Blockchain technology is on the rise, and it’s beginning to integrate with our daily lives. While cryptocurrency obviously hasn’t replaced fiat money (government-backed currency), there are now more ways to buy and use digital currencies than ever before.
As of the end of 2020, the Crypto.com Visa Card is now available in Canada. It’s the first major cryptocurrency payment card in our market. This is a very exciting development for anyone interested in the arrival of cryptocurrency as an everyday medium of exchange.
In This Post
- Crypto.com, CRO, and the Crypto.com Visa Card
- Crypto.com Visa Card Staking Requirements and Rewards
- What Is a Staking Requirement?
- My First Impressions Using Crypto.com
- Other Cryptocurrency Payment Cards
- Who Should Get a Cryptocurrency Payment Card?
Crypto.com, CRO, and the Crypto.com Visa Card
Crypto.com is a startup company that offers a variety of financial services for cryptocurrency, including trading, term deposits, lending, peer-to-peer payments, and of course, the card.
Crypto.com’s operations are all on their blockchain. Their utility token, CRO, is primarily used to power the network. CRO is paid to various actors depending on their role: consumers earn CRO as rewards, validator nodes earn CRO for maintaining the integrity of the ledger, etc.
(Some of Crypto.com’s branding makes reference to MCO, the Monaco token. This coin has been phased out and replaced by CRO. Newcomers can ignore the old terminology and treat the entire product as Crypto.com and CRO.)
Among Crypto.com’s many financial services, the Crypto.com Visa Card has already been in use by millions of people around the world. It’s a prepaid card, with no impact on your credit history.
Despite the cryptocurrency label, you actually load and spend fiat dollars on the card. You don’t spend cryptocurrency assets, and there’s no conversion at the point of sale.
To load the card, first top up your Canadian-dollar wallet in the Crypto.com app, then transfer funds to the card. You can also load the card with cryptocurrency indirectly, by selling it for Canadian dollars at the market rate in the app.
Rewards on spending are earned in CRO, at a rate based on the Canadian dollar price of your purchase. For example, if you make a purchase of $100 and your Crypto.com card earns 5% rewards, you’ll receive $5 worth of CRO. If CRO is worth $0.10 at the time of your purchase, you’ll earn 50 CRO.
So, to recap: load fiat, spend fiat, earn crypto.
Crypto.com Visa Card Staking Requirements & Rewards
There are five tiers of cards, all with no annual fee. Instead, they require you to hold a CRO stake to maintain your benefits and rewards rates. This stake can’t be traded or withdrawn for six months.
At an approximate rate of 1 CRO = $0.10, here are the current stake requirements and spending rewards for each tier. These costs will fluctuate – CRO has bounced between $0.077 and $0.115 this month, but I’ll stick with round numbers for illustrative purposes.
- Obsidian: 5,000,000 CRO = $500,000, with 8% back on purchases
- Icy White or Frosted Rose Gold: 500,000 CRO = $50,000, with 5% back on purchases
- Jade Green or Royal Indigo: 50,000 CRO = $5,000, with 3% back on purchases
- Ruby Steel: 5,000 CRO = $500, with 2% back on purchases
- Midnight Blue: No stake, with 1% back on purchases
These numbers are eye-watering at the high end, but keep in mind that this is an investment, not an expense. (Whether or not it’s a good one is beyond the scope of the advice I’m willing to give.) Indeed, cards with such high base earn rates do seem too good to be true, and I’m not surprised to see a steep barrier to entry.
Depending on your tier, you can get full rebates on Spotify, Netflix, and Amazon Prime, 10% back on Expedia and Airbnb bookings, or even a private jet partnership! (If you ever find out what that entails, please feel free to invite me along for a ride.)
All of the cards are metal, except for the entry-level Midnight Blue card.
The cards have no foreign transaction fees, up to a generous limit. If you exceed this threshold, you’ll only pay a 0.5% fee. The Midnight Blue card has a monthly limit of US$2,000 before you get dinged, with higher tiers allowing much more.
Additionally, the cards offer no-fee ATM withdrawals. The top-tier Obsidian card allows US$1,000 per month before a 2% fee kicks in. It’s not an enormous limit, but it’s still useful in case you need cash.
