One area that is often discussed during conversations regarding bitcoin is its place in the developing world and how it can greatly improve the lives of individuals transacting in those countries.
In developed nations, it is often taken for granted that there is nationwide financial infrastructure, available to all citizens and accessible from almost anywhere in the country. People can deposit and withdraw their money to or from a bank, transact physically or digitally and should they desire, borrow money from the bank. We call this a bank account. This is solid financial infrastructure that, on paper, caters for all, as long as you can provide proof of identification, such as your passport, and confirmation of residential address with the likes of a utility bill.
This is a stark contrast to the situation in developing countries.
In the developing world, access to financial infrastructure is scarce. In fact, reports put the number of unbanked adults at around 2 billion globally, most of whom reside in developing nations. It is said that in some countries, the rate is as high as 95% of adults not holding a bank account with a formal financial institution.
This generally comes down to two restrictions.
Firstly, their remote locations are not considered as viable operations for the large banking concerns. Those that do elect to open brick-and-mortar bank do so in more densely populated urban areas, leaving those in rural outskirts to have to travel long distances at an unaffordable cost should they wish to interact with the bank in question.
Secondly, access to formal documentation such as identity documents and utility bills is reserved for the wealthy in the country. Many in these countries do not live in homes that are recognised as formal addresses, meaning they cannot pass the regulatory requirements, are not afforded the ‘luxury’ of a bank account, and are excluded from interacting at a financial level.
Bitcoin tears down these limitations and offers a financial system void of social discrimination. It can be used by anyone, from a billionaire living in Monaco to a farmer in the fields of Uganda.
One group of countries that have begun seeing the incredible value of Bitcoin for financial inclusion are the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China). Although they have entered their phases of Bitcoin enlightenment at different times, with some being more advanced in this journey than others, they are all gradually accepting Bitcoin adoption.
The BRIC Nations Driving Bitcoin Forward
As per the International Monetary Fund, Brazil has the 9th largest economy in the world, just shy of $1.8 trillion. Their GDP per capita, however, is one of the lowest, ranking them at a paltry 68th in the world. Their fiat currency, the Real, has lost more than 41% against the US$ since July 2014, and inflation now tops 10% annually. This combination lends itself to significant economic woes.
Brazil has struggled with economic equality for several years, most evident still today in the urban hubs of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, where the wealthy in their luxury high rises are separated from the atrocities of favela living by a few metres and a brick wall! It is estimated that 14 million people remain unemployed in Brazil, fuelling economic disparities and pushing crime rates sky high too.
Financially speaking, Brazil is rather unique in the developing world as the majority of citizens do hold bank accounts, but prefer to transact in cash, most particularly in the lower income classes. This is a result of the ongoing economic recession and the political and financial disillusion that comes about from corruption scandals. Trust in Government is at an all time low, and Brazilians are rapidly looking to free-market liberals movements and the right wing to overcome the repercussions of recession.
And this is where Bitcoin finds its place.
As a transparent and immutable financial system, with equality built into its design, citizens are able to skip the corruption and perils of modern day financial establishments. LocalBitcoin reports volumes in Brazil are up 204% in the last year with volumes rising to nearly 2 million Reals a day in May 2017, at the height of the corruption scandals, clear evidence of the link between political instability and the adoption of Bitcoin.
Bitcoin in Brazil is still in early days, but its utility for this up and coming nation is hard to deny and we fully expect aggressive growth to continue in coming years.
One of the world’s leading military superpowers and a previous economic giant, the Russian Federation is the 12th largest economy on the planet. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian economy was exposed to modern day capitalism for the first time. Between the years 2000 and 2008, the Russian economy experienced its boom years, with GDP growing an average of 7% a year. Since then, growth has slowed and Russia’s economy has been impacted by a fall in oil prices and international sanctions imposed after their annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Bitcoin in Russia, however, has not experienced the same retraction. Bitcoin in Russia is more popular than ever and they are experiencing their first wave of the Bitcoin boom.
In June 2017, Russia announced plans to launch their own cryptocurrency in the near future, but also to structure regulatory framework to incorporate Bitcoin too, with a think tank that sees massive potential for Bitcoin in the long term embarking on exploratory research into Bitcoin regulation. This action highlights a bid to move into the digital age alongside other growing economies such as India.
