Rakuten Announces Plans for New Cryptocurrency

Global e-commerce giant Rakuten has announced its intention to launch a cryptocurrency, as part of an initiative designed to reward loyal customers.

The project was announced by the company’s CEO, Hiroshi Mikitani, who announced the Rakuten Coin at a presentation in Barcelona this week. The project will aim at helping Rakuten develop its international markets, as well as forming part of the company’s approach to customer loyalty, via the blockchain.

There are no details available yet as to when the coin is expected to be rolled out, but Rakuten has committed to accepting the currency across its businesses, including messaging service Viber and its other services.

According to Mikitani, the company hopes that the coin will also enable greater cross-border transactions, without the effects of exchange rates, as a means of allowing them to develop better customer relationships internationally, with the company identifying existing international demand for this type of service within their business.

Rakuten has a well-established trajectory in cryptocurrencies, starting in 2015. The company initially began accepting payments in bitcoin through a partnership with payments company Bitnet. Rakuten then invested in the company, and lured two of their employees to create a blockchain research division, now based in Belfast.

The Rakuten Coin would come as a development from that lab, and marks a significant stage in the development of Rakuten’s work with blockchain technology. With the launch of the coin, the Rakuten loyalty program, which has paid out $9 billion in points since 2003, could roll out to a broader international audience, in a project the firm hopes will help spark a wider interest in cryptocurrencies.

Assuming the plans eventually come to market, the impact on the wider cryptocurrency space could be positive, introducing swaths of new consumers to the concept of digital currencies and how they can be used in practice.

The news comes at a time of increasing interest in blockchain payments from retailers, including the likes of Starbucks, who this week confirmed plans to use blockchain technology and a proprietary cryptocurrency of their own in a forthcoming payments app.