MasterCard signs cryptocurrency card deal with London startup

FILE - In this Feb. 20, 2019, file photo are Mastercard and Visa credit cards in Zelienople, Pa. Americans gave their credit cards a real workout this past holiday season. The Federal Reserve said Friday, Feb. 7, 2020, that borrowing on credit cards rose by the largest amount in more than two decades in December. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)
MasterCard and Visa cards. Photo: Keith Srakocic/AP

MasterCard (MA) has signed its first issuing deal with a “native” cryptocurrency startup, allowing the business to distribute MasterCard debit cards that let people hold and spend crypto.

MasterCard said in a statement on Monday it had granted London-based Wirex a principle membership licence to its card issuing network. The deal allows Wirex to issue cards on MasterCard’s payment network.

MasterCard said it would also expand its cryptocurrency programme to make it easier for other companies to become issuers.

“The cryptocurrency market continues to mature, and Mastercard is driving it forward, creating safe and secure experiences for consumers and businesses in today’s digital economy,” Raj Dhamodharan, executive vice president for digital asset and blockchain products and partnerships at Mastercard, said in a statement.

“Our work with Wirex and the wider crypto ecosystem is accelerating innovation and empowering consumers with more choice in the way they pay.”

Mastercard logo appears above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Photo: Richard Drew/AP
Mastercard logo appears above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Photo: Richard Drew/AP

Wirex, founded in 2014, has built an app that allows people to hold and spend digital cryptocurrency such as bitcoin (BTC-GBP) and ethereum (ETH-GBP). The app is linked to a card, currently issued by MasterCard rival Visa (V), that allows users to spend their cryptocurrency by converting it to fiat currency at the point of sale.

Crypto news website Cointelegraph reported in April that Wirex had over 3 million customers. Its services have been launched in over 130 countries.

“We are very excited for Wirex to be the first crypto-native company granted principal membership from Mastercard,” Pavel Matveev, chief executive and co-founder of Wirex, said in a statement.

“It represents a growing interest and recognition in the acceptance of cryptocurrency by leading bodies and regulators and will help us to realize our vision of empowering everyone to experience a world where all currencies, traditional and crypto, are equal.”

Wirex is regulated by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority and MasterCard said it would only work with startups fully compliant with local laws.