You will even be able to buy a burger in Russia soon as Burger King announced they will begin accepting Bitcoin from this summer. Retail acceptance is always a good indication of growing demand and strengthens Bitcoin’s position in the overall economy.
The LocalBitcoins volume in Russian Rubles is up 139% in the last year as well and another BRIC could be added to the foundations of a new global monetary system.
We recently published an article about why India is perfect for the Bitcoin revolution and took a deep-dive into the explosive growth of Bitcoin in India, highlighting the fundamental drivers of demand. India is a prime example of where the unbanked can benefit from Bitcoin as well as the wider Indian population.
India currently has over 200 million people without a bank account who rely entirely on cash based transactions, which is becoming increasingly more difficult due to demonetisation. This means that they need an alternative method of transaction to go about their daily lives.
As an ecosystem, India is to a certain extent a ‘goldilocks zone’ for Bitcoin and the demonetisation policies enacted by Prime Minister Modi has made it all the more sweeter.
Last year, when the Indian Government announced their widespread demonetisation plans, constituting to 86% of the Indian money supply becoming useless, Bitcoin got a kick start in India and user adoption had grown since.
In May 2017, an Indian based Bitcoin exchange called Zebpay reached 500,000 downloads of its app on the Android app store and has been overwhelmed with demand for its services. This has been echoed by Unocoin as well who have in excess of 200,000 users on their exchange platform.
At the same time, there are an estimated 340 million smartphone users in the country, the second highest in the world, with that number predicted to rise to over 450 million by 2021. In 2016, a company called RingingBells, launched the world’s cheapest smartphone in India, priced at 251 Rupees (£3.00) which claims to have very similar specifications to more expensive models. Alongside this, a study carried out in 2015, highlighted that 94% of smartphones sold were priced below 2,000 Rupees (£23.93). As smartphones continue to become more affordable for low-income individuals, Bitcoin will have the infrastructure to thrive.
The world’s 7th largest economy has also shown promise of legitimising Bitcoin in the near future, which would represent a major stamp of approval for Bitcoin to continue its rise in one of the quickly developing nations.
Bitcoin and China already have a long-standing relationship. In fact, China has been pivotal in the rise of Bitcoin. Its growth in China has a distinctively different story than the other BRIC nations, in that China is directly associated to vast bitcoin mining pools. China is home to the majority of the large scale Bitcoin mines. It is estimated that around 71% of Bitcoins mining power (hashrate) is based in China which is due to a number of factors.
Most Bitcoin mining hardware is manufactured in China, giving Chinese individuals and companies a cost advantage to procure the necessary equipment.
Cheap, Renewable Electricity
Compared to the likes of the UK and the US, electricity costs in China are extremely affordable at around £0.06/kWh. Furthermore, in many of the industrial areas, electricity is supplied through renewable sources such as hydroelectric power or comes with a degree of state subsidy.
Consequently, the low barrier to entry combined with cheap electricity prices means higher profits for the miners, makes them more efficient and gives them an edge against foreign competitors.
Bitcoin has not had an easy time in China though.
Earlier this year the People’s Bank of China(PBOC) began a widespread investigation into many of the Chinese Bitcoin exchanges, forcing them to halt withdrawals for a short period of time. This was largely due to anti-money laundering laws, capital controls and foreign exchange management. The PBOC were concerned that money was being filtered out of the country using Bitcoin and due to China’s strict capital controls policy, the authorities were eager to put a stop to this.
Once this brief debacle was over and withdrawals were permitted once again, Bitcoin rose sharply and trading volumes returned. Following this, it became obvious to the Chinese authorities – and the rest of the world – that destroying Bitcoin is going to be a forlorn task and instead of wasting valuable time and resources attempting to do the impossible, they should simply begin to adapt to the future of money.
As Bitcoin begins to grow and embed its flag in the world economy, the BRIC nations are going to be the perfect testimonies to what Bitcoin is capable of and why this technology is so powerful. Japan and Switzerland are paving the way for Bitcoin adoption and are producing positive legislation and tested utility for other nations to follow and it won’t be long before they do. Just as Netflix™ ushered in the new era of movie streaming, cryptocurrencies will bring about a future of decentralised economic equality.
Featured image from Shutterstock.