Users will be able to buy, sell and hold bitcoins, as well as rival digital currencies such as ethereum, litecoin and bitcoin cash, within their existing PayPal accounts, the company said, while hinting at plans to make them available as a funding source for purchases within its network of 26 million global merchants.
"The shift to digital forms of currencies is inevitable, bringing with it clear advantages in terms of financial inclusion and access; efficiency, speed and resilience of the payments system; and the ability for governments to disburse funds to citizens quickly," said PayPal CEO Dan Schulman. "Our global reach, digital payments expertise, two-sided network, and rigorous security and compliance controls provide us with the opportunity, and the responsibility, to help facilitate the understanding, redemption and interoperability of these new instruments of exchange."
"We are eager to work with central banks and regulators around the world to offer our support, and to meaningfully contribute to shaping the role that digital currencies will play in the future of global finance and commerce," he added.
PayPal shares were marked 5% higher in early afternoon trading Wednesday to change hands at $212.14 each, a move that extends the stock's six-month gain to around 97%.
Bitcoin prices, meanwhile, were up 8.5% at $12,915 each, a 15-month high that extends the cryptocurrency's year-to-date gain to around 75%.
Bitcoin's use in goods and services transactions remains remarkably small, however, with a 2018 study suggesting monthly volumes of less than $60 million.
Its mainstream adoption is gathering pace, however, and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said earlier this week that he and his colleagues are studying options that could include digital currency issuance.
PayPay also noted that a recent survey by the Bank for International Settlements, "one in 10 central banks – representing approximately one-fifth of the world's population – expect to issue their own digital currencies within the next three years."