Over one million people of Zimbabwean origin live in South Africa, and they are sending millions of dollars worth of funds back home every year. The cost of this is high, but Zimbabwean startup Bitkesh thinks it has the answer.
Launched in 2017, Bitkesh uses cryptocurrency to help people send money back home, cutting out the need to visit an exchange bureau. All a user needs to do is use their local bank account to fund their Bitkesh wallet, and send money to a recipient in a matter of minutes.
“Money does not actually cross borders as we use a fungible digital token on the platform, which is then traded on a peer-to-peer basis in different markets for the equivalent fiat value,” co-founder Reginald Tsvetu told Disrupt Africa.
Formed during the Bitcoin frenzy of late-2017, Bitkesh started using Bitcoin but has since designed a token that is Ethereum-based – the DCXi. The appeal of crypto in general is that it makes it cheaper to send money instantly.
“In the money transfer space, service providers are still charging on average nine per cent to send money across borders. And most of them still rely on brick and mortar facilities which only operate eight hours or so in a day,” Tsvetu said.
“They are also heavily reliant on the availability of cash. And in countries like Zimbabwe this has proved to be a challenge.”
Bitkesh overcomes all these challenges and more. Currently servicing only the South Africa-Zimbabwe corridor, it has already had more than 5,000 downloads of its app, and processes around 1,200 transactions monthly.
“We believe from a market of over one million Zimbabweans living and working in South Africa there is still a great potential to improve,” said Tsvetu.
To do this, and further expand, the self-funded startup is looking for capital.
“We hope to find investment so we can improve on our infrastructure as well as scale the product, starting with the SADC region,” Tsvetu said.
“We plan on spreading across SADC in the coming months, then greater Sub-Saharan Africa starting at the end of 2020.”
Bitkesh, which makes money from the difference between the prices of its digital asset in different markets, has faced challenges with regulation, though Tsvetu said it has made efforts to self-regulate whilst the authorities come up with specific rules to govern peer-to-peer platforms such as this.
“All possible partnerships have died because the first question everyone asks is “are you licenced?”. The central banks unfortunately haven’t brought out actual frameworks that we can use yet as a crypto-based service,” he said.
Other barriers include high data costs and a preference for cash amongst potential users, but Tsvetu believes there is a future for Bitkesh and other cryptocurrency players in Africa.
“There is room for collaboration amongst new players, with the old players, and with the regulators,” he said.
“Blockchain technology allows for increased transparency, gives African countries freedom from the international monopolies that control how funds move, and can contribute towards improving KYC/AML policies to the sector and others.”
Cryptocurrency and blockchain technology can be the driver of Africa’s Industrial Revolution, he said.
“I see a future in which central banks sit down with the innovators to find ways of benefiting from this technology. It could be our solution for an integrated regional payment platform,” said Tsvetu.