Circle Internet Financial Ltd. closed a funding round led by Bitcoin mining giant Bitmain Technologies Ltd. for $110 million — and now it wants to build a better U.S. dollar.
The closely held mobile payments and cryptocurrency trading firm said the investment raises its valuation to about $3 billion, from a reported $480 million in 2016. Bitmain and Circle are now partners in a venture to create fiat-based digital tokens, the first of which will be backed by U.S. dollars and issued by Circle in the summer.
The tokens will be the latest in a growing number of so-called stable coins, which are meant to carry all the benefits of cryptocurrencies, but not the volatility. Circle’s USD Coins, or USDC, will be backed one-to-one to the dollar, with the greenbacks to be stored in auditable bank deposits and redeemable by verified buyers.
“It’s a version of fiat that can move at the speed of the Internet with global reach, with much less cost, with high levels of security,” Circle Chief Executive Officer Jeremy Allaire said in an interview at an industry conference Monday. “It’s a huge improvement for how fiat money transmission can work around the world for consumers and for businesses who might want to collect digital payment with tokens.”
The Boston-based company, which has 7 million users, plans to incorporate USDC in its Circle Pay payment app and in Circle Trade, which provides market-making services, as well as offer it in its cryptocurrency exchange Poloniex.
USDC will be an ERC-20 token, based on the Ethereum network. Plans are for the Centre Foundation, which controls who can issue new fiat-backed tokens, to be independent but is controlled by Circle. Bitmain is currently the only other member.
Investors in previous funding rounds include Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Baidu Inc. and investment bank China International Capital Corp.
Other tokens have attempted to build stable coins with varying degrees of success, backing them with fiat, other cryptos, or algorithms to control supply. Tether is the biggest one with about $2.2 billion in circulating supply, according to CoinMarketCap. While Tether has said all of its coins are backed by dollars held in reserve, the company has yet to provide conclusive evidence or have its accounts audited.
Allaire said USDC will provide greater transparency, and will likely disclose partner banks when the coin is issued.
Circle hasn’t decided whether it will charge fees for traders using USDC, as Tether does to send its tokens to a bank account, as the main goal is to boost USDC use, co-founder Sean Neville said at a press event Monday.
The fintech company, which hasn’t disclosed financial results, will probably generate greater revenue in 2018 than last year, even as cryptocurrency trading volume has declined, thanks to the new businesses its launched, Allaire said.
“Circle was meaningfully profitable last year, and we continue to see high level of revenue growth,” he said. “Revenue will be higher this year.”