Many cryptocurrency enthusiasts have expressed interest in introducing digital currency to the global ‘unbanked’- those who do not currently have any accounts with a financial entity or mobile money provider. Rough estimates from the World Bank say the number of unbanked across the world totals 1.7 billion.
Separation from global financial flows means the unbanked often have to wait in long lines to pay bills or send cash via a long money order process.
Many of the worlds unbanked reside in developing nations across Asia and Africa. Many are in spots where traditional banking access could be poor or even non-existent.
Some cryptocurrency enthusiasts, like Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse, have argued digital currency can be very useful for unbanked populations.
In a November interview, Garlinghouse indicated Ripple could be used by the unbanked living away from their homelands to quickly and securely send remittance money back to their families, even if they reside in areas with poor banking access.
Other crypto platforms, like Nebeus, have taken an interest in banking the global unbanked. Nebeus launched a campaign in September 2018 to raise around $1.45 million by October to help build solutions to make banking simpler and foster more crypto use.
Nebeus operates a crypto bank with a 30,000-strong user base that processes global crypto-collateral Bitcoin loans. The company hopes to aid more than 400 million people through crypto-related services.
One technology enthusiast and startup employee decided to visit a poor neighborhood in the southern part of Bogota, Colombia, to gauge interest in how the largely unbanked population would respond to the idea of digital currency.
Steven Gilbert, director of international operations at Reserve, a cryptocurrency that gives “people autonomy and control of their money,” said he traveled to the Ciudad Bolivar neighborhood when he was living in Bogota to try his experiment.
Gilbert donated some of his money to 44 people living at the Ninos y Ninas Constructores de Suenos community center.
He met residents at the center, showed them Breadwallet, and then gave out some Ethereum (roughly $200 at the time). Gilbert said one lady “was fascinated to have digital cash” after she witnessed a cryptocurrency transfer.
However, Gilbert noted there were a few problems despite some enthusiasm and interest with cryptocurrency.
He said residents were able to be convinced about downloading wallets since many had already heard of Bitcoin, but many shopkeepers in the neighborhood had not heard about digital currency.
The lack of knowledge, according to Gilbert, made education a matter of “starting from square one.” He expressed confidence several merchants would have been swayed to use cryptocurrency if he had more time in the neighborhood.
He also noted the logistics of the neighborhood made it hard to introduce cryptocurrency. Gilbert said he was only able to be in the area during the day due to safety concerns.
Overall, Gilbert said he left a few crypto-related resources with people he met in Ciudad Bolivar, which included knowledge about Localbitcoin.com and the presence of different crypto ATM’s in Bogota. Residents also received a list of stores and restaurants who accepted the digital currency.
He was curious to see how people who did not have bank accounts would react to cryptocurrency since “you don’t need anyone’s permission to download a crypto wallet.”
Residents he spoke with were “very interested and excited at being part of a financial system.” Gilbert speculated “we could get entire communities using crypto in the future.”