WBD Live: Bitcoin Around the World Panel at The Oslo Freedom Forum


Peter McCormack: Okay, so we’ve got an amazing panel here. I’ll introduce myself first. My name’s Peter McCormack. I’m the host of the What Bitcoin Did podcast, which is a podcast that focuses primarily on Bitcoin. Sometimes it’s very easy with Bitcoin to spend a lot of time focusing on people who’ve made a lot of money and speculation and opportunity.

But Bitcoin is a very important tool for freedom and human rights around the world and we’re very lucky to have this amazing panel today. I did mention on my podcast I’d be hosting this session and I don’t think I pronounced a single name correctly, so rather than introducing them myself, I’m going to let each person introduce themselves, what they do, the geography they cover, and why Bitcoin is important for freedom and human rights.

Mahsa Alimardani: So my name is Mahsa Alimardani. I work for a human rights organization based in London called Article 19, leading their internet freedom projects on Iran and I also do my doctoral research at the University of Oxford, on how technology is used for social and political movements in Iran and increasingly, the issue of currency has become an issue of digital rights in Iran.

Luis Buenaventura: Hi everyone. My name is Luis Buenaventura. I’m from Manila, the Philippines, which as the crow flies is way too far from here! I’ve been in Bitcoin since 2014 primarily kind of focusing on the problem of remittances and money transfer for the 10 million migrant Filipinos that are kind of scattered all around the world.

Timi Ajiboye: My name is Timi Ajiboye and I’m a co-founder of a cryptocurrency exchange. I’m from Nigeria and that’s primarily where my exchange operates.

Leo Weese: I’m Leo and I’m based in Hong Kong. I would argue that Bitcoin is incredibly important in Asia, specifically on a micro level, because as the world increasingly becomes online, as we communicate more online, as commerce becomes online, a vast majority of the people are completely cut off from that, because the existing financial system doesn’t allow them to participate and doesn’t give them the ability to offer their products and services online in the same way as it would us in Europe or us in the United States.

But I think there’s also an interesting geopolitical angle to that and that the world’s finances is very much built on trust and that trust largely lies in New York. That trust has been eroding over the last few years.

Aparna Krishnan: Hey everyone, my name is Aparna. I’m the co-founder and CTO of Open, a decentralized margin trading platform. I’ve been doing a field study in India to understand the scope of cryptocurrencies as means of payments. The reason I think Bitcoin is really important is, think of how easy it is for you to send an email to someone around the world today and think of how easy or hard it is for you to do the same with sending someone a payment. Bitcoin is the kind of infrastructure that needs to exist, for that ease of payments to exist.

Peter McCormack: Okay, great. So just a couple of questions first, just to kind of gauge the audience here. Don’t be shy. Could you just raise your hand if you’ve not heard of Bitcoin? Isn’t that amazing? We’re now at a stage where everyone has kind of heard of Bitcoin. Now can you raise your hand if you own Bitcoin? Okay. Okay, so we obviously can see how far this has come. I don’t know why that sparked a debate! This is what’s very interesting now about Bitcoin, we have now a room full of people where not a single person raised their hand and said they’ve not heard it.

I would estimate 40% raised your hands and said you own some, which is very important. Could you put your hand up if you own any Bitcoin Cash? Okay. So just so you’re aware, you do not own Bitcoin! So, I think what would be helpful though, as you guys are on the ground, your deeply involved in the world of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, what are some of the biggest myths that are perpetuated about Bitcoin right now? What do people not understand?

Aparna Krishnan: Key storage? I think one thing that’s really hard right now, especially in India is… So the Reserve Bank of India came out with a ban that prevents all RBI regulated entities from offering services to any individual or business operating in the crypto space. This makes it really hard for any exchanges to operate or exist. This also means that you have this problem of really hard user interfaces, that people have to deal with. So the best option that people have right now is something like LocalBitcoins.

