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Cryptocurrencies have become the subject of renewed hype, as Bitcoin prices soar to all-time highs. The digital currency recently surpassed the $50,000 milestone following the news of Tesla’s $1.5 billion investment in the coin.
And incumbents are taking note. On Wednesday, BlackRock’s investment chief Rick Rieder told CNBC the world’s largest asset manager has begun to “dabble” in Bitcoin at the behest of customers.
But it’s not just investors that are showing interest. Payments players are starting to embrace new use cases for cryptocurrencies, from Bitcoin rewards to enabling crypto payments in-store.
Players like Mastercard and Visa are adding cryptocurrencies to their payments networks, enabling merchants and fintechs to process and accept digital currencies. PayPal and Square, too, enable consumers to buy, sell, and hold crypto.
Here are the behind-the-scenes crypto leaders at Mastercard, PayPal, Square, and Visa driving the industry’s embrace of digital assets.
Raj Dhamodharan, EVP of blockchain and digital asset products at Mastercard
Dhamodharan leads all of Mastercard’s projects related to cryptocurrencies and digital assets.
Today, consumers are storing value in multiple ways, Dhamodharan told Insider. And that includes cryptocurrencies. So for Mastercard, as a payments infrastructure player, giving consumers the ability to choose how they spend is the priority.
“It really comes down to choice, and it’s not just a choice of what kind of card you use,” Dhamodharan said.
Through its Accelerate program, Mastercard doubled down on its crypto partnerships with fintechs last summer, with card tech that can convert crypto into fiat for consumers to spend in-store. In September, it launched a central bank digital currency (CBDC) testing platform for central banks to experiment with digital currency use cases.
And in January, Mastercard announced it will start processing crypto transactions on its own network this year.
But not every cryptocurrency will be allowed on Mastercard’s network.
“We are, first and foremost, a payment company,” Dhamodharan said. “We’re looking for currencies that are stable in value and lend themselves to be vehicles for payments.”
Stablecoins, for example, use an external reference like the US dollar to determine value.
Dhamodharan joined Mastercard in 2010, and has spent the majority of his time working on digital payments. He assumed his current role leading crypto in December 2019.
Jose Fernandez da Ponte, VP and GM of blockchain, crypto, and digital currencies at PayPal
Fernandez da Ponte leads a new business unit at PayPal focused on all things crypto. Last year, his team added cryptocurrencies to the PayPal app, enabling users to buy, sell, and hold Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Litecoin.
This year, the payments giant plans to add crypto to Venmo and roll out crypto as a way to spend at any merchant that accepts PayPal.
“As with all of PayPal’s services, we always want to provide our customers with great payment experiences, including enabling choice in the way they pay and get paid,” Fernandez da Ponte told Insider via email.
And cryptocurrencies are a “natural extension” of PayPal’s services, Fernandez said.
“We’re starting with cryptocurrencies since those are most widely discussed and available, but our goal is to be able to support central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) and other forms of digital money in compliance with existing regulations and in partnership with governments around the world,” Fernandez said.
By adding cryptocurrencies, PayPal is looking to build its app into a one-stop-shop for customers and boost user engagement. And while it’s still early days, adding digital currencies has already proven beneficial.
Fernandez da Ponte joined PayPal in June 2019 and assumed his current role in January 2021. Prior to this position, he led PayPal’s global business development team and participated in PayPal’s expansion to China and Latin America.
He is a member of the Global Future Council on Cryptocurrencies at the World Economic Forum and part of the Advisory Board at Blockchain Capital.
Miles Suter, product manager of Bitcoin at Cash App; Steve Lee, product manager at Square Crypto
Suter serves as the product manager of Bitcoin at Square’s Cash App while Lee is the product manager at Square Crypto.
Cash App added Bitcoin trading in 2018, and it’s since been a huge revenue driver for the payments player.
In the third quarter of last year, Cash App generated $1.63 billion of Bitcoin revenue and $32 million of Bitcoin gross profit, up approximately 11 and 15 times, respectively, year-over-year, according to its shareholder letter.
In addition to facilitating Cash App users’ buying, selling, and holding of Bitcoin, Square itself made a $50 million investment in Bitcoin in the third quarter last year.
In 2019, Square formed Square Crypto, which operates as an independent team and contributes to Bitcoin open-source work.
Suter joined Square in June 2017 after nearly two years at DoorDash, according to his LinkedIn. Lee joined Square in June 2019 and had previously spent almost a decade at Google, according to his LinkedIn.
Cuy Sheffield, head of crypto at Visa
As head of crypto, Sheffield leads all of Visa’s digital currency efforts, including building out capabilities on its own rails and partnering with fintechs.
“I fell down the crypto rabbit hole in early 2017,” Sheffield told Insider. “For me, it was one of the most interesting things happening that bridged technology, economics, and payments.”
Earlier this month, Visa announced a pilot of a cryptocurrency API for fintechs that enables its customers to add cryptocurrencies to their own apps.
“What we’ve seen is there is a significant and growing interest from consumers in being able to hold assets like Bitcoin as a store of value,” Sheffield said. Beyond buying and selling cryptocurrencies, consumers are also looking for ways to earn them.
Visa will look to grow the functionality of its crypto APIs beyond trading and holding cryptocurrencies, adding features like crypto rewards on cards and auto-buy functionalities. Visa is already playing in the crypto rewards space through partnerships with BlockFi and Fold.
Sheffield joined Visa in 2015 through the acquisition of TrialPay and became head of crypto in June 2019.