The second annual Latin American Bitcoin Conference took place in Rio earlier this month. More than 200 attendees saw seminars and panels featuring 37 guest speakers from around the world.
Among the keynote speakers were a number of bitcoin representatives. The crypto currency is making a big impact across the region. A new partnership between Coinapult and 37 Coins seeks to expand bitcoin access to segments of the population without smartphones or traditional banking methods at their disposal. Their weapon? SMS messaging.
The service allows bitcoin users the world over to send and receive payments using only a feature phone with SMS capability. For entrepreneurs in South America, it holds the promise of allowing them to operate from remote areas, lessening the burden on over-populated urban centers.
This is a crucial development, not just for SMB owners, but for the public purse as well. Millions of small businesses across Latin America are currently restricted to cash-only transactions. This raises the question: how sure can local governments be that rural entrepreneurs are doing due diligence when it comes to paying taxes? It hardly takes a cynic to assume millions of pesos, bolivianos, reals and dollars are slipping through the net.
Of course, there will always be a black market. For some, operating outside the system is a point of principal. But for most small businesses, removing the temptation is all that’s needed to reduce corruption. Give them the tools to accept trackable, taxable payments and they’ll play ball, safe in the knowledge that the added security will help their business in the long run. Legitimacy is so much more attractive when it’s easily achieved.
A similar scheme – albeit with no SMS element – has been implemented in East African countries including Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania. M-Pesain allows its 16 million users to send and receive money, pay bills and withdraw cash from local ATMs.
SMS-based money transfer systems are providing the way forward in Latin America. Paraguay has Giros Tigo, which incurs a 5% commission fee. Brazil and Argentina have similar systems in place.
Bitcoin and text messaging seem to be a winning doubles team. The key beneficiaries are often people who face discrimination from financial institutions, which view them as risky prospect for credit. Entrepreneurs trying to make headway in these conditions find it difficult to send money, pay with credit cards or open a bank account – no matter how promising their ideas are. Nothing can match text message in terms of potential: four billion people worldwide are living without smartphones (perish the thought!) and the remittances market has found it’s most promising tool yet in SMS-enabled bitcoin transfers.