Philippines-based exchange Coins.ph today released a mobile bitcoin wallet app with features the company says are aimed squarely at emerging market use cases.
As well as standard wallet functions, the Android-only app allows users to buy and sell bitcoin through various channels, top up prepaid mobile phones, pay bills, and even work as a mobile remittance service by converting to Philippines pesos.
Coins.ph CEO Ron Hose said the intent is to provide simple solutions starting from the most basic, giving everyone a safe and convenient way to use their money.
"With our bitcoin wallet, customers enjoy similar perks to those they would get from having a bank account, minus the barriers for setting one up. Most importantly, keeping a Coins.ph wallet is free."
Sending money home
The app's remittance features makes it useful not just for the islands' residents, but also for the millions of Filipinos living in other countries around the world.
Users can select an outlet from the app's long list of banks and payment processors, with useful notes advising how much each charges in fees. Some processors (generally the most expensive) will deliver cash door-to-door, others allow for customer pickup.
Customers can walk into any of over 5,000 retail locations to buy or sell their bitcoins.
To send money from overseas, it's possible to send bitcoins directly from an existing balance or perform a cash-to-cash remittance.
A user can initiate the remittance in-app and deposit cash in any bitcoin ATM around the world. The app provides a QR code for the ATM to scan, and pesos are delivered automatically to the preferred destination by the next business day.
The Philippines' remittance market is huge, with around $23bn-worth of incoming transfers to the country in 2013 and an additional $30-$60m sent domestically.
This has led to a focus on the country as a test bed for one of digital currency's most frequently-touted killer apps: the chance to side-step existing international transfer options.
At least three bitcoin startups are actively chasing the worldwide Filipino remittance market. As well as Coins.ph, competitors Rebit.ph and BuyBitcoin.ph are also adding features and building relationships with financial services businesses.
According to this TED presentation by economist Dilip Ratha, $413bn was sent in remittances worldwide in 2013 – about three times the total sent in foreign aid.
Unlike popular exchanges and apps in the developed world, Coins.ph users don't need to link their accounts to bank accounts to buy and sell bitcoin. This is particularly useful in a country where as much as 75% of the population remains 'unbanked' and fewer than 5% have credit cards.
High fees and long lines, Hose added, are the norm for those who can afford them least.
"Traditional banking will never reach these people, because the costs of operating branches, armored trucks, etc. are just too high to economically serve a customer whose savings rate is very low," Hose said.
"Digital currencies and mobile phones are cutting these costs down, and are going to change the landscape of financial inclusion globally."
Coins.ph says it is also developing a system for bill payments, allowing a family member in a country like Qatar or Canada to pay utility or tuition bills directly from the app or website for Philippines-based relatives.
The company has plans to expand throughout Southeast Asia, hoping to tap into the region's 620 million unbanked population. Earlier this year it opened a second exchange, Coins.co.th, in Thailand.
Philippines pesos image via Shutterstock