5 keys for crypto to unlock financial prosperity in emerging markets: Reflections from EthCC

Jia
Jia.xyz 🌍🌏🌎
6 min readAug 11, 2023

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The Ethereum Community Conference (EthCC) in Paris last month brought together thought leaders and innovators driving cryptocurrency toward mass adoption. Our intern John Böllhoff was in the middle of the action, gaining firsthand insights on the future of crypto in emerging markets. Here are his reflections on the conference as he wraps up his summer internship with us.

Jia’s journey to expand global financial access complements EthCC’s vision to bring robust lending infrastructure, Real World Asset (RWA) integration, and growth to emerging markets. This article highlights five key trends for crypto builders we met at EthCC to make this shared vision a reality.

1. The Power of Invisible Crypto

One of the biggest questions within the crypto community surrounds onboarding the first billion web3 users. This process demands either the expansion and optimization of consumer-facing DApps or the continued development of underlying infrastructure that is more conducive to widespread user engagement.

While the industry is far from reaching its first billion users, consumer adoption is steadily increasing due to nascent innovations in user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) that obscure the complex, backend processes of crypto. Indeed, “invisible crypto” assures that individuals lacking prior knowledge of blockchain technology can access blockchain-powered financial services, just as people regularly transact with banking products without understanding what SWIFT is or how ACH works.

Further, to facilitate increased adoption, crypto must provide a greater utility to its users than global fiat systems, necessitating a superior user experience. Gaby Goldberg, one of our investors from TCG Crypto, examined invisible crypto at the EthCC Co:OPERATE event. She emphasized that the next wave of crypto adoption will hinge on the development of functional crypto applications not just for the tech-savvy global 1%, but for the 99% of individuals who demand an experience that improves upon existing web2 solutions.

That’s Jia’s focus: providing an enhanced borrowing experience for small businesses in emerging markets by unifying the potency of crypto with a seamless user experience.

Gaby Goldberg speaks on driving crypto adoption alongside panelists Joyce Chin and Lyllah Ledesma at EthCC Co:OPERATE in July 2023.

2. The Role of Local Stablecoins

User-friendly products are at the heart of invisible crypto, and local stablecoins are a prime example. Stablecoins peg their value to fiat currencies. Most stablecoins are currently pegged to the US Dollar; however, some developers are building local stablecoins tied to non-USD currencies like the Nigerian Naira, the Brazilian Real, and the Kenyan Shilling. This innovation presents a unique opportunity for those living in countries where the local currency is subject to inflation or instability.

Markus Franke from MentoLabs demonstrated the potential of this technology during his talk on mass adoption in Africa at the CoOperate conference. MentoLabs is the developer of stablecoins in the Celo ecosystem, including $cREAL, a local currency stablecoin pegged to the Brazilian Real.

$cREAL gives users the ability to participate in the global digital economy while minimizing the risk of volatility for users operating in a Real-based economy. Markus Franke highlighted how local stablecoins can play an instrumental role in lending protocols by enabling borrowers and lenders to easily switch between currencies on-chain, thereby removing the need for complex foreign exchange transactions and mitigating the risks associated with exchange rate fluctuations. The utilization of local stablecoins also significantly reduces off-ramping costs. In traditional finance, converting one currency to another often incurs high fees — with local stablecoins, this conversion happens on the blockchain, minimizing transaction expenses.

At Jia, we recognize the transformative potential of local stablecoins, which play critical roles in our mission to make lending more accessible and affordable for small businesses in emerging markets. The adoption of local stablecoins like $cREAL mitigates the risk of foreign exchange, lowers off-ramping costs, and simplifies the process of underwriting loans. While the local currency stablecoin landscape is in its infancy, the utility potential for this technology within emerging markets is strong; we’re excited about the development of additional stablecoins by MentoLabs, Canza Finance, Bluejay Finance, and others.

