Bitcoin start-ups in Asia take aim at remittances market

‘Bitcoin is so much better as a mechanism to send money around the world,’ said George Harrap, chief executive of Bitspark. (Reuters)
Updated 13 March 2018

Bitcoin start-ups in Asia take aim at remittances market

HONG KONG/SEOUL: Bitcoin, battered by warnings about volatility and bubble-like appreciation, may have found a way to play a niche role in a big market: overseas money transfers.
Used as a transfer mechanism rather than a currency, bitcoin circumvents banks’ transaction fees.
Start-ups such as Bitspark in Hong Kong, and Bloom, Payphil, coins.ph and Satoshi Citadel Industries’ (SCI) remittance unit Rebit in Philippines, are trying to turn that into a business model.
Reduced liquidity on cryptocurrency exchanges and regulatory uncertainty are, for now, limiting monthly bitcoin-based remittances to millions of dollars in a multibillion-dollar market, the start-ups say. But if cryptocurrencies mature, they say, traditional businesses will be in for some serious disruption.
“Bitcoin is so much better as a mechanism to send money around the world,” said George Harrap, chief executive of Bitspark, a company that performs transfers for dozens of remittance shops in Hong Kong, Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Pakistan, Nigeria and Ghana. “There’s a lot less overhead that you need to do.”
Many of the start-ups, such as Bitspark, do not deal directly with individual customers, but instead provide the “back end” transfer mechanism for remittance shops.
The businesses estimate how much money they will need for a day, buy bitcoin in advance and immediately sell it for the currency in the receiving country. That means they do not hold cryptocurrency for any meaningful length of time, and customers’ transactions are resolved in minutes, rather than days.
Kate Corporal, 28, a Filipino working at an international company in Incheon, South Korea, said she saved “huge” amounts sending money home using Rebit compared with traditional services.
“One thing I can guarantee is that the money I intended to send and the money that my family received was exactly the same,” Corporal said. “Using bitcoin is really helpful for many Filipinos ... as every single cent that we send can be very significant.”
Reduced demand for cryptocurrencies in smaller economies often means bitcoin prices are lower, so sending $100 to Indonesia or the Philippines via bitcoin results in the equivalent of more than $100 at the other end. Without the bank fees, the shops say they can charge their customers 25 to 75 percent less.
But the model has little to no advantage in markets with larger Filipino communities such as Hong Kong and Singapore, where competition is high and fees are low — roughly 1-2 percent, compared with 10-15 percent in South Korea.
Rebit sends money to Philippines mainly from South Korea, Japan and Canada and is looking to expand to the Middle East.
The giants Western Union and Moneygram, which dominate the current market, are testing Ripple’s XRP, a cryptocurrency smaller and more centralized than bitcoin.
But the industry’s transformation does not appear imminent.
The value of all bitcoin held globally is about $160 billion, roughly two-thirds of the Asian remittance market and a third of the global one, according to World Bank estimates. That means local cryptocurrency exchanges cannot cope with the cash flow needs of larger businesses.
“As soon as you’re doing $10-15 million a day, liquidity becomes an issue and you’re wondering, ‘how am I going to do this,’” said Prajit Nanu, chief executive and co-founder of InstaReM, which remits money to over 60 countries.
The start-ups avoid holding bitcoin for more than a few minutes because of its volatility.
Bitcoin now trades around $10,000, 10 times higher than a year ago, but half its December peak — a common swing for the emerging asset class.
“We started in 2014, when bitcoin crashed from $1,000 to $200-$300 and luckily our business model didn’t rely on speculation,” said SCI co-founder Miguel Cuneta.
“We are merely using it as a transfer mechanism,” he added. “We convert it as soon as possible.”
Cuneta says Rebit was only approved by Philippine’s central bank last year. South Korea’s backing away from banning cryptocurrency trading was encouraging, he said, but more clarity was needed in Seoul and elsewhere.
In Singapore, start-up Toast gave up using bitcoin for remittances so it could get licensed. It is now transferring money the traditional way but plans to offer loans and insurance using blockchain technology and smart contracts — a product offered by bitcoin’s main rival Ether and others.
“If you bought cryptocurrency as part of a money remittance mechanism it is very difficult to get your remittance license in Singapore or anywhere else because the regulators are still not sure how they are going to govern cryptocurrency,” said Aaron Siwoku, Toast’s founder.


Huawei in early talks with US firms to license 5G platform: executive

Updated 19 October 2019

Huawei in early talks with US firms to license 5G platform: executive

  • Currently there are no US 5G providers and European rivals Ericsson and Nokia are generally more expensive
  • Huawei has spent billions to develop its 5G technology since 2009

WASHINGTON: Blacklisted Chinese telecoms equipment giant Huawei is in early-stage talks with some US telecoms companies about licensing its 5G network technology to them, a Huawei executive told Reuters on Friday.
Vincent Pang, senior vice president and board director at the company said some firms had expressed interest in both a long-term deal or a one-off transfer, declining to name or quantify the companies.
“There are some companies talking to us, but it would take a long journey to really finalize everything,” Pang explained on a visit to Washington this week. “They have shown interest,” he added, saying conversations are only a couple of weeks old and not at a detailed level yet.
The US government, fearing Huawei equipment could be used to spy on customers, has led a campaign to convince allies to bar it from their 5G networks. Huawei has repeatedly denied the claim.
Currently there are no US 5G providers and European rivals Ericsson and Nokia are generally more expensive.
In May, Huawei, the world’s largest telecoms equipment provider, was placed on a US blacklist over national security concerns, banning it from buying American-made parts without a special license.
Washington also has brought criminal charges against the company, alleging bank fraud, violations of US sanctions against Iran, and theft of trade secrets, which Huawei denies.
Rules that were due out from the Commerce Department earlier this month are expected to effectively ban the company from the US telecoms supply chain.
The idea of a one-off fee in exchange for access to Huawei’s 5G patents, licenses, code and know-how was first floated by CEO and founder Ren Zhengfei in interviews with the New York Times and the Economist last month. But it was not previously clear whether there was any interest from US companies.
In an interview with Reuters last month, a State Department official expressed skepticism of Ren’s offer.
“It’s just not realistic that carriers would take on this equipment and then manage all of the software and hardware themselves,” the person said. “If there are software bugs that are built in to the initial software, there would be no way to necessarily tell that those are there and they could be activated at any point, even if the software code is turned over to the mobile operators,” the official added.
For his part, Pang declined to predict whether any deal might be signed. However, he warned that the research and development investment required by continuously improving the platform after a single-transfer from Huawei would be very costly for the companies.
Huawei has spent billions to develop its 5G technology since 2009.