Blockchain dreams do come true: A big Spanish bank’s customers can now use it to transfer money

New face on the block(chain).
New face on the block(chain).
Image: Reuters/Eloy Alonso
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Blockchain boosters rejoice: A major bank is using the distributed-ledger technology that makes bitcoin possible for international payments of fiat currency. Santander, which had been testing it internally among its staff, launched the service today, making the Spanish banking giant among the few major financial institutions to go live with the extraordinarily hyped technology.

The service is supposed to be cheaper and faster than existing systems, and will provide more certainty about when the money will arrive, according to a statement. Right now, it’s available for retail customers in Spain, UK, Brazil, and Poland and will roll out in other countries in coming months. Transfers to Europe can be made on the same day and the bank is targeting instant payments by the summer, according to Ana Botín, Santander’s executive chairman. The service uses California-based Ripple’s distributed ledger technology, though it won’t use the XRP cryptoasset that Ripple also promotes.

In the UK, Santander customers can download the app to send between £10 and £10,000 (about $14 to $14,200) in pounds, euros, or dollars. The service uses touch and facial identification and connects with Apple Pay. Its competitors include Transferwise, which has become popular by charging far less for international transfers than banks while drawing attention to lenders’ exorbitant fees.

The service, called Santander One Pay FX, is notable because while enthusiasm for blockchain is running high, examples of live, successful products, particularly at big banks, are thin on the ground. Skepticism about the technology is mounting, and banks have recently been investing more in software startups than in blockchain firms, according to CB Insights analyst Lindsay Davis.

The news won’t settle the debate about XRP, a crypto token that’s touted as a new means of interbank payments. Ripple’s distributed ledger systems can be used to send money without using XRP, and Bloomberg News and the New York Times have reported that banks are leery of using the cryptoasset to move their clients’ funds. Swedish Bank SEB has tested Ripple technology, but hasn’t used XRP at all, according to a spokeswoman in February. Mexican bank Cuallix says it has tested Ripple technology as well as well XRP, however, and found it faster and cheaper.