Simon Fraser University poised to embrace Bitcoin

The university is assessing the feasibility of accepting the cryptocurrency for some payments and installing Bitcoin ATMs in its bookstores

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      Simon Fraser University business student Mike Yeung likens the status of Bitcoin to that of the Internet in the early 1990s. Although many people have heard of the headline-grabbing digital currency, they aren’t sure what to make of it—never mind how to use it.

      Yeung told the Georgia Straight he’s optimistic that SFU will give Bitcoin a boost toward mainstream adoption by becoming the first university in Canada to accept the cryptocurrency on its campuses. The Vancouver resident believes this would grant Bitcoin “a bit more legitimacy” while giving the university the “wow factor” it needs to stand out from the pack.

      “When an institution like SFU or any university looks deeply into it and adopts it and embraces it, it kind of makes Bitcoin more valid for a lot of people,” Yeung said during an interview outside SFU Woodward’s. “Especially if you can spend it on campus or buy some on campus; that would be great.”

      Yeung is the founder and president of the Simon Fraser Bitcoin Club, the first group of its kind in the country, and the CEO of Saftonhouse Consulting Group, a local cryptocurrency firm. He said he’s working with SFU’s administration to bring Bitcoin point-of-sale terminals and ATMs to the university’s campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby, and Surrey as soon as this fall.

      Mark McLaughlin, SFU’s executive director of ancillary services, confirmed the university is assessing the feasibility of accepting Bitcoin payments and installing Bitcoin ATMs in its bookstores. He told the Straight a Bitcoin pilot project could also include some of SFU’s dining services.

      “It would be about creating somewhat of an ecosystem on our campus,” McLaughlin said by phone from Harbour Centre. “It’s one thing to accept Bitcoin. If there were some ATMs around the campuses, at least it’d make it easier for students to obtain Bitcoin.”

      According to McLaughlin, SFU is considering hosting a three-day international Bitcoin expo, featuring speakers and exhibitors, on its Vancouver campus this fall. He noted that Dell and Expedia are among the largest companies accepting Bitcoin.

      “Digital currencies are definitely here to stay,” McLaughlin said. “We recognize that. Other institutions maybe aren’t up to speed yet on digital currencies.”

      However, he asserted that SFU has “absolutely no plans” to accept tuition payments in Bitcoin. Representatives for Capilano University, Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and the University of British Columbia confirmed that those postsecondary institutions don’t intend to accept bitcoins for tuition or services.

      Werner Antweiler, an associate professor at UBC’s Sauder School of Business, told the Straight that Bitcoin’s underlying technology has the potential to make online transactions and currency conversions easier and less costly. But he views the cryptocurrency as a “very problematic vehicle for commerce”.

      “When we have a fiat currency, like the Canadian dollar or the U.S. dollar, there is a central bank that has a mandate to look after price stability,” Antweiler said by phone from UBC’s Point Grey campus. “When you actually look at the prices for bitcoins, they are anything but. They are so volatile that anybody who’s holding this asset is, essentially, engaging in speculation.”

      Although the British Columbia Institute of Technology has no plans to accept Bitcoin, its Burnaby campus is home to that city’s first Bitcoin ATM. Bryan Hellard, founder and president of the BCIT Bitcoins club, told the Straight he helped install the Lamassu machine in June.

      Hellard is also the data-centre operations manager for Newnote Financial Corporation, which partnered with the BCIT Student Association to place the ATM in Building SE2. He’s hoping to convince the student union to accept Bitcoin at its pub and shops.

      According to Hellard, Bitcoin is the Esperanto of currencies. If the cryptocurrency “takes off”, the mechatronics and robotics student predicts the value of one bitcoin will rise above US$10,000. (As of August 18, one bitcoin was worth about US$460.)

      “It will be worth whatever the people make it worth,” Hellard said at BCIT’s downtown campus. “So the more people that use it, the more it’s going to be worth. Right now, we’re at such a small percentage. Once we grow bigger and bigger, then it’ll get more worth, more utility.”

      On August 11, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued an advisory about the risks—including hackers, a lack of deposit insurance, and scams—associated with virtual currencies such as Bitcoin and Dogecoin. The agency warned that these “experimental” currencies aren’t “regular money”.

      “No one is required to accept them as payment or to exchange them for traditional currencies,” the CFPB advisory states. “To work, they depend on the processing power of vast networks of unidentified, private computers around the world, which maintain and update a public ledger called the ‘blockchain’.”

      At SFU, Yeung is approached by students with questions about Bitcoin. He encourages everyone to “embrace it”. Being able to buy books and food on campus with Bitcoin would make it easier for students to follow his advice.

      “If you set up the infrastructure, people will come and start using it,” Yeung said. “That’s the way I see it.”

