You would be forgiven for struggling to take seriously a startup named after the secretary general of the United Nations (UN). But South African startup Bankymoon is serious, with even its moniker having some genuine reasoning behind it.
“Banky refers to bitcoin as a technology allowing people to have control over their money and be their own bank. The moon is a common Bitcoin meme with all Bitcoin enthusiasts looking forward to the day when the Bitcoin price “goes to the moon”, Bankymoon founder and chief executive officer (CEO) Lorien Gamaroff told Disrupt Africa.
Bankymoon is a bitcoin integration startup, primarily focused on providing bitcoin payment gateways to smart metering vendors, which allows the vendors to accept bitcoin payments for utilities. The self-funded startup is currently seeking capital so it can take the product to market.
“For years the smart metering company I worked for struggled to provide payment mechanisms for all customers,” Gamaroff said.
“Either the payment options were inconvenient, too expensive or, in the case of banking services, were unavailable. I realised that by integrating bitcoin into the system we could reach those customers by offering cheap and convenient bitcoin payment options.”
Now is certainly a good time to be looking for funding for bitcoin-related startups, with Disrupt Africa reporting last month investments have reached an all-time high and debating the possibilities of a bitcoin takeoff in Africa.
And Gamaroff said the response to Bankymoon – which will charge a small fee on every transaction it says will be lower than any competing payment methods – has had a positive response thus far.
“The response from the public has been overwhelming with invitations coming in daily to speak at conferences and seminars around the world. I have been invited to enter the technology and company for innovation awards,” he said, while he has also had interest from the South African Revenue Protection Association (SARPA).
“Their mandate is to find ways to limit revenue loss and enhance revenue collection for utilities around South Africa. They collaborate with law enforcement agencies to combat cable and utility theft. They accept the fact that it is difficult for people in South Africa to make payments for utilities.”
Gamaroff puts these difficulties down to the inconvenience of cash, and the fact that vending machines dispensing utility tokens are expensive to operate, vulnerable to theft and only available in limited locations.
“All these reasons add high fees to the price of the utility,” he said. “Banking services are convenient but 80 per cent of Africans do not have access to these services and are termed “unbanked”.”
Gamaroff said the SARPA had invited him to speak at several of its meetings on bitcoin and smart metering.
“They are excited about the bitcoin smart metering solution because they can see that it will enable many millions of people to make payments for utilities,” he said.
At current Bankymoon is focused on South Africa, but the startup does have plans to enter Nigeria as a priority and will look to provide solutions globally. Gamaroff said currently the negative perception of bitcoin and lack of awareness of its benefits were holding it back, but he believes takeoff is inevitable.
“At the moment Bitcoin is difficult to acquire and volatile. These reasons are important when it comes to adoption,” he said.
“The primary reason, though, that adoption is not picking up fast enough is simply because most people have not heard of it and if they have it is in the context of hacked exchanges and underground illegal ecommerce sites. In time this will change. And then adoption will move at light speed.”
He said this was due to the “enormous” potential of bitcoin in Africa, given the lack of access to formal banking services.
“The ability to remit money and make payments electronically will be greatly enhanced by the adoption of Bitcoin,” he said.
“Many people are put off by the controversies around Bitcoin. Bankymoon considers it a priority to educate communities and demonstrate the advantages that digital currencies have over fiat ones.”