Bitcoin Voucher Startups Aim to Help Africa's Unbanked
British bitcoin voucher service Azteco and South African startup Xoin have separately launched services designed for one potentially huge emerging market; namely, the unbanked populations of Africa.
Azteco, which claims it is "the easiest way to buy bitcoins", has announced that it is in the final stage of development of its voucher product and is already accepting applications from prospective vendors.
Xoin is also introducing prepaid bitcoin vouchers that allow customers to buy bitcoins with cash.
Both services are designed to appeal to unbanked and underbanked markets, with an emphasis on e-commerce and remittances in Africa.
"Buying bitcoin is unnecessarily hard," saif Azteco founder Akin Fernandez. "We solve this problem with a simple, fast and elegant solution, that's easy for users and easy for vendors.”
Azteco's vouchers are bought over the counter for cash and can be redeemed with any bitcoin address. Additionally, they are simple for vendors to dispense, requiring just a computer, web access and a printer, removing the need for any specialised equipment.
"Bitcoin is set to change the way people send money globally," Fernandez continued, "and this will be especially powerful and transforming for the third-world diaspora, eliminating the financial network access problems that plague the unbanked, helping them to break out of the poverty cycle."
Fernandez argued that what he calls the “bitcoin wave” started with retailer adoption, and saw many bitcoin users chasing a handful of retailers willing to accept the cryptocurrency. While adoption is increasing, Fernandez said he still sees a problem with bringing bitcoin to the masses, explaining:
"Currently, getting bitcoin is still hard. Azteco makes it very easy, and it is also very fast. There are no unnecessary interrupting steps in Azteco. Using bitcoin is no more difficult than sending a text message from your mobile phone. Everyone would laugh at the idea of a centralized text messaging service where you have to manually log in to send a text; Azteco goes one step further, removing the need for a mobile phone altogether."
Fernandez pointed out that many of the world’s 2.2 billion unbanked people do not have a smartphone, yet they need a way to access the latest payments technologies and employ them in e-commerce markets.
People are impatient, he added. Azteco noticed that people were not concerned about not having to sign up and even liked that they don't have to, according to the founder.
"There is a lot of username and password fatigue out there, and we tap into this animus by not requiring it," he said.
"Fees are 4%, and we are very fast – 60 seconds on average – and we're getting faster. There is no sign up, no waiting period, and no customer verification. You pay for your voucher and get your bitcoin immediately, just like topping up a 'pay as you go' mobile phone."
The company, which opened London’s first bitcoin voucher shop last February, said potential vendors can rest assured that they are not exposed to any risk.
"Our vendors are protected by a three-way agreement where top London law firm Keystone Law holds the vendor bonds securely. These bonds are 100% returnable to the vendor. Rather than spend thousands on an ATM, our vendors can use that money immediately to start selling bitcoin across all their sites, simultaneously, risk free," Fernandez said.
Xoin is taking a similar approach, making bitcoin available through prepaid vouchers and gift cards, but specifically targetting young South Africans.
“The unbanked markets, especially teenagers with mobile phones in Africa, are entirely excluded from e-commerce," Xoin co-founder Helghardt Avenant told Venture Burn. "Bitcoin makes e-commerce more accessible to these markets, especially when it comes to virtual goods.”
Xoin said that its service was designed for new bitcoin users. The service includes a pre-loaded wallet with the face value of each voucher.
The vouchers can be purchased from merchants using cash. Customers then scan the code using a smartphone and redeem their bitcoins. The service uses the South African BitX exchange and its real-time exchange rate. For the time being, it is web-based only.
Xoin said that its service enables all vendors to become bitcoin ATMs at a much lower cost than currently available ATMs. The team demonstrated the functionality by setting up a doughnut shop in the street.
Avenant told CoinDesk that the Xoin team is trying to solve a glaring problem for bitcoin: limited accessibility for the unbanked population.
He also said the company is not charging any fees for the time being and meets regularly with its merchants for feedback, adding:
"The local merchants on Stellenbosch campus have agreed to take part in the experimental phase and are currently selling Xoin prepaid bitcoin without earning commission. In the future we will charge a fee of 7%. The reseller earns 4% commission. The exchange takes 1% and Xoin takes 1%. The remaining 1% goes to the actual printing cost."
The self-funded company was launched by Stellenbosch University postgraduates, and hopes to use the campus to exercise its word-of-mouth marketing.
“Students come from all over the country," said Avenant. "We hope that they do the work to spread the word of Xoin when they return to their homes.”
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