Leo Weese: The biggest myth that I constantly come around and it’s usually from different groups of people with their own interest, is that A, Bitcoin is perfectly transparent and everybody can see what you’re doing all the time and B, Bitcoin is private and it’s anonymous Dark Web money and nobody can trace anything.

Timi Ajiboye: I think where I’m from, the thing that stumps people the most is, where is the value from? They don’t seem to understand why or what the value is based on. I always try to explain it’s just as valuable as whatever whoever would pay for it, but people don’t seem to be able to understand that that’s how money generally works. I think that’d be the biggest mental barrier to crypto that people face where I’m from.

Luis Buenaventura: Speed round! So I would say that the biggest myth that I see is that you have to actually understand how Bitcoin works in order to benefit from its properties. The premise of my business, it’s a company called Bloom, is that that’s not true. 

That we can use Bitcoin in a way that hides it from the end user, such that they still get the speed of the transaction, the reliability of the transaction, the security, all of that stuff, without necessarily knowing that it was Bitcoin underneath it and I can kind of go into the details later, but that’s kind of the main thing that we’ve been trying to build since 2015. We want to be able to create a product that is Bitcoin powered, but people don’t know that it’s Bitcoin powered.

Mahsa Alimardani: So in the context of Iran, which is very specific, as it’s going through a currency crisis and the Rial is getting devalued every day. The main issue is between how the government is trying to control this space, the Iranian government and how foreign governments want to control this space. So often with Iranian users who want to go and buy Bitcoin, they’re often worried that the government might find out that they’re transferring money from their Iranian bank accounts through the Bitcoin exchanges and if they’ll get penalized through that way because Iran has a very unclear policy right now on whether or not they are accepting and okay with it.

Just 3 or 4 days ago, they unblocked Bitcoin exchanges. It was blocked for a year since April 2018. On the other hand, there’s the issue of US financial sanctions against Iran and so we’re seeing… I mean this past week we saw the first example of LocalBitcoins actually blocking Iranian users. I’m really excited to hear what they’re going to say about the reason because there hasn’t been an official statement.

But we’re assuming for US financial sanctions, they blocked Iranian users and so understanding what kind of financial accountability there is, in terms of how the world financial systems work, in terms of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency is something I haven’t quite understood myself, but it’s stopping Iranians, I guess from fully getting into this arena.

Peter McCormack: What I found with Bitcoin when I tried to explain it to my friends, is trying to help them understand why they should take an interest in it and why they should care about it. In doing the podcasts, I’ve met many different people who have many different use cases and that all depends on life circumstances and geography as such. My personal use case is that I have clients in America and I’m based just outside of London.

It’s cheaper for me to invoice in Bitcoin, sell on a local exchange and transfer to my bank account because I only pay the exchange fee. Where if I’m paying bank to bank, I pay a 3.2% fee above the exchange rate. So on say $10,000, it’s going to save me a few hundred dollars. So that for me is a personal use case and a benefit. Can you guys talk about in the specific geographies that you work in, the different use cases that people have?

Mahsa Alimardani: I mean in my specific issue, personal story, someone in my family is in the hospital right now with stage four cancer. They’re having a very hard time paying for their hospital bills. So my partner who actually does have Bitcoin has been transferring money to Iran through this method.

So in this term, when the currency is being devalued and someone’s salary is almost becoming nothing on a month to month basis and someone’s lifetime savings is paying for four days in the hospital, this is becoming a very valuable way to transfer money across borders and to maintain wealth when this other form of maintaining wealth is being eroded.

Peter McCormack: Can you also, before you answer, explain to people why, because some people might understand censorship resistance. Can you explain that before you answer as well?

Luis Buenaventura: Censorship resistance in Bitcoin?

Peter McCormack: Yes.

Luis Buenaventura: Do you want to take that Leo? You’ve got a better joke I think!

Leo Weese: For Bitcoin to be valuable, it must not be controlled by anybody. For Bitcoin to be valuable, it must be accessible to everybody and we know that governments such as China, Iran, the United States, India, they all have their own ways of controlling the Internet, of mandating that certain laws are being followed. Some of these laws can make finance unavailable.

