BitPagos has launched Ripio, a new bitcoin brokerage service that allows consumers in Argentina to buy small amounts of bitcoin at more than 8,000 convenience stores.
To achieve this goal, Ripio will integrate with TeleRecargas, a popular mobile phone service that allows consumers to prepay for cell phone plans at a network of partner convenience stores across Argentina.
Argentina and Palo Alto-based bitcoin merchant processor BitPagos raised $600,000 from prominent bitcoin angel investors earlier this year. The company's CEO Sebastian Serrano told CoinDesk that Ripio aims to target underbanked consumers as well as existing bitcoin users who want an easy way to buy bitcoins at a physical location.
"You can go to any location, give them your account in Ripio and the amount of pesos you want to get in bitcoins. Boom: you have some bitcoins. It's going be extremely easy to use and to buy bitcoins easily, securely and near you, even if you don't have a bank account. We think that this is going to push adoption."
For now, the service will only be available in Argentina, though Serrano sees the service as broadly appealing to consumers in other Latin American markets that could benefit from an easy bitcoin-buying solution.
In particular, Serrano said BitPagos is looking to expand Ripio to Venezuela, but that this program expansion will take time to achieve.
How Ripio works
While Ripio works primarily at physical locations, Serrano indicated that users must first complete an initial registration on the platform's website.
Users next print their Ripio ID and search the service's map for available stores. Still, Serrano is confident that these elements of the service will be convenient for on-the-go users or those still learning the basics of bitcoin management.
"You can do the registration on your cell phone, you get your account number, you look at the map with places near you, you walk in and say you want to buy some bitcoins with Ripio and you say the amount in pesos you want to buy, that's it."
A new consumer offering
In the interview, Serrano sought to frame Ripio as a novel service that was different from the other offerings currently available in what has increasingly become a fertile area for bitcoin adoption due to lingering economic uncertainty.
Serrano suggested that because of Argentina's unique needs, his competitors in the ecosystem may face challenges modeling their services after existing platforms available internationally.
"So far, most of the bitcoin services in Argentina have been trying to replicate models that work in other countries," Serrano said. "Trying to build exchanges or do an exchange where you deposit bitcoins for doing trading. We think there is a need for this to expand the market."
Notably, Ripio will use Brazil-based bitcoin exchange Mercado Bitcoin to determine the price at which it sells bitcoin to consumers.
Of course, Serrano is also conscious of the fact that Ripio will need promotion in order to resonate with one of its key demographics: underbanked consumers.
However, he suggested that Ripio's launch will also coincide with the release of marketing materials that will increase general awareness of bitcoin.
He noted that Ripio will send out marketing materials to TeleRecargas' partner stores in conjunction with the launch, but that the service is also seeking to leverage Argentina's passionate bitcoin user base.
"We're also going to focus on the bitcoin community to deliver us the existing bitcoin users. But, I think this is also going to get more awareness just by being in high traffic locations."
Ricardo Minicucci, president for TeleRecargas, echoed this sentiment in a statement, saying:
"For us this represents the possibility of providing a link between the offline and online world efficiently, plus the customer intimacy that characterizes Telerecargas will enable a natural adoption to the bitcoin system"