The cards also come with a LoungeKey membership. Cardholders at or above the Jade Green/Royal Indigo tier get unlimited visits for themselves at all LoungeKey airport lounges. Obsidian and Icy White/Frosted Rose Gold cardholders can also bring one guest per visit for free.
If you unstake after the first six months, you’ll retain the “hard benefits” of the card, including LoungeKey and no-fee foreign exchange, but you’ll lose the “soft benefits” of your tier. You’ll no longer get partnership rebates, and your earn rate on spending will drop to 1–2%.
What Is a Staking Requirement?
Let’s take a closer look at the staking requirements. You can think of the stake like the minimum balance to waive fees for premium chequing accounts, but with three key differences.
First, you’ll be holding this minimum balance in CRO, not in Canadian dollars. The value of your tier stake might fluctuate wildly, for better or for worse.
Second, you won’t have federally-regulated deposit insurance on any digital assets. Your tier stake must be held at Crypto.com and can’t be transferred out. In other words, it’s like keeping your cash at the bank instead of under your mattress – but the bank is a startup in a volatile industry.
There’s a saying in crypto: “not your keys, not your coins.” In the “under the mattress” scenario, you’re the only one with cryptographic access to your assets. However, when you put your coins on a platform like Crypto.com, they have the keys to your wallet, and grant you access via a secure, user-friendly interface. The assets are yours, but they are held on a “custodial platform.”
This is necessary to fulfil many of the financial services they provide – and indeed this is how banks work – but there’s a security trade-off that might give cryptocurrency purists pause.
(That said, modern reputable cryptocurrency institutions take security exceptionally seriously. Crypto.com does have its own insurance policy to protect its clients’ digital assets.)
For these two reasons, the Crypto.com tier stake ought to be viewed as a one-time payment rather than an annual fee on a standard credit card. As the saying goes, never invest more than you can afford to lose.
Finally, unlike a chequing balance, you’ll earn interest on your stake, paid in CRO. Currently these rates are 10–12%, depending on your tier. These rewards can help offset the risks outlined in the first two points above.
Crypto.com adjusts their tier requirements from time to time. This is done to keep the fiat cost of entry for each tier somewhat consistent as CRO fluctuates, but also to slowly increase exclusivity over time.
You’ll be grandfathered at the tier you entered at, even if these requirements change, for as long as you maintain your stake.
I’ll also note that the locked stake only applies to the amount set aside to maintain your tier. Rewards on spending and interest on your stake and other term deposits can easily be traded or transferred to other digital wallets as you wish.
My First Impressions Using Crypto.com
I staked at the Jade Green/Royal Indigo tier a couple of months before the cards launched in Canada. I was easily able to set up my card in the app. It took a little under a month to arrive, although I’m not sure if there was a backlog of pre-orders at the time.
I’ve been loading my Crypto.com fiat wallet via Interac e-Transfer. Deposits are available by the next business day. You need to send from a bank that supports auto-deposit.
I set my card’s PIN in the app. To make my first purchase, I had to reset my original PIN upon failing verification at the point of sale terminal. My new PIN began working immediately thereafter, after some confusion by both me and the cashier.
My CRO rewards appeared immediately after making my first transaction. I received 3% of the spot rate for CAD/CRO, give or take a rounding error. (Fiat currencies, with only two decimal places, are nowhere near as precise as modern digital currencies.)
I’ve often been swapping my excess CRO (above my locked tier stake) for other assets, including both Bitcoin and fiat Canadian dollars. The app has a minimum amount for each trading pair and for e-Transfer withdrawal: around $32 or equivalent.
I’ve also been sampling the platform’s other features. In particular, I’ve been using Crypto Earn, where you can earn interest on term deposits of CRO, other popular cryptocurrencies, and stablecoins (digital assets pegged to fiat). Rates are determined by your card stake tier.
Other Cryptocurrency Payment Cards
Blockchain technology is evolving at a breakneck pace, and with origins in cryptocurrency, it’s no surprise to see the financial services industry at the forefront of this growth.
Aside from Crypto.com, there are countless other emerging products that are implementing traditional banking features within the innovative structures of the blockchain. Here are a few you might want to keep your eye on as they grow.
Swipe is another prepaid Visa card, very similar to the Crypto.com card. It’s currently available in the US and most of Europe, with Canada among the next in line.
Like the Crypto.com card, all tiers are free but instead require a 6-month stake of the Swipe token (SXP). Stake amounts, rewards, and benefits are comparable to Crypto.com’s tier structure.
