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THE CONVERTED: A bitcoin ATM in operation at the North American Bitcoin Conference in Florida on Jan 25. Some 500 bitcoin-community members were there for a direction-setting conference aimed at driving the currency from speculation to mainstream.

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Published on Feb 03, 2014

S'pore set to get its first bitcoin ATM

SINGAPOREANS will be able to swop their physical dollars for virtual bitcoin when the first automated teller machine for the cryptocurrency lands here next month.

Home-grown company Bitcoin Exchange, which facilitates the trading of bitcoin, has bought a bitcoin machine from British Virgin Islands-based manufacturer Lamassu. It is looking for a suitable location for the ATM.

Speaking to MyPaper, Bitcoin Exchange director Zann Kwan, 37, said that she decided to bring in a bitcoin ATM for one reason: To make the currency easily accessible.

Currently, to buy bitcoin in Singapore, consumers need to wire money to an overseas exchange, and wait for at least one day, depending on wire-transfer processing times, for the transaction to be completed. Fees are also involved.

"This is not cheap and defeats the concept of bitcoin," Ms Kwan said, adding that the digital currency works largely because it is easy to use, and such transactions usually come with zero or extremely small processing fees.

"A bitcoin vending machine makes it very easy and safe to buy bitcoin, and avoids such additional costs and other risks."

Currently, if you buy bitcoin off someone on the Internet, there is a risk that the seller may default on the transaction, she explained.

To convert cash into bitcoin on the ATM, users have to scan a QR code from an easily downloadable bitcoin wallet on their smartphones. They can then feed bills into the machine, which will credit the digital equivalent into their bitcoin wallets. The US$5,000 (S$6,380) ATM, according to Lamassu's website, can convert "fiat to bitcoin in 15 seconds".

The compact desk-top machine accepts notes from more than 200 countries, including Singapore dollars.

Ms Kwan told MyPaper that her firm may bring up to four machines to Singapore by year-end, depending on demand.

"There is growing interest in bitcoin both globally and in Singapore. As bitcoin become more widely used, there will be a greater demand for the machines," she said.

She added she is optimistic about the growth of bitcoin "both as an investment and as a mode of exchange" here, given Singapore's "open and pragmatic (financial) environment".

Currently, at least eight merchants here, including cafe Artistry in Jalan Pinang and 3-D printing company Meka, accept the digital currency as payment.

MyPaper understands that currently no regulatory licences or permits are required to operate such bitcoin ATMs here.

In response to queries, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said it does not regulate virtual currencies, including bitcoin, but that businesses may trade in it "at their own risk".

Last September, however, it cautioned users that they may be "unable to obtain a refund of their monies should such a scheme cease to operate, and may have no legal recourse as bitcoin is not issued by any identifiable organisation".

The world opened its doors to the first bitcoin ATM in Vancouver last October, but this was delivered by another manufacturer, Robocoin, based in Nevada.

Closer to home, the South China Morning Post reported that Hong Kong was set to launch an ATM for the virtual currency by the end of last month.

tsjwoo@sph.com.sg