Circle, the bitcoin services company backed by Goldman Sachs, is planning to open a London office from which it can spearhead European expansion, Business Insider can reveal.
Executives including founder and CEO Jeremy Allaire and co-founder Sean Neville are currently in London recruiting a country manager for the UK and scouting locations for an office here.
The company is also in talks with regulator the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) about getting an e-money licence, which would allow it to operate its digital wallet service in the UK and add sterling to the currencies it currently lets people hold.
Circle is one of the most high-profile bitcoin companies in the US, although in conversation Allaire distanced the business from bitcoin. Circle has raised $US76 million (£50.17 million) since launch in 2013, most recently raising $US50 million (£33.1 million) in a funding round led by Goldman Sachs back in April.
The company began by offering a digital bitcoin wallet that lets people hold, send, and receive bitcoin through online accounts. But Allaire says this was just a proof of concept.
His ambition for Circle is to use the technology that underpins bitcoin to make sending and receiving any form of money as easy as sending email.
Money is uploaded to your Circle account in whatever currency you wish, then when you want to pay someone it is converted into bitcoin and transferred via the blockchain to the receiver, who quickly converts the sum back to whatever currency they wish.
The blockchain software, which underpins bitcoin, acts as the trusted middleman in the transaction — basically a proxy for a bank. The software records who has paid who and once it’s set down it can’t be changed.
Because of the speed of the transaction, both parties are unlikely to feel much impact from the volatility of bitcoin. And because they’re not going through a bank, they won’t pay foreign exchange or other fees. Circle’s money transfer service is free.
Allaire hopes that Circle becomes the go-to app for payments, not just across borders, but small sums between friends — just as sending an email today is the same whether it’s to Japan or Leeds.
The new licence means for the first time that Circle can let people hold, send, and receive US dollars on the app. Allaire and Neville are hoping this will lead to much wider adoption. Allaire said currently “hundreds of thousands” of people use Circle.
The company also hopes to soon offer the service in sterling and euros, followed by many other currencies. Circle, which is incorporated in Ireland but based largely in Boston, will use the London office as its base for European expansion once these currencies are added to the service.
Neville told Business Insider that Circle chose London for its European expansion base over Dublin largely because of the attitude of the government and regulators towards financial technology and digital currencies in the UK. Neville said Britain is amongst the most forward thinking in the world in this area.