If you don’t have a proof of address, because for example, your home address is in your husband’s name, then you might not be able to get a bank account. So for Bitcoin to maintain censorship resistance, it needs to be able to essentially ignore the law of the land and it needs to be able to ignore and be capable of circumventing any of the tools that the state has, to make apps unavailable, to make websites unavailable or to essentially stop you from communicating.

Luis Buenaventura: Okay. So the way that we’re using Bitcoin right now is… And I’ll go back a little bit because you need a little bit of context. So there is about 10 million Filipinos that currently live outside of the Philippines. The numbers are pretty easy to remember, it’s about 10% of our entire population is living outside of the Philippines and every year they’ll send back home about $30 billion in personal remittances, which accounts for about 12% of our GDP.

So a fairly big chunk of the economy kind of relies on this. Now on average, they’ll spend about 7.5% sending that money back. So almost $1 billion in fees. Now, when we first discovered Bitcoin, I mean my co-founders and I several years ago, we saw it as a value transfer mechanism first and foremost. We weren’t so interested in the store of value part. We were more interested in the fact that you could send money, in theory, as quickly as you could send an email, if an email takes 10 minutes.

Anyway, so that was kind of the premise. We thought, “okay, so if we could use Bitcoin as a vehicle for a remittance system, maybe there’s some way that we could drop those fees.” 7.5% is an incredibly high ceiling! So anything lower than that is already fairly significant. We piloted this idea in South Korea in 2015 and we were able to kind of get the costs of your average $100 remittance to about a 3%, so that’s about 50% savings on average.

So it was fairly successful. Obviously the Filipino community there really liked it, because they were saving money and by the end of that year, we had somehow grown to nearly 20% of all of the personal remittances that was going from South Korea to Philippines. Now, it only lasted for about a year, where we were kind of running all of this volume via the Bitcoin Blockchain and we were certainly very proud of it. But eventually the regulations in South Korea caught up to us, because if you’re familiar with the way that regulation in South Korea looks, they kind of tend to relegate all of this stuff to kind of unlicensed activities.

So we could no longer risk doing these transactions, even though we knew for a fact that there was not a single one of them that was illegal or none of them were funding terrorism. I mean, if you’re trying to finance terrorism $100 per transaction, you’re really doing it wrong! So that was clearly not what was happening there, but because of the harder stance that the Korean government is beginning to take on this sort of thing, we decided it was probably a good idea to put a pause on it.

Now we haven’t revisited that, but we now do volume from Hong Kong to the Philippines and Australia to the Philippines and some other smaller pockets of the Filipino diaspora across the world. We’ve managed to do that for the last couple of years. We’ve moved a little over $200 million in remittances since we started this company. So again, pretty small if you look at it comparatively to the $30 billion that are kind of being reported, but it’s a start!

Timi Ajiboye: So most of the daily users on my exchange are people who actually trade for a living. Nigerians are very enterprising, I’m sure as you know and we always find ways to make money that aren’t necessarily conventional. So we’re very eager and excited to get into Bitcoin. But the difference between how Nigerian’s trade crypto isn’t so much speculative like, “the price is up now, I buy in etc.”

It’s actually part of a much larger remittance flow of money and it’s very similar to his case where Nigerians are everywhere and we send about 25 billion to back home. There’s also a bunch of Nigerians outside Nigeria, schooling in the US and everywhere in the world. Parents need to figure out how to pay fees and getting access to USD is difficult. There’s also a lot trade between Nigeria and China. There’s a lot of importation. So these traders are people who trade every day are offering remittance services saying, “give me X million Naira and I will get it to your guy in China at this exchange rate.”

What they do is they buy and sell and try to match like people who are looking for Bitcoin with people who are looking for Naira and people looking for Yen. Pretty much every day now we do about $150,000 of this trading and it’s still very niche. We’re finding that people are looking for more, I guess specialized services like the school fees being, how can we make it such that the traders aren’t the ones offering the service, but we are the ones taking Naira and essentially getting it as close to the schools as possible. So that’s pretty much how Bitcoin, I guess some of the alt coins are being used in Nigeria.