Swipe rewards are paid in Bitcoin (BTC), not in SXP. While Crypto.com’s CRO rewards can easily be sold for BTC, you might like the convenience of direct BTC rewards, if that’s your preferred asset.
Last year, Swipe was acquired by Binance, an established cryptocurrency exchange. I’m excited to see their card product develop with the guidance of a mature institution.
Spend.com has also launched a prepaid card, currently available in Canada.
Their platform doesn’t have as many services as competitors. Instead, at the top tier, Spend Black, they offer a higher rewards rate than alternatives at a similar stake price. Also, it appears they have a wider variety of partnerships.
Spend Black earns 6% rewards on spending, and US$100 for referrals. It requires a one-time US$100 sign-up fee, and a stake of 2,500,000 Spend tokens (SPND) = $20,000. This compares well with Crypto.com’s Icy White/Frosted Rose Gold tier.
The card loads and spends fiat, and earns SPND. To use these rewards, Spend has a bank-style portal where members can exchange SPND primarily for merchandise and gift cards. SPND can also be traded, although they are only listed on a few smaller cryptocurrency exchanges.
Unfortunately, I can’t recommend the Spend card without a clearer picture of how to redeem rewards, but I like that they’re taking cues from familiar bank rewards programs. Perhaps someday we’ll see cards like this one join a loyalty network as a transferable points program on a blockchain.
Nexo is a leader in cryptocurrency lending. Their Mastercard is still in an early access phase, but it presents an interesting alternative to prepaid cards.
Nexo only has one tier for their payment card. It has no annual fee and no stake requirement. The card earns 2% back on all purchases, paid out either in Bitcoin or in Nexo tokens (NEXO).
The Nexo Card is more like a secured credit card, rather than a prepaid card. Purchases are made by borrowing against the value of your cryptocurrency assets stored on the Nexo platform.
This might be useful if you want to maintain high cashflow, but have significant cryptocurrency investments that you don’t want to sell. However, if you plan on carrying a balance, you’re betting that the appreciation of your cryptocurrency assets will outpace any interest you owe on fiat debts.
Who Should Get a Cryptocurrency Payment Card?
The risks and rewards of getting involved with Crypto.com, or other similar projects, are much more complicated than just considering the payment card. But even if you aren’t willing to commit a large stake to a volatile investment, there are a number of ways to benefit from a cryptocurrency card. Let’s discuss some of those considerations.
Cash Back vs. Crypto
I don’t see the rewards on these cards as a substitute for owning cryptocurrency. For all intents and purposes, I’d treat them as cash back at a fixed percentage.
Even if you’re bullish on cryptocurrency, don’t think of it as an opportunity to multiply your rewards, any more so than those assets might rise anyway. If CRO goes up 100x, that doesn’t mean you suddenly earned 100x more on your purchases, it just means that any CRO you kept has risen in value.
If you want to hold cryptocurrency investments, it makes no material difference whether you’re earning cryptocurrency credit card rewards directly, or using a cash back credit card and then buying cryptocurrency with those rewards. And if you’d rather sell your CRO rewards for fiat right away, the short-term fluctuation of CRO won’t significantly impact your average cash back rate.
For the merely crypto-curious, the only advantage I can see of earning it as rewards is if you’re intrigued by the concept of cryptocurrency and want some skin in the game, but you face a psychological barrier in buying it outright.
There’s also an appeal for anyone keen on witnessing the growth of cryptocurrency’s role in our lives. Even using existing fiat credit card infrastructure is a baby step towards adoption of cryptocurrency as a medium of exchange.
Also, I’ll mention that cash back rewards are treated as rebates and aren’t taxed, whereas every cryptocurrency trade is a taxable event with regard to capital gains. Therefore, to adhere to proper reporting requirements and to preserve the full value of your rewards, it may be preferable to earn rewards in the currency you plan to keep them in.
Getting Your Feet Wet with Crypto
The Crypto.com Midnight Blue card earns 1% on purchases and has no foreign transaction fees, with no stake requirement. These costs and benefits are on par with, say, the Home Trust Preferred Visa Card or the entry-level Brim Mastercard in the Canadian credit card market.
The Crypto.com card would be a fun alternative if you want to dabble in cryptocurrency rewards – I see no reason not to sign up!
