A Sherwood Park entrepreneur is cashing in — to use an outdated term — on a surging market for a cryptocurreny called bitcoin.
The digital currency, which is not controlled or recognized by banks, has jumped in value over the past three months, creating an exciting time for Adam O'Brien, owner of Bitcoin Solutions.
His company owns nine bitcoin ATMs and he works as a consultant for customers looking to invest in the market.
"In May, bitcoin went on a crazy tear," O'Brien said. "There was loads of money coming into the space. I think we did three times our regular volume."
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The surge started in May, when bitcoin value was close to $3,000 Cdn. By August that value had risen to $4,500.
To put that in perspective, in May 2016 bitcoin was worth around $500.
O'Brien's company launched its first bitcoin ATM in Alberta at the Rose and Crown pub in February 2014. Currently it has eight machines throughout Alberta and one in Saskatoon. He plans to expand by adding machines in Vancouver and Winnipeg.
The currency is entirely digital. No one carries actual bitcoins around in their pockets. It's separate from governments and central banks, which is part of the allure for some. In certain countries, bitcoin is accepted in exchange for goods and services.
Customers can put cash into ATMs and the machine exchange the money for bitcoin in their online accounts.
Some businesses in the city accept bitcoin in exchange for products.
O'Brien said he's getting a few calls every week from business owners who want an ATM in their store. Over the last couple of years, it was more like a couple calls every four months.
"I think they see it as, it shows innovation, right," O'Brien said. "Think about the first person to accept a visa card. They were probably seen as crazy, then seen as brilliant. That's where bitcoin's at right now."
The currency is popular as a way to make payments and store money online at lower costs than what banks offer. Users say they have more control over their money and how they use it. It's also popular with criminals and on black markets, because it can be used anonymously.
Bitcoin has also been subject to wild fluctuations in the past, and the market remains volatile.
Is this the right time to invest?
NAIT finance instructor Max Varela said he would still be wary about investing in bitcoin, since the current bubble might burst.
"It's a little bit scary, in the sense that there's nothing driving the rise," Varela said. "It's just people's perception. Everything is worth what the purchaser is willing to pay for it."
But Varela sees this latest surge as a possible way to convince potential investors to give bitcoin a shot.
"In terms of bitcoin being a currency, it's not accepted widely," he said. "But I think that will change in the future. I think that's a perception that's happening right now. The shift that people are more willing and open to trade in bitcoin and maybe accept bitcoin as payment."
But bitcoin isn't the only cryptocurrency on the market. Other digital currencies, including Ripple, Ethereum, Litecoin and Dash, are following bitcoin's rise.