Leo Weese: The answer to that question is often the answer to the question, “who doesn’t have access to traditional finance”, or “in what circumstances can you not make a cash payment?” Luckily Hong Kong is quite well connected to the international financial world. So the way that people from Hong Kong would use Bitcoin frequently that might be somebody in high school who finds it easier to go to a Bitcoin ATM and buy Video Games online, rather than asking the parents to borrow their credit card.

Or it might be a traveler who’s coming through Hong Kong, but whose debit card is, is not working at the machines or just doesn’t have access or just doesn’t feel comfortable carrying around the $50,000 in cash that they might need to buy the products that they want on the Hong Kong markets. When we look across the still existing border to China, we have suddenly hundreds of millions of traders, of producers, of merchants, who are not connected to the global financial world and especially small independent shops might find it hard to make international wire transfers.

So every Chinese citizen has a $50,000 per year limit on how much they can send out of the country without answering additional questions. $50,000 is definitely not enough for somebody who has their kid in a school in Europe or the US. It’s definitely not enough for somebody who regularly trades with the emerging economies of western Africa, eastern Africa, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, where we see a lot of the growth opportunities. People need mobile phones. People need SIM cards. People need SD cards. People need clothes.

There’s a lot of really growing trades that’s being… These opportunities are mainly taken by small independent traders, who find it really hard to go to the local bank and supply all the required documents, that allow them to make that outgoing wire transfer to prove that whatever product they’re sourcing from these countries, is legitimately bought and not as the government fears, somebody’s escaping capital controls.

I think Bitcoin does not always work perfectly for this. But it does cut short a couple of really difficult paths and really difficult barriers that the government or banks put in your way. Eventually as people pick these up, it starts to go both ways. It starts to… The people who would regularly traveled to China to source whatever materials and whatever goods they might need, are finding it more convenient to… They don’t have access to AliPay or WeChat or local wire transfers.

But they will have a guy who they know from online and who they don’t need to fully trust, because they’re able to cheaply do escrow and they can, using their business associate in Kenya, easily source $10,000, $50,000, make that Bitcoin transfer to the guy in China, who will then use their personal AliPay, WeChat account, wire transfer account, to send the money to whoever is selling computers.

To whoever is selling accessories or clothing and that works relatively well in practice. It might not always work very well in theory, because we do know there is significant other steps, but it does help people conduct business and it does help people make money. Eventually, yeah, pay for their food that gets on their family’s table.

Aparna Krishnan: So in India, similar to Philippines, a large number of people leave the country to work outside. So one very common use case is remittances, cross border payments or just sending money abroad. So I remember this one story of a parent who told me, he had to set up a bank account in Singapore because he’s not allowed to hold a large number of US dollars in India.

So through the year he sends some amount of Indian Rupee into the Singapore account to save up for his daughter’s education and every time the foreign exchange rate between the Indian Rupee and the Dollar seems good, he has to send money into this bank account and then transfer money from that bank account in Singapore to the US. Now, what he decided to try was using Bitcoin and he realized that the process was so much easier for him, than doing the multi stage bank set up.

So this is one example where people in India use Bitcoin. Another case is contracting. So I talked to this student who talked about how he accepted payments in Bitcoin to save up for his education and that’s how he paid for all of college. So these are the two main use cases that I’ve seen so far.

Peter McCormack: Thank you! Could you also, with each of your geographical regions and Leo, probably more China, less so Hong Kong, can you explain the current state of regulation in each country and the impact that’s had on people using Bitcoin and the way it’s changed how they maybe use Bitcoin?

Aparna Krishnan: So in India, the Reserve Bank of India decided to ban use of cryptocurrencies. Partly because they don’t understand what cryptocurrency is and they don’t know how to craft good regulation around it and they’ve been waiting for other countries to craft it and see how that works before they come up with their own set of regulations around it. But what this has essentially done is created almost a negative propaganda.

