A small but growing – and surprising – number of workers are rejecting Canadian dollar salaries for bitcoin, according to a Waterloo, Ont., payroll firm.
Wagepoint CEO Shrad Rao said his firm came up with the cryptocurrency payment option in November last year as a side project and did not expect any take-up.
But as the online currency gained popularity this year, he said, employees from 10 firms have signed up for the bitcoin option, and many more are asking about it.
"When we started off, we didn't even think we'll get one," he said over the phone from New York, where Wagepoint has another office.
"What's interesting is that we've actually had customers come to us because of the (bitcoin) integration, which we were not expecting at all."
Rao said the firms are overwhelmingly technology companies, whose workers have higher interest in new innovations and tend to dabble more.
In addition to Canadian interest, he said gets about five inquiries for bitcoin payment per month from the United States, where Wagepoint also operates, although it has not yet launched such an option in that country.
Bitcoin, a decentralized currency, was launched in 2009 by an as-yet unknown person or group. It gained mainstream attention in 2013, and subsequent adoption caused one bitcoin to rise to a high of $1,000.
But most brick-and-mortar shops still do not recognize bitcoin as currency, and neither does the Canadian government, which in June ruled bitcoin is property.
Canada Revenue Agency spokesman Noel Carisse said paying employees in bitcoin means paying them in goods – "a barter transaction."
"The goods – the bitcoin, in the case of digital currency – must be valued and reported in Canadian dollars," he said in an e-mail.
"The employee would then include the appropriate amount on their tax return for the year as employment income. Any tax payable would have to be paid in Canadian dollars."
For Wagepoint, however, it works differently. Rao said for tax purposes, employees are still being paid with Canadian dollars on paper.
He said workers can have all or part of their wages in bitcoins, and taxes are taken from the Canadian dollar salary before the remainder is converted.
"Really, it's (about) what you do with your personal income at that point," he said. "If you bought a boat with it or invest in bitcoin – I'm not sure that's very different from each other."
But the payment system will not likely have mass adoption until there is regulation and widespread acceptance for bitcoin, according to an expert.
Cissy Pau of the Vancouver-based Clear HR Consulting, which deals with small businesses, predicts being paid in virtual currency will not expand beyond the tech world because there are currently too few places to spend it.
"Tech companies, I can see that," she said. "But I just can't see that in, say, Canada Post, a more traditional-type company with more traditional-type workers. I would suspect that people will be highly skeptical."
Currently, even those who earn exclusively in bitcoins cannot escape traditional currency.
Michael Perklin of Bitcoinsultants does business in the virtual currency and has not earned Canadian dollars since February, but does not use bitcoin directly in most day-to-day transactions.
Perklin said he uses third-party services that allow him to make regular purchases and bill payments in bitcoin, and also sells bitcoins for cash.
For instance, Perklin's mortgage is paid for through a Canadian dollar chequing account where he deposits funds after selling bitcoins on online exchanges.
Perklin said living completely without traditional currency may be possible in the future, but it is difficult to do right now.
"I have to interact with Canadian currency," he said. "That's a fact of live in the country I live in."