The crypto economy is about to expand.
Mastercard is preparing to announce that each of the thousands of banks and millions of merchants on their payments network will soon be able to incorporate crypto into their products, CNBC has learned.
These include bitcoin wallets, credit and debit cards, which earn rewards in crypto and make it possible to spend digital assets, and loyalty programs where airline or hotel points can be converted into bitcoin.
To that end, the payment network is partnering with Bakkt, the recently spun off from Intercontinental Exchange, which will be behind the scenes custody services for those who sign up, executives from the two firms told CNBC.
"We want to give all of our partners the ability to more easily add crypto services to everything they do," said Sherri Haymond, Executive Vice President of Digital Partnerships at Mastercard, in an interview. "Our partners, be they banks, fintechs or retailers, can offer their customers the opportunity to buy, sell and hold cryptocurrencies through integration with the Baktt platform."
The announcement could significantly expand the way ordinary Americans earn and spend Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Mastercard, together with Visa, operates one of the dominant global payment networks and has relationships with more than 20,000 financial institutions around the world. According to the company, 2.8 billion Mastercards are in use.
Gavin Michael, CEO of Bakkt, rings a ceremonial bell on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City on October 18, 2021.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters
Interest in Bitcoin has remained high as the original cryptocurrency has risen this year to hit a record price of over $ 60,000 this month. U.S. regulators this month allowed the fund industry to offer a Bitcoin-linked ETF for the first time, while large institutional investors like bond giant Pimco have stated that they are considering trading crypto.
That interest has led Mastercard customers to seek help from the network in providing crypto services, Haymond said. That way, banks can keep customers on their own platforms instead of seeing dollars migrate to crypto exchanges, she said.
Bakkt's shares, trading as a public company last week, rose a staggering 234% on the news. Mastercard and Bakkt announced their partnership later Monday at the annual Money20/20 conference in Las Vegas.
In addition to providing banks with crypto wallets and credit cards, the partnership means that even merchants and restaurants can start offering rewards in Bitcoin instead of traditional points, according to Bakkt CEO Gavin Michael. Existing points can be converted to crypto at the prices set by the participating companies, which gives customers the opportunity to generate income, he said.
"We're lowering the barriers to entry and allowing people to take something like your reward points and exchange them for crypto," Michael said in an interview. "It's an easy way to get started because you are not using cash, you are putting something that is an idle asset on your balance sheet and we allow you to get to work."