So if you walk into a store somewhere here and you try to buy a pack of cigarettes, you might see something like, “oh, this is what smoking does to your lungs.” In a similar manner in India, if you walk into an ATM, you have all these signs flashing at you, telling you Bitcoin is a scam, cryptocurrencies are bad for you and it’s almost propaganda run by the government against cryptocurrencies.

This has made it really hard for… One, it’s obviously made it very hard for exchanges or any businesses in the crypto space to operate. Two, it’s also made it hard for people who already own these cryptos because, one, they’re in this odd position where they can’t sell their crypto because if they do, they can’t buy it back. So in the case of volatility, what do they do? They’re in this weird middle ground where they just have to hold on and everyone thinks they’re scammers for holding crypto.

Leo Weese: The legal situation of Bitcoin in China is very difficult because there aren’t clear rules. There aren’t clear regulations that tell us exactly what the status is currently and how the status might be changing. But we can very much observe how the government and how various departments are currently enforcing the the rules, how they’re currently interpreting existing rules. That might change over time. That might sometimes be influenced heavily by certain announcements that do not have legal status.

So that that might sometimes be influenced a lot more by practical actions in 2017 in August, when suddenly all Chinese Bitcoin exchanges were shut down. There wouldn’t be really like a law that explained to us why that will be. But by observing that all these exchanges shut down, we can very much now assume that running a Bitcoin exchange in China is illegal. At the same time, the nature of Bitcoin exchanges in China has changed a lot over the years.

Where today a lot of the exchanges are simply messaging platforms online where people find each other to trade, peer to peer and where the platform only acts as an escrow agent and only acts as sort of a trust review platform where people give each others positive and negative feedback and where people report on whether like a certain agent accepts AliPay or WeChat or not. In China people have this tendency… So this is not unique to Bitcoin.

A lot of laws in China function like this, there’s a lot of commerce that functions like this. So people have the tendency to push the barrier a little bit, to always try a little bit more and see if they’re getting smacked down. If they’re not, then they’re going to try a little bit more. So we have over the last, I think since 2013 is the first time Bitcoin really got onto the eyes of the government, where it really gained attention for the first time.

We’ve seen people pushing that line forward and the government smacking things down and people pushing it again and a lot of these things seem to more have to do with controlling the narrative. The Chinese government doesn’t want you to think, they don’t want their citizens to think and they definitely do not want the international media to report that there’s something inside of China that they don’t control.

They very much want us all to know that they control everything, every little thing and that they even have insights into every little Bitcoin transaction you make and that encryption is completely useless. Partly, they may let it slide because they aren’t able to fully control it. They may let it slide because it’s so small that they haven’t yet made their mind up about it.

But they also may let it slide because they simply don’t believe in it and simply think that this is going to go away by itself, that it doesn’t really deserve attention. So yeah, a lot of this is our speculation, this is our observation. But I’m very confident that Bitcoin is very well and alive in China and that it’s relatively accessible to people with a mobile phone, which is almost everybody.

Timi Ajiboye: So the government in Nigeria and most of Africa, actually, they’ve mostly not said anything. There’s like a negative sentiment because how most Nigerians started hearing of, and I guess using Bitcoin, was there was this very popular ponzi scheme if you years ago called MMM, where you respond to things that are supposed to double your money without any explanation. So if you want to get Nigerians interested, just tell them you’ve doubled their money without explaining how! I guess it makes sense considering where most of the country is in terms of their like hierarchy of needs.

So what happened was a lot of people got scammed and a lot of them got scammed because they sent the money to this scheme with Bitcoin. So the government has forbidden banks to hold any crypto. There’s this memo, which some banks have interpreted to mean that you can’t work with exchanges. So I’ve had bank accounts be shut down for no reason. But there’s no actual law or regulation and I think a large part of that is due to a complete lack of understanding of how this works and what it is actually.

