Argentina-based bitcoin exchange Unisend stopped customer deposits and bank transfers on Monday after Banco Santander Río and Banco Gailicia suddenly closed its company accounts.
Santander and Gailicia sent Unisend written notification on 28th and 31st July, respectively. Each cited Article 792 of Argentina’s code of commerce, which says that a banking relationship can be terminated at the request of a bank or its client provided 10 days notice is given.
Unisend partner José Rodriguez told CoinDesk that the exchange does not expect its services to be affected in the long term, stating:
“We have other banking relations and are working to open new ones in case any other contingency arises. Operations are continuing as usual.”
For the time being, customers can still use their bank accounts to transact with the exchange as the Unisend accounts aren’t set to close until later this week. The company aims to have its other accounts ready for user trading before then.
Rodriguez said that the company logged one of its most active trading days on 31st July, the day after Argentina defaulted on its debt. That day saw trading activity hit a month-long high, he said.
He also explained that by his observations, trading activity is closely connected to price changes, and that last week brought the only surge he’s seen in the last 60 days that was not related to price.
“We think it was mostly for users to keep their money safe elsewhere, and not the Argentinian peso. Bitcoin users feel safer in bitcoin […] due to [Argentina's] high inflation, unknown economic forthcomings, bank restrictions and capital control, restricting free movement of capital.”
But, the news of the bank account closures also came just days before new rules imposed by Unidad de Información Financiera (UIF), Argentina’s chief anti-money laundering (AML) agency, took effect on 1st August.
Last month, the UIF ordered all financial services companies in the country to report transactions that involve bitcoin and digital currency. The document it issued suggested that the agency would act as a conduit for information to enable greater oversight of such digital currencies.
“We rather suspect it has to do with the new UIF resolution and reporting obligations Resolución N0. 300/2014,” Rodriguez said about the account closures.
The Argentinian bitcoin community
Whatever the reason for the banks’ actions, Argentina still stands as a country that bitcoin champions have looked to as one that can best demonstrate the potential of bitcoin. The country has an active and growing community and bitcoin companies with well-established presence.
There is still no mass adoption, Rodriguez said, but people that understand its potential and reach stay tuned, or attempt to get more actively involved.
“There have been initiatives which are moving faster than the rest of Latin America, like the Argentinian Bitcoin Embassy, Argentinian companies getting funding and growth, professionals focusing and creating projects and companies related to bitcoin, co-working spaces and frequent events around the country. By the end of the year, this could lead to the mass adoption as an alternative economy.”
Latin American presence
Unisend is Argentina’s first homegrown bitcoin exchange, started by Pablo and Tomas Esterson this January. Rodriguez joined in March. According to local sources, it may have been the only exchange service to have had domestic corporate bank accounts, suggesting a widespread crackdown on the country's bitcoin businesses may not be likely.
Other major bitcoin exchanges and buying services catering to the market include Bitex.la, which has its corporate operations distributed internationally, and ConectaBitcoin, a peer-to-peer alternative to LocalBitcoins.
Rodriguez said the team wanted to create a trading platform that offered person-to-person trading and provided an option for those that want to connect with their bank accounts, something many bitcoin enthusiasts oppose.
“Our plan is to become the first Latin American exchange with local banking relationship in various countries in Central and South America, as well as bringing bitcoin solutions such as payment processors, exchanges and remittances for major adoption.”
The three-man team is replicating its business model in Mexico. Unisend Mexico is poised to open within the upcoming two weeks. An official launch date has yet to be determined but it is already open to users for registration.
“More products and services need to be integrated to the economic cycle,” Rodriguez said. “This would create a growing alternative economy, which could be more stable and efficient than the regular one is right now, and have a wider reach.”
Note: The original version of this article stated that Unisend was the country's only bitcoin exchange, and the only exchange that could connect to local bank accounts. CoinDesk is currently re-evaluating these statements.
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