It read: “A purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution.”
Published during the 2008 global financial crisis, when trust in the banking sector was at an all-time low, bitcoin struck a chord with those in the know. Ten years later and bitcoin remains the number one digital currency despite an influx of altcoins entering the market during that time.
Not only that, but it’s providing a gateway to financial access for the world’s unbanked populations.
According to the Global Findex 2017 report from the World Bank, there are still 1.7 billion unbanked adults worldwide. Two-thirds of them, though, own a mobile phone. In an age where everything is becoming digital, it is these devices that are helping people without access to traditional finance gain the services they need. Additionally, it could help to expand on payment histories, boosting the chances of obtaining credit and insurance.
So, as the crypto market settles into what has been dubbed a “crypto winter,” what are the major projects helping to bank the unbanked?
Founded in 2015 by Ray Youssef and Arthur Schaback, Paxful is a peer-to-peer bitcoin marketplace.
Headquartered in Delaware, with offices in New York, Hong Kong, Tallinn, and Manila, Paxful’s mission is to connect buyers with sellers with more than 300 payment methods to choose from.
Formerly known as EasyBitz, Paxful removes the need for a user to own a bank account to use the site. Differentiating itself from its competitors, the P2P marketplace focuses on gift cards as one of the accepted payment methods on the site.
For the unbanked population in Africa, these are extremely valuable. So much so, that Africa is Paxful’s top market, which saw an average of 17,351 trades per day in 2018. Not only that, but gift cards were among the top three payment methods by traded volume last year.
In first place was iTunes gift cards making up $282 million, followed by Amazon gift cards at $166 million. Bank transfers were in third place, amounting to $49 million.
Notably, though, even though the price of bitcoin dropped last year by over 70%, African users weren’t deterred. In fact, trading volume rose on the platform to an average of $21 million a week compared to $8.5 million in 2017.
With Youssef having known what it’s like to be homeless during the early days of EasyBitz, before crypto helped him back on his feet, he knows what it’s like for people who struggle. That’s why they are refusing to leave the unbanked behind as they know bitcoin provides the ideal financial alternative and Paxful is helping them.
Founded in 2013 by Elizabeth Rossiello, who is also the company’s CEO, BitPesa is a digital foreign exchange and payment platform.
With its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, the platform is aiming to make it easier to send money into and out of Africa. It also has operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda.
It’s also covered by more than 85 countries, has over 23,000 users, and has completed in excess of 560,000 transactions.
At the moment, traditional financial processes are required where money is converted from the local currency into U.S. dollars, passing through several banks before it’s converted back into its destination money.
Yet, BitPesa simply accepts the money from a person’s bank account, moving it directly to the destination account. No middleman, no conversion fees, and all done in a few steps. With its ability to send fast and easy payments across Africa, BitPesa is helping to change how business is done on the continent.
More recently, it set up a remittance corridor with Japan in partnership with SBI Remit, Japan’s biggest remittance service provider, and a subsidiary of SBI Group, a Japanese internet financial services company.
Pitching itself as a “new generation financial services with its own cryptocurrency,” HMQ, Humaniq is aiming to remove poverty from millions of people living in emerging economies.
Founded in 2016 by Alex Fork, London-based Humaniq is working at delivering a new financial platform with a focus on financial inclusion. Based on the latest advancements in blockchain technology, mobile, AI, and biometrics, the platform is delivering economic empowerment and community building to the world’s unbanked population.
Through the use of a smartphone, all a person needs to be verified is their face and voice designed to reduce fraud. It also means that formal identification and an email isn’t required, two things many unbanked people lack.
According to its whitepaper, the smartphone is also needed to make and receive payments while the camera enables users to earn their first coins worth $20 in an e-wallet to be spent as the user sees fit.
Through the platform, Humaniq is working at reversing the trends where the difference in income is widening by bringing people out of poverty. It is doing this by giving its users simple tasks to complete, enabling them to earn tokens in the process. Some of these include inviting friends to join the platform, making transactions or sending chat messages. Each of these sees a user being paid for services, helping them to achieve milestones.
With more than 500,000 users having joined Humaniq since its founding in countries such as Albania, Belize, Botswana, Kenya, Mexico, Sudan, Uganda, Venezuela, and Zambia, to name a few, the platform is steadily opening up the doors of financial inclusion.
London-based Nebeus is a crypto platform that has two goals: to provide a service for the world’s unbanked and to create a smart financial future for companies and individuals who are “disillusioned by traditional banking services,” according to its website.
Founded in 2014, with the P2P exchange platform launching at the end of 2017, Nebeus is working at delivering a significant impact on developing countries by creating a bridge that connects them to financial services.
It does this by offering a range of services: its Nebeus card, a wallet, a crypto vault, a crypto-collateral loan, and an over-the-counter (OTC) exchange. And in March last year, it announced that residents in Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda now had access to its full suite of services.
According to the World Bank, worldwide, 55% of unbanked women are unlikely to have a bank account. Without access to a bank account they can’t save, apply for loans, buy a home or receive benefit payments from the government.
With Nebeus’ crypto-collateral loan it is aiming to change how people can access money with the use of crypto. The benefits, according to the platform, are that there are no credit checks, low-interest rates, and the person gets to keep their crypto.
Using the loan calculator, a person enters the amount of crypto they want to put down in bitcoin or ethereum and chooses the number of months they want to make repayments over. These can either be done in a one-month to 24-month period.
The amount they can borrow is provided in either British pounds, euros or US dollars. After the repayment of the loan has been completed, the amount of crypto pledged to begin with is returned to the user’s wallet.
Banking the Unbanked
These are just a few of the platforms available, but they show the steps and effort being taken to get many of the world’s unbanked population financially included.
Traditional finance is something that billions of people take advantage of every day. To not be able to open a bank account or put money into a savings account would seem strange. After all, where else would we put it?
Yet, for so many more this is a reality they have to live with. And it’s thanks to the platforms mentioned in this article that are changing how we access finance. It’s no longer a case of opening a bank account. Instead, there are now new ways of being financially independent, which are steadily becoming the norm.
Soon, it may be a case of: you still have a bank account?