Kenyan remittances provider, BitPesa has launched a beta version of its affordable Bitcoin remittance service for Kenyans. BitPesa’s fee will be a flat 3% and will handle transfers on both ends; users buy bitcoins on the one end and recipients receive Kenyan shillings on the other. According to the company’s CEO, Elizabeth Rossiello, “we are taking bitcoin, translating it into the local currency, and dispersing it the way people know.”
“Everybody has a phone,” she said. “You’re on a boat in the Indian Ocean with the fishermen, and they’re checking their text messages.” Kenya also has a higher percentage of citizens with bank accounts that most other places in Africa. “They’re way more financially knowledgeable than people give them credit for. You have to go way into the bush to find people who aren’t.”
According to Kenya’s Central Bank, last year, Kenyans remitted about $1.3 billion back home. In aggregate money transfer fees through services like Western Union and MoneyGram to African countries can be as high as 13% according to the World Bank. Sub Saharan Africa as a region has the world’s highest remittances costs.
Longterm, Rossiello sees BitPesa as being on the leading edge of a financial and technology boom in Kenya that can be helped by the open nature of digital currencies like Bitcoin. “The beauty of the system is it’s decentralized,” she said, “it makes it very easy to use the protocol.”