S'pore food joints score with Bitcoins
LOCAL merchants who have accepted Bitcoins for their goods - few as they are, for now - may well be sitting on a pot of gold.
The value of Bitcoins surpassed US$1,000 (S$1,260) again last week on the Mt.Gox online exchange, after online game company Zynga announced it would accept the virtual currency for some of its games.
For home-grown businesses like cafe Artistry in Jalan Pinang, the rise in the exchange rate for the crypto-cash was definitely a score.
Owner Prashant Somosundram, 34, told MyPaper the cafe has clocked 71 Bitcoin transactions since it started accepting them last July. He declined to state the number of Bitcoins collected, but their value has appreciated by 500 per cent, he said.
He has no plans to cash out for now as he sees it as a "small experiment".
The bulk of the merchants who accept Bitcoin payments here operate in the food-and-beverage industry, such as Cad Cafe in Haji Lane and Hospoda Microbrewery in Albert Street.
For Mr Patrick Fok, 32, director of restaurant and lifestyle group WWW Concepts Group, which owns wine-and-dine establishments like Mariko's and The Retrospective, giving the nod to Bitcoin transactions was a "no-brainer".
"There are no credit-card transaction fees, or set-up costs - all we need is Internet access," he said. Transactions are carried out by staff using a free app on their own smartphones.
Other merchants who have joined the ranks of Bitcoin-using pioneers here include 3-D printing company Meka and horse-racing website Kranjiracing.com, which is not owned or operated by Singapore Turf Club.
Meka's founder, Mr Shafiq Ali, 26, said that the company, which is largely based online, has had three Bitcoin transactions amounting to $150 in total since it began accepting Bitcoins in November last year. They are currently worth about $400, he added.
Clients who have paid in Bitcoin tend to be young entrepreneurs or working in the technology industry.
But while these companies are seeing their Bitcoins shoot up in value now, Mr Shafiq recognised that the volatility of the digital currency may be a double-edged sword.
He said: "The value of Bitcoins is constantly fluctuating, and no one can be sure how much Bitcoins will be worth in the future. A $70 transaction today may be worth many thousands in the near future, or even a mere few cents."
Industry expert Anshuman Singh, who is director of product management at Barracuda Networks, pointed out that as the use of Bitcoins is still considered a relatively uncharted territory in Singapore, "a long line of hackers (will be) waiting to find a way to exploit the new payment method".
"With credit cards and bank transfers, cybercrime and fraud will be covered by the bank. But in the case of Bitcoins, once they're gone, they're gone forever," he said.
The Monetary Authority of Singapore does not regulate virtual currencies, including Bitcoins, but warned users in September that if Bitcoin ceases, "there may not be an identifiable party responsible for refunding their monies or for them to seek recourse."