On the face of it, Saifu is like any other payment institution.
The company is licensed in the Czech Republic and regulated like traditional banks, and it provides all the services you’d expect — checking accounts, money transfers, currency exchanges, MasterCard prepaid cards, online banking, and a mobile app.
Unlike many banks, however, Saifu also allows you to exchange money between fiat and cryptocurrencies. Today, it has announced a partnership with Thales, a major European organization that, among other things, provides security services for companies such as Microsoft, Samsung, Google, Fujitsu, and Hitachi.
Security is a big issue for cryptocurrencies and ICOs. From the collapse of Mt. Gox in 2014 to last month’s multi-million dollar heist at mining site NiceHash and the declared bankruptcy of South Korean Bitcoin exchange Youbit after hacker attacks took about 17 percent of its total assets, assaults on blockchain-powered services are a daily concern.
The partnership with Thales is designed to secure Saifu from just such attacks. Thales claims that even if Saifu’s infrastructure is hacked and criminals gain access to its servers, the bank will be protected from any malicious activity.
Of course, many would argue that having cryptocurrencies within a centralized, regulated environment such as a bank is counter to the reason cryptocurrencies exist and provides a single point of failure. But mainstream consumers don’t yet understand cryptocurrencies and don’t know how to make use of them in the real world.
“Cryptocurrencies are decentralized by their nature, but they are not in compliance with current AML regulations,” Alexander Legoshin, Saifu cofounder and the chair of its supervisory board, told me. “Saifu builds a bridge between regular banking services and these new distributed ledger cryptocurrencies. We believe that there will be cryptocurrencies with transparent blockchains that are safe to use for everyone, and at some point regulations for those currencies will be in place. Regular people will be able to get involved in using those transparent currencies, and we provide a tool for them to do so.”
Saifu believes this access is most important to the mainstream adoption of cryptocurrencies.
“Decentralization and anonymity are the basis of any cryptocurrency, but for many new users that’s not as important,” Evgeny Vigovsky, Saifu’s COO, CTO and cofounder, told me. “They just want to enter the market and use cryptocurrency in daily life. At the moment, the entry barriers are very high; for non-tech savvy people it’s really difficult to buy cryptocurrency and find a place where it can be safely stored.”
Today’s announcement sees Saifu deploying Thales nShield hardware security modules (HSMs) to deliver cryptographic services that protect its online and mobile banking services. With this platform in place, Saifu claims it is the first financial service to provide bank-grade security to the cryptocurrency world. The systems will ensure that the cryptographic keys cryptocurrencies rely on are created, managed, and stored securely.
By providing ease of use and offering a highly secure environment, Saifu is betting cryptocurrencies will enter our daily lives in a more tangible way than they do right now.
“We believe that in the mid-term, cryptocurrencies will change the financial industry and the way people live,” Vigovsky said. “Right now, cryptocurrency is mostly an investment tool, and its popularity is growing rapidly. Currently, blockchain technology is not yet in a mature stage and doesn’t allow you to make transactions widely. That’s why an assistant, like Saifu, is needed. We provide an opportunity to conveniently diversify an investment portfolio with cryptocurrencies, and it’s not necessary to have any special knowledge of them.”
Of course, for cryptocurrencies to become mainstream, vendors and retailers need to accept them en masse.
“While very few vendors accept payments in crypto, that is the value for us, because we are one of the few providing a convenient way to use crypto,” Vigovsky said. “Indeed, if you have bitcoins, right now there is little to buy with them. But if you can change those bitcoins into fiat money in a few seconds to make an instant wire transfer or payment from a fiat money account (or use a Saifu Mastercard assigned to a Bitcoin account) to pay for something quickly, then this problem is solved.”
Saifu plans to get a full banking licence and provide a complete interbank platform for cryptocurrencies in the near future, as well as adding credit cards to its services and savings accounts that can take deposits in both fiat and cryptocurrencies.