3. Integrating On/Off Ramps

Since crypto on- and off-ramps don’t often fit the needs of local users in developing economies, crypto adoption at the retail consumer level necessitates the invisibility of underlying crypto processes. On-ramps must be developed uniquely for users in countries where technological literacy (let alone crypto literacy), smartphone adoption, and internet access are comparatively low. Off-ramps are perhaps more essential than on-ramps, as they hold the key to enabling the functional use cases of fiat currency for crypto holders, such as purchasing food and clothes or paying utility bills and school fees. If a user cannot perform these actions with crypto, then why on-ramp in the first place? Indeed, to facilitate mass adoption in emerging markets, we require off-ramps that cover at least every fiat use case.

At EthCC, Christian Duffus and Aliu Musa shared how innovative solutions like Fonbnk are establishing real-world on- and off-ramps with airtime-to-crypto conversions. Fonbnk enables users to deposit airtime that they’ve purchased from traditional telecommunications providers into various cryptocurrencies, including USDC.

4. Identity in Emerging Markets

A significant challenge in emerging markets is identity verification. Approximately 850 million people lack a formal ID — most of whom are in emerging markets. This presents a significant barrier to financial inclusion: without formal identification, individuals are often barred from opening a bank account, receiving a loan, and owning property.

Several blockchain projects are constructing decentralized identity protocols providing documentation to paperless individuals, storing these identities on-chain instead of in centralized government databases. Perhaps the most well-known of these projects is Worldcoin. Worldcoin, founded by Sam Altman, Alex Blania, and Max Novendstern, aims to become the base identity layer of a new, blockchain-powered financial system. Worldcoin issues “WorldIDs,” which serve the same purpose as national ID cards by enabling the creation of accounts and the accessibility of basic services. Whereas a national ID sits in a centralized database and can be shut on and off by the government, WorldID, also referred to as “Proof of Personhood,” resides on a decentralized ledger. Once issued, WorldIDs are controlled solely and sovereignly by their assigned owners. To issue WorldIDs, Worldcoin has developed a hardware biometrics device referred to as an “Orb” capable of scanning human irises and storing biometric data on a hash on-chain.

The ideas of Worldcoin are very compelling, especially in emerging markets where lack of documentation and identification are the main barriers to financial access, and where local governments are often unable to implement sophisticated systems. Since Worldcoin’s recent public launch and subsequent rapid growth, many concerns have arisen regarding Worldcoin’s storage and protection of biometric data collected from users. For a good overview of the issues surrounding biometric proofs of personhood, we recommend this piece by Vitalik Buterin.

While time will tell whether the Worldcoin model succeeds, the promise of a universal identity protocol will endure by facilitating a cheaper, faster, and more accessible borrower experience for small businesses in emerging markets.

Jia intern John Böllhoff meeting the Worldcoin team with Daniel Kimotho from Celo at EthCC.

5. The Future of Lending in Emerging Markets and RWAs

As we strive to usher in a new era of inclusive finance, the integration of local stablecoins, effective on- and off-ramps, and robust identity solutions is essential. This potent combination can expedite the lending process, diminish transaction costs, and extend our reach significantly, marking an evolution in lending for emerging markets.

These developments will be accelerated by advances within projects working to bring Real World Assets (RWAs) on-chain. RWAs refer to both tangible and intangible assets, such as real estate, intellectual property, or even an individual’s future earnings. By tokenizing these assets, RWAs can be easily bought, sold, and traded on the blockchain, leading to an efficient and transparent marketplace. Jia’s lending protocol is part of this overarching trend to tokenize RWAs, such as small business invoices, to unlock liquidity for entrepreneurs transparently and efficiently.

The talks at EthCC in Paris reinforced blockchain technology’s transformative potential within emerging markets. Jia is excited to be at the vanguard of this change by leveraging blockchain-powered solutions to bridge the credit gap in emerging markets. Invisible crypto, effective on- and off-ramp integrations, and RWAs will power efficiency and equity for historically underserved global communities.

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Jia
Jia.xyz 🌍🌏🌎

Jia is expanding financial freedom around the globe. 🌍🌏🌎