By Jemima Kelly and Anna Irrera
PARIS/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Blockchain-based payments startup Circle Internet Financial on Thursday launched an international online money transfer service that allows people in the United States and Europe to send money to each other instantly and at no cost as it seeks to tear down borders in the payments world.
The new service is part of a push by the "fintech" - or financial technology - sector to compete with established financial institutions, by using digital technologies to offer cheaper and more user-friendly services, often via smartphones.
Boston-based Circle Internet operates its app-based peer-to-peer payment network using blockchain, the technology which first emerged as the system underpinning cryptocurrency bitcoin.
One of the most well-funded blockchain startups, its investors include Goldman Sachs Group Inc and Baidu Inc.
Circle Internet's international money transfer service, built on a type of blockchain called Ethereum, will allow customers to send payments between U.S. dollars, British pound sterling or euros on their mobile phones. There are no fees or foreign exchange mark-ups.
International payments, according to Circle's chief executive officer and founder, Jeremy Allaire, should not take days to be processed and should be as easy and frictionless as sending an email.
"When's the last time you sent a 'cross-border email'?" Allaire said in an interview. "The idea of cross-border payments is going to completely go away. ... Our vision is for there to be no distinction between international and domestic payments."
Circle, which processed over $1 billion in transactions in 2016 and whose customer base increased more than 10-fold in the year up to last month, does not make money from its payments service, nor does it plan to, as it reckons consumers expect these services to be free.
"We don't think there is any money to be made in payments anymore," said Allaire. "The entire business model of extracting a toll or having time delays around the movement of value is going away completely."
Instead, the company makes money by trading bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, both on digital currency exchanges and over the counter, at a time when the value of such web-based currencies has reached record highs. Last month alone, Circle traded over $800 million in digital assets, it said in a statement.
In May the company appointed trader Daniel Matuszewski to take over its trading division, following the departure of former treasury and trading operations chief Joshua Lim, the company's head of marketing confirmed.
(Reporting by Jemima Kelly and Anna Irrera; Editing by Leslie Adler)