No one knows exactly how much of the population is “unbanked,” or financially underserved, in Latin America and the Caribbean. However, estimates put the number as high as 70%, or more than 400 million people, which is a huge market filled with big opportunities for those who know how to reach it.
In recent years, a number of cryptocurrency and blockchain companies have emerged as a way to serve this largely underbanked population. These startups are providing new ways for consumers to access to credit markets and global economies and in Latin America, Argentina stands out as one of the places with more bitcoin enthusiasts per capita than anywhere else in the world.
The actual number of bitcoin users in Argentina is relatively small, but the country is one of the few places in the world where bitcoins are used by ordinary people for real transactions on a regular basis. The use of bitcoin in countries like Argentina helps consumers circumvent the painstakingly strict government restrictions on receiving money from abroad.
In Latin America, bitcoin holders are enjoying earnings that performed more than 400% better than the Venezuelan Bolivar, more than 92% over the Brazilian Real, more than 65% over the Mexican Peso, and more than 41% over the Argentine Peso.
The adoption of bitcoin is breaking records in Latin America and not because there is general interest but because there is a real need for an alternative to traditional banking systems, especially in countries like Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico.
To keep up on the bitcoin and blockchain ecosystem in Latin America, we’ve gathered some of the top startups, exchanges, and companies in the region that you need to know.
Ripio, formerly known as Bitpagos, is a financial payments company that provides electronic payment solutions for businesses in Latin America. Ripio offers a range of financial services for emerging markets using blockchain technology. The company helps merchants process international transactions with credit cards, or bitcoins, for a fraction of the cost. Users can also buy bitcoins instantly with cash in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Ecuador. Ripio recently raised a series A round of $2.25M to continue funding its international expansion, and the service claims to processes several million US dollars each month.
Bitso, Mexico’s first bitcoin exchange, offers a platform for trading bitcoin with the Mexican Peso for the large share of the population in Mexico that is currently unbanked. With $4.35M in funding to date, Bitso is enabling the use of bitcoin as a mechanism for decreasing the costs and increasing the speed of transactions. The company launched early 2014 and claims it has seen over 40% month over month growth in terms of transaction volume.
Founded in 2013, Bitinka is a platform that facilitates bitcoin purchasing and selling across Latin America. Bitinka currently operates in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Spain, Peru, Venezuela, and the United States, and offers bitcoin trading in native currencies. The company is planning to expand its popular bitcoin-based payment app, Inkapay, by implementing credit card integration as well as new APIs designed for e-commerce integration. Inkapay is also set to launch a mobile app in September.
Volabit is a bitcoin exchange based in Mexico commonly used for remittances and global commerce with a minimal bitcoin learning curve. Volabit accounts can be funded via an online bank transfer or by cash deposit at any 7-Eleven, Farmacias Benavides, Farmacias del Ahorro, or Extra in Mexico.
5. RSK Labs
Argentina-based RSK Labs is behind RootStock, a smart contract platform with a 2way peg to the bitcoin blockchain. RSK founders have been actively involved in the bitcoin ecosystem and smart contract development since early 2013. The company was founded in 2015 and recently received an additional $3.5M in pre-Series A funding.
Bitex.la is a bitcoin exchange and broker that services many South American countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay. Bitex.la accounts can be funded with cash or AstroPay. Bitex.la is backed by a $2M investment from a UK-based investment firm.
Founded in 2014, SatoshiTango is an online platform that enables its users to buy and sell bitcoins. Users have the ability to pay through an international wire transfer or with local means of payment in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, and Peru. With SatoshiTango, users can also pay any bill in Argentina with bitcoin.
Launched in 2014, Bitcoin To You is an online bitcoin exchange center that operates in Curitiba, Brazil with plans to establish presences in major cities such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Brasília, and Florianópolis. Bitcoin To You charges customers a percentage fee for completed trades on its exchange and offers a monthly membership for more extensive services available at its locations.
Venezuela-based Cryptobuyer is a leading cryptocurrency and digital assets company in Latin America and the first company ever to install bitcoin ATMs (BTMs) at two commercial banks in Panama City. Cryptobuyer recently partnered with the Dash community to enable more remittance solutions with bitcoin and Dash. This includes everyday transactions, mobile phone top-ups, and recharge services for prepaid cards. Cryptobuyer has plans to expand their bitcoin ATMs across Latin America, announcing it intends to open more than 20 more bitcoin ATMs throughout South America.
FoxBit is a Brazilian based brokerage company that facilitates bitcoin payments. In 2016, the company acquired payment processor BitInvest to help reinforce its position in Brazil’s bitcoin market. The acquisition is notable given BitInvest’s early traction, which had a deal with a large real estate firm and Latin America's largest merchant to accept bitcoin at the time.
Argentina-based Diventi assists companies that are interested in developing solutions based on blockchain technology. With expertise in Bitcoin, Ethereum, Rootstock, side-chains, Bitshares, OpenChain, Hyperledger, and smart contracts, Diventi is able to handle projects from the prototype stage to final development stage.
12. Mercado Bitcoin
Mercado Bitcoin is the biggest exchange in Brazil and South America. The platform allows users to trade bitcoin, Litecoin, and Brazilian Reals and has a solid reputation within the crypto community with over 100K clients that use their service.
A leader in blockchain services in Brazil and throughout Latin America, CoinBR offers services for mining and exchanging bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies. Founded in 2013, the company has offices in São Paulo and Florianópolis in Brazil and acquired bitcoin banking platform Coinverse in 2015.
SurBTC is a technology company that develops and operates services using bitcoin technology in Chile and Colombia. The bitcoin exchange recently raised $300K in seed funding, adding to the $100K the company already raised through CORFO, a business innovation incubator operated by the Chilean government.
Argentina-based Coinfabrik is a full stack blockchain development and consulting company. Coinfabrik’s services allow its customers to protect traditional wallets and multi-signature wallets, control transactions with multi-factor authentication, implement smart contracts, store and backup cryptocurrencies safely, use cryptocurrencies in games and more.
Are there any bitcoin or blockchain startups in Latin America that we missed? Share them with us in the comments.