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      Aug 20, 2014 at 4:53pm

      This is so exciting


      Aug 21, 2014 at 1:51am

      This sounds great. Now international students can entirely avoid contributing to our tax base and local economies. When that irradiated apple tumbles out of the vending machine it's value could change on it's way down the chute! What fun! It's like gambling with snacks! I hope SFU makes a big commitment to Amway and Mary Kay next.


      Aug 21, 2014 at 10:48am

      In the early 90s, SFU was one of the first Canadian universities, if not the first, that set up co-op programs. Now almost every university have co-op programs.

      Good to see that SFU continues to be a leader in experimenting new ideas.


      Aug 21, 2014 at 1:46pm


      Re "can entirely avoid contributing to our tax base and local economies"

      How exactly does enabling services to accept bitcoin do this? (genuine question, I know very little about bitcoin) I imagine every transaction would remain taxable, and if the value changing hands is still transferred to a person/organization in the community, it wouldn't much affect the local economy. What am I overlooking?


      Aug 22, 2014 at 5:47am

      It is a mistake and it is not a regulated industry and will create huge problem later on, therefore it is a mistake.


      Aug 22, 2014 at 5:06pm

      Could you elaborate on the mistake you see?


      Aug 22, 2014 at 5:24pm

      One of the reasons to avoid bitcoin is simply the Good Guys , those that own the bitcoin exchanges , have to be correct about their internet security , 100% , 24/7 , 365 days a year . The bad guys , only have to be right ONCE . Therein the danger lies . I don't trust the mainstream banks , who invest millions in internet security , to be right about their security , 100% , 24/7 , 365 days a year . It's a free (somewhat) country and you are entitled to put your money wherever . From my understanding one of the things that makes bitcoin popular is it is untraceable . Does that makes bitcoin easy to launder money in ?


      Aug 25, 2014 at 9:44pm

      Bitcoin sounds like a fad that's looking for a last gasp of relevance in marketplace of crackpot ideas. More and more, bitcoin is being used by shady criminal elements for hiding money. People like this no chin spokesman are naively allowing themselves to be used. Bitcoin isn't making a contribution to the tax base either. It's another scam to avoid regulation.

      Check your facts

      Aug 27, 2014 at 1:13pm

      @Sigh - People who make payments in Bitcoin to merchants still pay GST/PST on whatever they buy. Bitcoin payment processors make this very easy to track by saving the dollar value of each transaction at the time it was made. Canadian crypto exchanges are legitimate businesses who must register as MSBs and pay taxes on their gains. Personal trading done on crypto-to-crypto exchanges must technically be declared as capital gains, if any are made.

      @BO: Allowing themselves to be who? You understand that Bitcoin isn't a company, right? Everytime the government has released legislation on cryptocurrency anywhere, businesses and users scramble to comply, knowing that this will only help the payment network/currency gain legitimacy. Yes, you will always have your Silk Road, but illegal transactions are inescapable, no matter what currency you use. But I'm very interested in knowing - what do you think is so "crackpot" about Bitcoin?


      Sep 15, 2014 at 11:05am

      Rules and regulations in the world of international finances are there for a reason. There are strict standards which a currency must meet before it can be considered convertible. What Bitcoin inventors and investors are hoping for is to get around tax systems and get a status like the Federal Reserve in the US which gets $82 billion a year and transfers only $79 billion to the U.S. Treasury. You create a system, pass most of the money that goes through this system to rightful owners and keep 3-5% for yourself. Same as Western Union. They're just trying to get on that gravy train, with a catastrophic greedy addition of the 'currency rate' which they can fluctuate at will and without supervision. In Europe, with so many geographically smaller countries, it might make sense to have a solution for all travelers who often cross borders and stay in a country for a day or two and don't have the time to change their money into local currency. But it should have been done differently, not with Euro. The Euro only made strong countries and their economies (five to seven of them) even stronger and all others (especially those who have joined it and even those who haven't) much weaker. Modern colonization. Who comes to Canada for a day or two? Only a few Americans and a few passengers on board cruise liners who can spend US Dollars at almost every store (cruise liners have currency exchanges on board) or use an internationally valid credit card. All others can easily get Canadian dollars before coming here. This is a scam and you will see that very soon. It's nothing but another huge Ponzi scheme. The 'value' of bitcoin was $120 on October 1, and $1,150 on December 5. It went up almost 1000% in just 40 workdays (25% per day). Then, just before Christmas, it fell to $575 and all those who invested over that last month (Nov 5 to Dec 5) lost hundreds of millions. Now, 10 months later, paid agents (like the guy in the photo) are reminding you that the 'value' is around $500 and that you should buy, so they can grab all that cash for the second time before they call it quits. It is not supervised, it is used for laundering money from drug sales, weapon sales, human trafficking, prostitution, gambling and all other sorts of illegal activities of which the main purpose is to make tax-free money. Anyone supporting the Bitcoin is either a crook or an idiot.