North Dakota businesses and cities steadily embracing cryptocurrency
As cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin continue to evolve — and rocket up in value — some North Dakota businesses and even one city are evolving with them.
FARGO — For Jack Seaman, owner of MinDak Gold Exchange in Fargo, accepting cryptocurrency from a customer for a five- or six-figure gold or silver purchase is as easy as walking across the room.
That's because MinDak Gold Exchange is one of only a few locations across the Red River Valley with a cryptocurrency ATM, according to CoinMap.org .
Seaman first installed the ATM in his downtown store around 2015, he said. Since then, customers have been able to turn their cash into cryptocurrency or cash out their digital holdings.
"The Bitcoin ATM basically allows a customer to come in and buy or sell Bitcoin and about six other cryptocurrencies for cash," Seaman explained. "They can walk in with cash and walk out with their crypto, or they can walk in with crypto and walk out with cash."
The ATM transacts in Bitcoin and Ethereum — the two most valuable cryptocurrencies according to CoinBase.com — as well as other cryptocurrencies. In order to use the ATM, customers must first scan a QR code from their digital wallet.
Cryptocurrency transactions are increasing in number at MinDak Gold Exchange, he said, adding that he processes one or two sales a month using the digital currency. "It's definitely something that happens more often than it happened last year or the year before," he continued.
Seaman has been involved in cryptocurrency since its infancy and he's not alone in thinking digital assets have endless potential.
Caleb Dueck is in the same boat. Dueck, the founder of North Dakota-themed apparel retailer 701 Hoodies , has been accepting cryptocurrency as payment since he launched his website in January.
Dueck transacts through CoinBase ( NYSE: COIN ), which counts 56 million users and handles more than $335 billion worth of quarterly trades, according to its website.
Setting up his online shop to accept cryptocurrency was a "five-minute" process and an opportunity he did not want to miss, Dueck said.
"It was a very simple process to set that up to accept it on my site, so I figured I might as well get in before the wave so that I'm not missing out on any opportunities when the wave is in full motion," he remarked.
Though he has yet to log a sale using cryptocurrency and knows much of his target audience probably won't use cryptocurrency, he still felt it was a necessary addition for his business.
"I really did my homework and believe that eventually we'll be using Bitcoin as a currency and probably transacting with Ethereum as well," Dueck said. "I figured I might as well set it up early."
During the payment process, a customer shopping on 701 Hoodies' site can select alternative payment methods and pay using Bitcoin, Ethereum, and "five or six other major cryptocurrencies," Dueck said.
As easy as it was for Dueck to begin accepting cryptocurrency, it's equally as simple for customers to pay using it. The process mirrors a traditional payment using a credit or debit card.
"That's why I feel like there's no harm in doing it and as more people are going to be adopting cryptocurrency, the goal is to make it as easy as possible for the customer to make a purchase," Dueck said. "If they just decide to buy a hoodie, I don't want to get in their way of buying a hoodie."
It isn't just North Dakota businesses hopping aboard the cryptocurrency train. Recently, Williston became the first city in the state and one of only a small handful of municipalities nationally to accept cryptocurrency for bill payments.
City Finance Director Hercules Cummings said the move was designed to adapt to younger residents' payment preferences. As part of the move, Williston plans to roll out pay-by-text via Apple Pay and Google Pay this month and begin accepting PayPal and Venmo payments by the end of the year.
"Right now in the city of Williston we’re seeing a growing demand and changing demographics of all types of forms of payments," he said.
After the city received several inquiries regarding digital payment methods, it decided to evaluate the potential to add more payment methods beyond credit and debit cards.
"We thought at city hall, 'Wouldn’t it be interesting if we could capture all types of payments?'," Cummings said. "Irrespective of what type of payment they have, we want to open the doors fully to accept every type of payment unique to the customer and to accommodate their preference."
BitPay, Williston's cryptocurrency payment platform, said it works with some municipalities across the country with "several more coming." The platform also works with Microsoft and AT&T as well as a pair of professional sports teams — the Dallas Mavericks and the Oakland Athletics.
When Williston first reached out to BitPay eight months ago, it was only the third municipality to do so, Cummings said.
Future of finance
Seaman, Dueck and Cummings all believe cryptocurrency will continue to evolve and become a growing component of commerce.
For MinDak Gold Exchange, cryptocurrency is a natural fit, Seaman noted. "I was interested in it initially because many people who are interested in cryptocurrencies are also interested in gold and silver because they're both alternative assets to the U.S. dollar, which seems to be underperforming as expected," he said. "More and more people are realizing this and are looking for other options."
From a business perspective, Seaman said there is "no downside" to transacting in cryptocurrency, noting it is considerably faster than using the banking system and paper checks in particular.
"Cryptocurrency is nearly immediate, it's paid in full and I don't have any other worries at that point, so it's kind of nice," he said.
He added that as cryptocurrency becomes more "mainstream," he'll begin to embrace it as a larger portion of his business model. "Whether it's gold or silver or crypto, that's something that we can provide for them," Seaman commented. "I think it's only going to increase exponentially from here."
Dueck said that he began feeling more confident in the future of cryptocurrency after doing extensive research on the subject.
"There's no use case that’s comparable to it of something just going up in value that's not a complete bubble," he said. "Once you understand that there are only 21 million possible Bitcoins that can go into circulation and as more and more people start using Bitcoin, it makes sense to me that the value would drive up."
Bolstering cryptocurrency's credentials, Dueck argued, is that it recovered from a major price decrease. "I feel like most things that are bubbles don’t survive afterwards," he noted.
That, and seeing large publicly-traded companies such as Tesla making investments into the digital currency gives it "more security and a little bit more proof," he added.
"Since it's so frictionless, why not be on the early end of the wave?" Dueck asked.
'We are ready'
Cummings said that cryptocurrency as well as other digital payment methods will grow as the younger audience does. "There's a younger generation that's well-acquainted and heavily utilizing that and from a global scale at the national level, it's becoming widely utilized," he said. "We know that the writing is on the wall that the future of merchant services is changing. We wanted to position ourselves at the forefront."
By rolling out the program, he said the city is using a Field of Dreams-esque "build it and they will come'' method. For their part, Cummings said residents are becoming more and more intrigued by the possibilities digital payments offer.
"For a city like Williston, even the concept of crypto in general is new, but I think they're fascinated by that and interest is growing," he said.
While he doesn't expect to see residents rapidly switch to using digital payments, the city will be prepared once they do.
"You would probably expect different results if it was in a California or a New York municipality, but we wanted to cement ourselves as the first because we know that time will eventually come," Cummings said. "We are ready."