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ATM

Houston gets a Bitcoin ATM

Just what you were waiting for, I’m sure.

Houston unveiled its first bitcoin ATM on Wednesday, hoping to attract international travelers and more conventions to the George R. Brown Convention Center.

Bitcoin is like digital cash. And this ATM, on the downtown center’s second floor next to a Starbucks, allows users to convert cash to bitcoin and vice versa.

“Houston First always wants to be the first in offering amenities to its attendees and guests,” said Mark Goldberg, assistant general counsel for Houston First Corp., the quasi-public organization that manages the convention center. “With us now having this ATM machine … we’ve proven that we’re on the cutting edge of technology.”

Bitcoin is gaining momentum in Houston, although the adoption rate here lags behind Austin and Dallas, said Adam Richard, president of the Houston-based nonprofit Texas Coinitiative.

He predicts local awareness will continue rising as Apple Pay makes consumers more familiar with digital payments and as merchants begin offering incentives for people to pay with bitcoin.

“The interest keeps rising every week,” he said. “I’m excited to see where we’re going to be in a year from today.”

[…]

The downtown convention center’s ATM charges a 5 percent fee based on the real-time market rate for bitcoin. A user can create an account at the ATM. Then, each time the ATM is used, a text is sent to the user’s phone with a six-digit authentication code. This number needs to be typed in to the ATM, for security purposes, before any transactions can be made.

Weisfeld said he believed this ATM would help attract business to the convention center.

“The bitcoin community is the world’s largest loyalty population,” he said. “People that have bitcoin around the world have a tendency to want to do business in places that will do business in bitcoin. So we see the George R. Brown Convention Center establishing a first that is going to bring conventions to Houston.”

These types of ATMs can also be a draw for international travelers. Michael Cargill, who installed a CoinVault ATM at his Central Texas Gun Works in Austin in March, said visitors from other countries come in to exchange their virtual currency for U.S. dollars.

“We’re keeping up with technology,” he said. “A lot of gun stores are still on fax machines.”

Well okay then. I’m still not convinced that Bitcoin is going to go the distance, but certainly there are people who use it now. I rather doubt there are that many people who base their travel or business location decisions on the presence or absence of a Bitcoin ATM, but I will readily concede that a large international city like Houston ought to have one. So good on Houston First for making this happen.

Small bills, please

If you’re a regular reader here, you know that I’m a skeptic of proposals to replace the dollar bill with dollar coins. As I’ve said before, I personally would rather have a wallet full of bills than a pocket full of coins, and I believe that some of the pro-coin arguments such as the vending machine argument no longer hold water. Given that, you will not be surprised to learn that I consider this development to be further evidence that the dollar coin will remain a pipe dream.

Banks are rolling out ATMs that dispense exact change to the dollar.

Chase and PNC are leading the pack with the new ‘smart’ ATMs.

Chase last year entered the field. During the past 18 months, Chase installed between 350 and 400 of the lower-denomination ATMs, and is expected to double that number this year, a bank official said. The new machines are located within branches and drive-thrus, and can even dispense coins.

“In Houston, we have about five of the next-generation ATMs, mostly in ‘new build’ locations,” Chase spokesman Greg Hassell said. “We’ll add a handful this year as we open new branches.”

The new ATMs are popular because they give customers options to do more things, such as paying bills or buying a pre-paid bank card.

“It’s just part of what we do to try to introduce innovations to make banking more convenient for our customers,” Hassell said. Chase has 215 branches in the Houston area.

Not all banks are doing this, but still. Would any bank roll out ATMs that dispense singles if they thought dollar coins were on the horizon? I think we know the answer to that is “No”. Anyway, as a Chase customer I’ll be curious to see what some of these new features are – though being the dinosaur that I am I’ll probably never use them – and I’m curious to know how many people will actually make a withdrawal that requires singles. Have you ever wanted to do that?