For a stake of 5,000 CRO = $500, you can upgrade to the Ruby Steel card. If you’re looking for a credit card with a 2% base earn rate and no foreign transaction fees, a one-time investment of $500 may be more appealing than recurring annual fees on traditional cards with similar benefits.
Starting at this tier, you get a full rebate on an individual Spotify membership (paid in CRO). Even before accounting for rewards on spending, with $120 in credits per year, the card pays for itself within about four years.
Or instead, for no upfront or ongoing cost, you could get a 2% earn rate with the Nexo Mastercard, as long as you can collateralize your monthly cashflow with cryptocurrency assets. A 2% no-fee card would be uniquely high for any Canadian credit card.
Risk It for the Biscuit
As you climb to higher tiers, the stake requirements increase on a logarithmic scale. These levels are for people with a stronger interest and confidence both in CRO and cryptocurrency in general, and who plan to use the app’s other features.
If you believe in the long-term strength of the underlying asset and the stability of its custodial platform, and you want to make a larger investment for its own sake, you may as well reap the benefits that come with your tier, like higher returns on the payment card and in Crypto Earn. After all, CRO gains value as the services it powers see more activity, so engaging with the project will theoretically be good for the price of the asset.
If you want a strong payment card, don’t mind writing off the stake price, and don’t have a preference for the asset your stake is kept in, it might be worth waiting for Swipe to launch in Canada. At current rates, the Swipe Steel card looks like a better option than Crypto.com Jade Green/Royal Indigo, at a similar price.
Crypto.com Jade Green / Royal Indigo
Crypto.com Icy White / Frosted Rose Gold
Spotify, Netflix, LoungeKey
Spotify, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple Music, Uber, Travala
Spotify, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Expedia, LoungeKey + 1 Guest
Of course, any of these rates and perks are subject to change. Traditional banks change their products once in a while, and blockchain startups move at light speed in comparison.
Diminishing Returns on Redundant Benefits
Let’s compare 3% cash back in CRO from Crypto.com Jade Green/Royal Indigo, and 1.25x Membership Rewards points from the American Express Business Platinum Card. Let’s assume you usually redeem airline miles for high value, bringing the two earn rates roughly in line with each other.
For the same rewards rate, the Jade Green/Royal Indigo stake is like paying for 10 years of Business Platinum up front. 10 years is an eternity for credit card rewards, let alone cryptocurrency – there’s no saying what either landscape will look like that far down the road.
On that long of a timeline, you might well prefer to pay annual fees to Amex, for the sake of flexibility. After all, you could always change your mind about the product and decide to cancel the card sometime during those 10 years.
Furthermore, the Spotify rebate isn’t exclusive to the Crypto.com Visa Card. It’s also available with Swipe, and we’ve recently seen similar credits from Amex and HSBC as well. Spotify and similar companies appear poised to maintain other strong partnerships, so maybe it shouldn’t be the primary appeal of any one card. Instead, other differentiating factors should determine your credit card portfolio.
Likewise, lounge access is also a wash between Crypto.com and traditional credit card competitors. You may well prefer the quality and footprint offered by Priority Pass, with any Visa Infinite Privilege card or many premium American Express cards in Canada or the US, over Crypto.com’s affiliation with LoungeKey.
In fact, I think this is one of the reasons why Crypto.com has done so well in other countries around the world, where credit card rewards are quite a bit lower. For Canadians and Americans, the incremental benefit of the higher Crypto.com tiers, compared to other premium cards, is much less clear.
It’s incredible to see cryptocurrency emerging in our daily lives, with products like the Crypto.com Visa Card entering the Canadian market. Getting involved at these early stages could be highly lucrative, but the decision to invest should not be taken lightly.
If you have any concerns about the future value of CRO or the security of the Crypto.com platform, I highly recommend doing your own research before making a big commitment.
Naturally, the best rewards are reserved for the biggest backers. Even so, I believe there will always be a place in anyone’s wallet for a cryptocurrency payment card, at least at the entry level, as we begin to discover how these new technologies will change our world.
If you’re interested in exploring what Crypto.com has to offer, you may consider signing up with Prince of Travel’s link.
And if you’ve already been using the card or Crypto.com’s other features, I’d love to hear your experience in the comments below, in the Prince of Travel Elites Facebook group, or in the Prince of Travel Club Lounge on Discord.