During the Malta Blockchain AI Summit 2019 held on the blockchain island in November, The cryptonomist had the chance to interview Richard Ells, CEO at Electroneum, a company who is developing a crypto-friendly smartphone.
According to you, when will there be a crypto wallet installed by default in all smartphones?
This is hard to predict. Crypto is at its very early stages. Most experts agree we have years to go before we begin to see mass adoption. That said, we certainly believe all smartphones will have a built-in crypto wallet in the future as cryptocurrency is here to stay, particularly in the developing world, where Electroneum is focused.
Mobile phone adoption in these countries is key in helping with financial inclusion to the 1.7 billion people the World Bank says are unbanked. There are hundreds of million more who do not use their bank accounts because of the cost they represent or because they have no access to loans. So, by lowering the costs of mobile phones, as we have done, will further drive adoption of crypto and crypto wallets and help with financial inclusion.
At Electroneum, we are focused on helping people in the developing world because there is an urgent need for financial inclusion which will not only give them access to the global digital economy but also the chance to live better and bring greater prosperity to their local economies. So, from a smartphone perspective, we are leading the way in this area as we launched our M1 crypto wallet Android smartphone earlier this year, which is available through Amazon for only £59. This is part of our goal to help the unbanked and to help end financial exclusion.
Do you think the so-called unbanked can really enter the global financial system simply with their smartphones and crypto wallets?
The so-called unbanked is an interesting piece of terminology. We in the developed world refer to the financially excluded as the unbanked. They don’t walk around with a giant sign indicating their unbanked status, nor do they refer to themselves as unbanked. Using the one size fits all terminology of the unbanked will help us develop products to help real people. We need to understand what the people on the ground need so we can create the products they need.
That said, smartphones are one of the best ways to help with financial inclusion as more people in developing countries are accessing the Internet on mobile devices instead of broadband.
Smartphones have become the main way to access the Internet, particularly, in developing countries, where broadband is either non-existent or of poor quality. That means that mobile crypto wallets are one of the most powerful ways to help end financial exclusion. Electroneum’s crypto wallet does not require users to have a bank account, making it easier for the unbanked to have access to the global digital economy.
Having said that, Electroneum is not relying solely on crypto wallets on smartphones to help reduce financial exclusion. More needs to be done by all crypto projects. They need to develop ways to add value to the end user and providing them with ways to access the global digital economy other than just a crypto wallet.
Also, we are currently in the testing phases of our global freelancer platform AnyTask. We expect a full launch in the first quarter of next year. That platform along with TaskSchool, which will provide free courses for people who want to learn skills they can perform with a smartphone or a laptop and immediately, opens the doors to the digital economy to those who are financially excluded.
And parallel to both these platforms, we will launch our ETN Everywhere program aimed at bringing in thousands of more merchants, service providers and businesses where those who earn ETN through AnyTask can use the crypto to purchase everyday food staples, services and mobile top-ups.
We already have thousands of merchants and shop owners who accept ETN around the world.
There are other blockchain projects out there, such as Distributed Credit Chain that enables people to access low-cost loans. This start-up was launched by serial entrepreneur Stewie Zhu, who is on a mission to rescue those in China who are poor and because they have no option become easy prey to loan sharks who charged them interest of up to 2,000% a year to as low as 13%.
So, the answer is yes, we strongly believe that crypto and blockchain can give the unbanked access to financial services that they would not have access to otherwise.
Can the so-called digital divide adversely affect the spread of cryptocurrencies?
The issue definitely represents a significant challenge for not only cryptocurrencies but for the digital industry as a whole but Electroneum is working hard to reach as many people as possible in the most vulnerable and marginalised areas of the world.
A couple months ago, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres spoke of how inequality will get worse if this issue is not dealt with as soon as possible. The US and China have a great advantage over the rest of the world. Africa and Latin America are falling behind. On a positive note, the GSMA estimates that even by 2025 about 70% of the world population will be on the internet via a mobile device. This is very encouraging to all those projects focusing on financial exclusion via a smartphone.
Also, there is proof that a few developing countries have leapfrogged technologically from having no mobile networks or internet to 4g, 5g and even fibre broadband. This has been easy for them because they do not need to replace older infrastructure which can be very costly and time consuming.
And there are many crypto and blockchain projects focusing specifically in these areas.
One good example is the World Mobile Chain. This start-up has developed a way to easily take mobile networks to marginalised areas and are doing so with great success in Africa.
Having said that, we are doing our part to help end financial exclusion and bridge the digital divide gap through the launch of AnyTask, which will not cost anything to the seller of tasks. We are working with education-oriented non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to fast forward digital inclusion. These NGOs share our vision to deliver long-term assistance in developing countries.
We also expect to launch TaskSchool in Q1 2020. This free online learning resource will help people gain the skills they need to earn more with even just a smartphone. Since the launch in July of our Moderated Blockchain, powered by our Proof of Responsibility (PoR) protocol, our miners or block validators have engaged NGOs that have a proven track record of delivering that long-term assistance to tens of thousands of children, women and their families in developing countries.