There’s also a part of me that suspects that there’s this kind of behavior because there’s some money laundering happening with crypto and Nigerian politicians love that. It makes them feel good! But I think because we’re so enterprising and because of exchanges like mine and other startups I’m seeing coming out, they’re becoming popular and seeming like they’re dedicated to doing the right thing. I think where, because for one, I’ve been allowed to exist for two years now and I’m constantly being reached out to by some people that might have an effect on what the compliance laws will look like.

So I think we’re going in the right direction. I’m not afraid that in a few years from now, there’ll be some law saying, “there’s no trading or exchanges are not allowed in Nigeria.” I think it will all be very well, present and available.

Luis Buenaventura: So it’s not very often that I can say that the Philippines is kind of at the forefront of anything, so I’m just going to humble-brag now! So we are one of the handful of countries that have licensing for cryptocurrency companies. My company is one of those license holders, it’s called the Virtual Currency Exchange License. As far as I know, we’ve issued 10 of those licenses so far. So companies from all over the world are coming to the Philippines to get their licensing to be able to say that they’ve got that piece of paper, which is important in some scenarios and not so important in others.

Now it’s at the point where, the eighth largest commercial bank in the Philippines, is working directly with ConsenSys, the Ethereum guys, to create a kind of inter-bank fund transfer network on top of Ethereum. They’re kind of at that level of integration. That same bank has, I kid you not, a Bitcoin ATM in their flagship store! So banks and Blockchains, man! Who’d have thought? Now that sounds weird, but at the same time, I think that it brings a lot of this stuff to the light, which has been in the dark for a very long time and we’ve been working kind of in this weird shadowy gray area for the first five, six years of Bitcoin’s life.

I think that where we are right now, there are more and more of these very legitimate large companies that are kind of throwing around words like cryptocurrency and Blockchain. I mean, granted, some of it’s hype and some of it’s just like virtue signaling. But there is a definite kind of, I guess a growing sense that this stuff is for real and it’s actually going to stick around and I think that’s very important. It certainly helps me because when I go out into the world and I speak to, so I don’t usually speak in crypto conferences or Blockchain conferences, I usually speak in remittance conferences.

The first few years where I was doing that, I was just that weird guy in the corner who kept talking about Bitcoin. Now it’s more like… These remittance companies are coming to us to receive that very important, or so they think Blockchain education, which to me is great. These are warm leads and now I don’t have to batter down their doors to try to get meetings with them, now they’re actually coming to us.

So it’s a fairly big advantage and we’re seeing this sea change kind of happen, very unsexy-ly in board rooms and meeting rooms and stuff like that. It’s not exactly the revolution we were expecting, but I think that again, it’s a major starting point because things are no longer as a grey or shadowy as they used to be.

Peter McCormack: Awesome! So Mahsa, you’ve already answered about the regulatory framework in Iran. So I’ve got a different question for you because obviously Iran is considering creating, the government’s considering creating their own cryptocurrency. For any of us who understand Bitcoin, realize how ridiculous that is, but what is the actual status of this project?

Mahsa Alimardani: So with Iran and just in general, look at Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies that they’re struggling to do two things, which is maintain international trade, while circumventing US financial sanctions and at the same time creating value in their own currency, the Rial, which at the moment stands every US dollar is 122,000 Rial. If you Google that number right now, you’re going to get about 44,000 Rial.

That’s wrong because the government gives itself more value than it actually is. So you have to kind of do research in the Persian language to find the accurate value. So they’re doing these two things and obviously the methods that Iranians are using to maintain their wealth is buying gold, buying US dollars, which can be quite hard through the black mark and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. This does not help strengthen the Rial.

So they started toying with the idea of creating their own cryptocurrency and I think one of the only precedents of this was in Venezuela and it was a huge fail. I don’t know the technology that well, but I don’t know how this can work through fiat and I don’t think it will work in Iran and as soon as they announced this, they also did a bunch of different things. They blocked Telegram, because Telegram announced its own cryptocurrency. So Telegram, if you know anything about Iran, it’s the Internet in Iran.

