Circle Gets U.K. Approval for Payments App

For the first time, Circle says, "any consumer in the U.S. and the U.K. will be able to beam sterling and dollars back and forth, instantly for free."

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Social payments app Circle has become the first digital currency company to be granted an e-money license by U.K. regulators, making it possible for the Boston startup to establish a banking relationship with Barclays, the British bank.

Circle’s app runs partly on bitcoin’s blockchain network. Through a partnership with Barclays, “any consumer in the U.S. and the U.K. will be able to beam sterling and dollars back and forth, instantly for free,” Circle co-founder Jeremy Allaire told the New York Times. “That’s just never been possible.”

Circle, which is backed by $76 million in venture capital,  launched in the U.S. at the end of last year, and is now allowing cross-currency transfers of pounds and dollars at rates that it says are better than other money transfer services.

The company uses bitcoin to facilitate transfers for customers outside its own system.

Barclays Corporate Banking is providing the account that Circle needs to store sterling for consumers, and the infrastructure to allow transfers from any U.K. bank account in and out of Circle, according to Reuters.

“Barclays’ support is something of a coup for Circle banks are increasingly investing in blockchain technology, but have tended to shy away from any firm that is in the least involved in bitcoin because of the web-based digital currency’s links to the dark web and illicit online activity,” Reuters said.

Britain’s Economic Secretary to the Treasury Harriet Baldwin said Circle’s decision to launch in the U.K. and the firm’s new partnership with Barclays are “major milestones.”

“They prove our decision to introduce the most progressive, forward-looking regulatory regime is paying off and cements our status as the world’s fin tech capital,” Baldwin said.

Circle users can not only send written messages along with their money transfers, but also emojis and animated “GIF” videos.

“The internet empowers all of us to share content and media, express ourselves, and message our friends and family for free, regardless of borders, instantly and securely in many fun, delightful ways,” co-founders Allaire and Sean Neville  wrote on the company’s blog. “Why is sharing money so different?”

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