I’ve been relatively happy with my choice to promote Coinbase as an initial on-ramp to the Bitcoin ecosystem. I am expanding my on-ramp listing to include Uphold, but know that Uphold members are subject to the same Anti-Money Laundering laws and Know Your Customer guidelines in the US. If you’re looking to get around these laws, Uphold is not for you. If you’re ok with these things, Uphold can be a great way to expand your Bitcoin buying limits horizontally.
Uphold, formerly known as BitReserve, has had its fair share of skepticism in Bitcoin circles, but those seem to be confined to the Libertarian, privacy first, portion of Bitcoin. I’m not going to denigrate their concerns. They are certainly valid.
I do want to make it clear that they are, like Coinbase, another type of Bitcoin bank and I mainly recommend using them as a broker and low volume remittance service. I’ve mentioned the issues I have with Coinbase in my later Tutorials, such as Tutorial 5 – Controlling Your Keys. Uphold is going to be similar in those issues, but it does not mean they are a bad service in my opinion. Their offering is great, actually, just use them for their strengths.
You can fund your account through bank transfer for free, credit/debit card for a low fee, and bitcoin for free, of course. Transfers from bank accounts and credit/debit cards are subject to ACH and credit/debit delays, unfortunately.
Uphold provides free and instant conversion between 25 currencies and very low cost and instant conversion between 4 precious metals. You can transfer value in any of those funds between members instantly and without fees. Uphold does not do fractional reserve. They claim to hold every dollar, pound, ounce of gold, etc. They do have a transparency page, but there’s no claim of third-party audits, so you pretty much have to trust their numbers.
So, again, I’m going to say it: Uphold should be used as your broker and low volume remittance service. Put your fiat in and transfer your bitcoin out to a wallet you control. Put your fiat in, convert it to something else, transfer it to someone, tell them to get their money out. Put your bitcoin in, convert it to something else, get your fiat out. Holding in a service that can shut your account down at the behest of someone else is something the Bitcoin ecosystem is trying to stop and even I agree with that. Ignore this at your peril. As much as I love their service, they are subject to the same controls as anyone in the countries in which they operate. Protect yourself.
As far as technology goes, Uphold offers a very slick web wallet. Signing up was easy. I don’t remember the actual verification process because I did it months ago, but it was fairly standard for a US user if I remember right. I’m almost positive I had to take a selfie with my driver’s license. This, again, is something I’m not bothered by, but there are many who are. I’m not certain what it’s like for someone outside the US.
I was able to add a bank account fairly easily because I use Simple, an online only and Bitcoin friendly bank account. It was basically copy/paste account information and enter. The verification process took some time, but again, that’s due to ACH limitations, not Uphold.
Your account consists of “cards” that you fund. You can add cards for any currency or metal listed. You can have multiple cards for each currency. You can name them to keep track of what each card is for. You can pull up a card in one of the currencies you use, British Pound for example, then show the QR code for that card, and then deposit bitcoin to that card, instantly converting your bitcoin to that currency. You can do the same from your bank account, as well. If you deposit USD from your bank account onto the GBP card Uphold will do the conversion for free automatically. Basically, it’s like money alchemy using Bitcoin.
But this brings up one major flaw in Uphold that I keep complaining about. It appears that you get one address per card. This, again, is a privacy issue, but I guess it’s no worse than tying your ID selfie to your account. Still, it should not be hard for Uphold to create each card as an HD account, rotating the addresses once used. Why in the world they didn’t do this in the first place is beyond me. I suppose you could create a card to use for a while and then stop using it. It does not appear that you can delete a card once you create it, though. So it appears that it will always be attached to your account. This is my one major gripe with Uphold and I hope they rectify this in the future.
Uphold also offers an official Android app and a third party iOS app called BeeWallet. I’m an Android user and have tested that app. It works well, except for a couple things. First, it always defaults to the AED (United Arab Emirates Dirham) card. I don’t have that card in my web wallet, so I’m not understanding why it would have it in my app. It should default to a card I select or at least one I actually use. I’ve emailed the support team at Uphold so hopefully the push an update out to fix this. (Note: Until I get an iPhone to test with, iOS users are on their own. If anyone is willing to write a review of BeeWallet and provide screenshots, Contact me and you may get published in a guest review.)
Uphold has partnered with such names as Bitwage, LibertyX, AirTM, and Netki. Like I mentioned in my Coinbase review, I like that services are built on top of these things. With Coinbase I use my Shift debit card anywhere that takes Visa. I need to start using Lawnmower with my Simple account again as well. With Uphold and Bitwage you can get paid in any currency you desire anywhere in the world. With Uphold and AirTM you can store your local currency in your account as US Dollars and withdraw it as your local currency any time you wish, thus avoiding inflation issues. These things make Uphold a much more powerful offering.
There are a couple other cool apps built on top of Uphold as well. Uphold uses and open API. If you have a Bitcoin service you want to create, the Uphold API can provide the backbone. Here are two examples of what has been created using the Uphold API. Cadoo is a service that allows you to create personalized e-cards with money inside. Easy Money is a service that allows you to send customized paper gift cards you print out. Both have the recipient create an Uphold account to cash out, I believe.
While Uphold has its problems, I really do highly recommend their service as a broker and a low volume remittance service. There are privacy concerns here and the compliance issues may scare off those looking to avoid AML/KYC, which I do not recommend, by the way. But if you’re limited by Coinbase, you could add Uphold to your list of places to buy and increase your limits horizontally.