So it got blocked and the main reason we found out later was because they were releasing their cryptocurrency and Iran is also trying to develop this. Now, like much of the projects that happen in Iran, there is so much economic mismanagement that this project will… I mean beyond the fact that it contradicts the terms, it will likely never come to fruition because these projects are often hard to come about to begin with in that kind of government management system.

So that’s happening with the cryptocurrency state. I think, like I said before, Iran is generally confused with how to deal with Bitcoin in general. So it keeps on flip flopping between blocking them, not blocking them. This obviously doesn’t really effect people who are in this community because if you are buying cryptocurrency and if you’re exchanging it, you know how to circumvent the blocks and you know how to go around it. In general, Iranians are quite savvy with circumventing things.

They’ve been circumventing sanctions since the 80s. So if they want to get to crypto, which is getting even more popular day by day, they’re going to get to it. So if you’re in Tehran right now, you’re in a taxi cab, your taxi driver is probably talking to you about Bitcoin and managing their wealth through Bitcoin right now. So it’s out of the government’s hands a bit.

Peter McCormack: So nation state cryptos are generally quite unhelpful for the growth of Bitcoin. You will see in the other building as part of the exhibition hall, the Open Money Initiative by Jill Carlson, Alejandro Machado and Jamaal Montasser, I think that’s their names! I recently interviewed them and they’ve talked about one of the biggest problems of Bitcoin is the Petro.

The Petro has kind of made everyone think that cryptocurrencies are a scam. So ideally we don’t want nation state crypto because it’s kind of antithetical to Bitcoin. Another question, what are the challenges that you face in your geography with regards to the expansion of Bitcoin and specifically with regards to education and technology?

Luis Buenaventura: Okay. So I guess we kind of cheat a little bit there, because as I said, the premise of my business is that we try not to have to teach people about Bitcoin. I have to give a little bit more detail to that answer. So when I go out into the world, I talk to the owners of these remittance businesses that have these customers who are migrants and need to send money back home. I convince those remittance business owners that instead of settling the money that they need to send across borders using US dollars or the Swift wire transfer system, I convince them to try to use Bitcoin instead.

Now if I’m doing my job well, I can show them that if they transfer that money using Bitcoin, they can actually save a little bit, or they can make these very granular settlements, say $5,000/$10,000 at a time versus what they were doing before, which is more like $500,000 at a time. So there’s efficiencies to be gained in making these types of very granular settlements. Now because I tend to only speak to these business owners, the customers themselves are not aware of what’s going on underneath.

They only know that very mysteriously, the cost of their average transaction has gone down some percent. Now if the remittance business owner is savvy, they’ll use that to start grabbing more market share, which is kind of what happened in South Korea with us. We were able to kind of very weirdly just start accumulating new customers just by word of mouth because it was basically a fire sale remittance at 50% off.

So that was kind of how they were pitching it. Now it worked really well of course, because everyone just wants cheap remittances! Now is that better for the growth of kind of crypto awareness in the region? Maybe not, because the actual end users, the benefactors of this technology have no idea what’s actually happening underneath. But I kind of look at it in the same way as, we use Gmail everyday and I couldn’t explain to you how SMTP works and neither would I want to learn.

I think that Bitcoin has a role where it is just that invisible settlement mechanism underneath. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the thing that we print on our hoodies! Sorry Leo, I know that you like doing that! But I genuinely believe that some technologies are better when they’re not sexy. Just keep them kind of invisible and let them stay complicated and have professionals handle it. But you can have these layers on top of it that make it a little bit more palatable to the average consumer, which is what we’ve been trying to do.

It’s certainly worked to an extent. But I’m not going to lie, there are definitely some advantages to just using this stuff kind of natively, kind of directly if you can. That is still the superior way to benefit from these technologies. But for the average person, the average migrant who earns $400 a month and needs to send back $100 a month. They have neither the time nor the inclination, nor do I think they have to, they shouldn’t have to learn about this stuff. So that’s the position we’ve taken with our company.

