account. Further, Barclays Corporate Banking will provide the account needed by Circle to store sterling for consumers.

While Bitcoin remains in a negative light owing to its standing as a black-market currency, the failure of a massive Bitcoin exchange and extreme price fluctuations, partnership with a global bank like Barclays will prove to be an accomplishment for Circle, which uses Bitcoin to transfer central bank currencies.

Also, banks like Goldman, JPMorgan Chase & Co. JPM and Credit Suisse Group AG CS have been increasingly showing interest in Blockchain, the “digital ledger” or the underlying technology behind Bitcoin, given its significant potential to revamp the extensive and complex network of bank payments as well as settlements.

Currently, Barclays holds a Zacks Rank #5 (Strong Sell).

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