The latest Bitcoin ATM to arrive in Vancouver actually looks like, you know, a regular automatic banking machine.
This week, I met Peter Vach, operations and business development manager for Cavirtex, at the bus and train station for a demonstration. The ATM, decorated with big maple leafs, only handles Canadian cash to bitcoin transactions, like most machines in the area.
To buy some bitcoins (or smaller bits), you first select English or French and press “start” on the large touchscreen.
On the opening screen, the ATM displays the price it’s charging for one bitcoin in Canadian dollars. Comparing that number ($450.17) to the price of bitcoin on the Cavirtex exchange at the time, I was able to deduce that the included commission was nine percent—steeper than any other Bitcoin ATM in the city.
The machine then asks you for your mobile phone number (all 11 digits). Moments later, you’ll receive a text message with a BitAccess verification code, which you’ll enter on the touchscreen to proceed.
Vach explained your phone number—which is not required by any of the other Bitcoin ATMs that I’ve tried out—is used to distinguish you from other users and limit your purchases to less than $3,000 a day. The camera on top of the ATM is not operational at this time.
“There still isn’t clear regulations as to the way those ATM machines should operate,” Vach said. “However, Cavirtex is being proactive. We’re actually going above the regulatory requirements for now, because we know that within a couple of months, maybe within a couple of weeks, when FINTRAC [Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada] sets certain guidelines, we’re already adhering to the stricter guidelines.”
Next, the ATM asks whether you have a Bitcoin wallet. If the answer is yes, it’s time to pull out the wallet app on your smartphone. If it’s no, the machine will print you a paper wallet (another way to store bitcoins).
Either way, you’ll then place the QR code for one of your Bitcoin addresses on the scanner. After that, it’s time to insert your cash in the bill validator. The machine takes $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 bills, and the touchscreen confirms how many of each you’ve fed it and how much bitcoin you’re purchasing.
“You can buy any fraction of a bitcoin, which is really great,” Vach said, before demonstrating with a $5 note.
Then you click “I’m done”. During the demo, the machine showed an “out of service” message next. According to Vach, the ATM is supposed to display a confirmation screen, print out a receipt, and send you a text message.
I tried the ATM after Vach, and can confirm the bits I purchased did arrive instantly in my wallet, despite the error message and lack of a printed receipt and text message.
Cavirtex opened its Bitcoin exchange—Canada’s first—in 2011. Its Vancouver ATM is one of 10 Cavirtex machines (each charging fees between five and nine percent) going in across Canada. The company is also working on merchant adoption, offering its own web-based point-of-sale platform.