Timi Ajiboye: He’s pretty much said everything about how I think about, I guess the user base. There are people who need to understand how Bitcoin works and they don’t need me to explain that to them. The people who trade on my platform don’t need me to tell them what a private key is, they seek out this information. But my mum is never going to know what a private key is, but she’s going to send money.

It’s funny because it’s like there’s this pressure to kind of explain how Bitcoin works and make everyone understand. But no one even knows how money works. No one knows how ATMs work or wire transfers. I have no idea! No one knows how Facetime works, no one cares. It just works. So I agree with him and that is the strategy I’m chasing, which is building infrastructure for people who provide this kind of like user facing financial products to just use a Bitcoin, as the underlying layer or transport. No one needs to know about confirmations or anything. That’s where the experts job to kind of like dumb it down as layers.

Leo Weese: Very much the biggest hassle and the biggest barrier for us is investment schemes. So investment schemes come in different forms. A lot of them are altcoins, a lot of them are listed companies and they can make that relativity difficult for us to explain Bitcoin unless we really push people to use it. So Bitcoin, I can very much testify it exists and it’s being used as money. It might not be used by a lot of people, but it’s used every day and it’s used for commerce.

I know that also, because I use it every day. Now for somebody who enters the space, for somebody who makes their first research, they very quickly have their attention diverted by very well-run schemes, that will tell them “it’s like Bitcoin, but better, faster, more secure and backed by the government or backed by this corporation or has already 2 billion users.”

For somebody who has never used Bitcoin and for somebody who might not even think of this new thing as money, but rather an investment opportunity, it’s impossible to tell the difference. It’s impossible for me to explain what that difference is. Often people only learn once they want to sell whatever they bought. If they want to sell Bitcoin, they very quickly realize that they can just go to any Bitcoin meetup, a lot of websites, and very quickly get rid of what they bought.

But if they go into the investment scheme, they might not be able to do that and that reflects very poorly on the industry as a whole, because when they entered this, they weren’t able to differentiate. Now when they leave this, it all looks like a scam. I believe 2017 for our community was the turning point, when people would no longer enter cryptocurrency and Bitcoin through Bitcoin. They would no longer make their first transaction in a Bitcoin ecosystem.

They would no longer come to us and buy $10 worth of Bitcoin and then immediately buy a cup of tea or beer with that, as maybe happened in 2015 or 2016. But rather, they would enter this, investing a lot of money and leaving with a very bad taste in their mouth. That’s the biggest barrier for us.

Aparna Krishnan: So I think one thing that’s really interesting with adoption of Bitcoin or any cryptocurrencies in India, is building for country which has so many different subcultures. This is a very unique problem to India, in that you have so many different states, over a hundred different languages, multiple micro communities.

How do you build a platform that all of these people across different regions understand? So many different scripts for each of these languages! This is, I think one of the biggest barriers in adoption of technology. This is in addition to the RBI ban, which already exists, which makes Bitcoin or crypto look like negative propaganda.

Peter McCormack: We have a final closing comment.

Luis Buenaventura: So if you guys are interested in finding out more about how all of this stuff works, I wrote a book called “Reinventing Remittances with Bitcoin”, which you can buy on Amazon for less than the price of a coffee in Norway. How much is it here? Like $17 or something!

Peter McCormack: I think you can buy a car in the UK for less than the price of a coffee here! Can we just have a warm round of applause for this amazing panel? If you’d like to learn more about Bitcoin, I have a podcast called What Bitcoin Did. We are also joined by the amazing Laura Shin, who also has two amazing podcasts called Unchained and Unconfirmed.

Even Jimmy Song has a podcast called Off The Chain at the back. We’ve got one of the best writers in Bitcoin here, Aaron, so there’s plenty of people here who can help educate you more, just go and say hello to them. Thank you!