Late last year, Xi Jinping gave a speech declaring that blockchain technology presented an important breakthrough on several key areas within China and that the government intended to utilize the technology. Xi Jinping claimed that the development of distributed ledger technology provided a pivotal moment in which it allowed the Chinese state to reform and improve the inefficiencies found within the Chinese financial market. Stating that “It is necessary to explore the application of ‘blockchain’ in people’s daily life, and actively promote the application of blockchain technology in the fields of education, employment, pension, data-driven poverty alleviation, medical health, anti-counterfeiting, food safety, public welfare, social assistance, etc”. (1) Xi’s speech was in stark contrast to China’s previous posture on blockchain technology, specifically on cryptocurrencies such as BTC. But the public statement displayed that the Chinese government had finally come to an understanding on the potential blockchain technology can provide to the state. Unfortunately, most crypto evangelists took the speech to mean that the Chinese market was opening itself to the publicly traded cryptocurrencies found in crypto exchanges. An appreciation in the total crypto market capitalization only reinforced this notion that China was simply going to adopt the current, open source blockchains present. Weeks passed and China’s historical stance on cryptocurrencies was further fortified when several crypto exchanges halted or ceased services amid speculation of a crackdown within the country. (2) A contradicting development to Xi’s previous speech earlier in the year. However, there has been collaboration and developments by the state in the background that would corroborate Xi’s statements.
The foundation was laid at the 2015 World Bank Group–IMF Spring meetings. These meetings resulted in the establishment of the Universal Financial Access 2020 (UFA2020) initiative. The World Bank Group along with both private and public sector partners, committed themselves to promote and enable global financial inclusion in a multi-year program. With the intentions of enabling individuals who are not currently connected to the financial system, to have access to a transaction account to store money while also being able to send and receive payments. Setting a goal of enabling one billion unfinanced individuals to gain access by 2020. Their approach being the development of a platform that has a biometric identity database, virtual payment addressing, and digital payment interoperability. (3)
At the time, there were over 30 partners that committed towards the UFA2020 initiative. Participants that now include the likes of Alipay, Du Xiaoman Financial (Baidu), BBVA Microfinance Foundation, CFPA Microfinance, Confederation of West African Financial Institutions (CIF), MasterCard, Pakistan Microfinance Network, State Bank of India, VISA, etc. (4) With each of these partners doing independent projects or collaborations to meet the UFA2020’s target.
One such program that was spawned from the UFA2020 initiative, was the Financial Inclusion Global Initiative (FIGI). A three-year program formed by the collaboration between the World Bank Group, the Committee on Payments and Market Infrastructure (CPMI), and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). The program is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (5) Their collective goal is “to support and accelerate the implementation of country-led reform actions to meet national financial inclusion targets, and ultimately the global ‘Universal Financial Access 2020’ goal”. (5) This subgroup plans to utilize the “work of the CPMI-World Bank Group Task Force on the Payment Aspects of Financial Inclusion (PAFI), the BMGF’s Level One Project, and the ITU Focus Group – Digital Financial Services, to deliver implementation solutions, deep topical analyses and practical investigations, working toward the goal of Universal Financial Access by 2020”. (5)
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Level One Project is recognized by followers of Ripple due to the project’s development and intention of utilizing the Interledger Protocol to address interoperability between financial systems while helping lower the costs in developing inclusive payment platforms. Thru panels held at the FIGI symposiums, there is apparent dialogue and collaboration between the FIGI organization, the World Bank, and Ripple. (6)
The main purpose of the FIGI receiving grant money from the BMGF in 2017, was to accelerate financial inclusion in developing countries. With three countries being selected to be the focus of the initiative. Those countries being Mexico, Egypt, and China since they contain millions of unbanked individuals. (7) Ultimately, the development and progression of the initiative will be used as models for digital financial inclusion innovations around the globe. And regarding the selected countries, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) specifically requested support from the World Bank Group to aid in bridging the gap between the Chinese financial system and their citizens found in remote areas. (7)
Interesting enough, the FIGI initiative aligned with other partnerships and projects in 2017. Partnerships that were composed of Ripple, Huawei, Mojaloop, etc. As some in the Ripple/XRP community might remember, officials from the PBOC visited the San Francisco Ripple offices in August 2017. (8) The community speculated on numerous possibilities on why Ripple was being visited by PBOC officials but there was no disclosed explanation of the meeting between Ripple and the PBOC. But looking at other announcements from 2017 chronologically, some perspective on the PBOC and Ripple meeting can be gained.
First, the PBOC sought guidance and help by the World Bank Group to foster financial inclusion innovation within the country. The FIGI under the UFA2020 initiative, choose China to be one of the three countries focused on fostering innovation early 2017. In August 2017, the PBOC visited the Ripple offices in San Francisco. Two months later, BMGF and Ripple’s collaboration and development on Mojaloop was publicized. (9) Yet one aspect of the announcement on Mojaloop that was overlooked was that four mobile systems companies were brought to help develop an Open API for mobile money interoperability. Those companies being Ericsson, Telepin, Mahindra Comviva, and Huawei. (10) And with a document from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) on “Digital Currency including Digital Fiat Currency”, we know that the Mojaloop API was designed by the four mobile companies that included Huawei. (11) Huawei and the BMGF have also been collaborating on promoting interoperability and financial inclusion since the previous year. Late 2016, Huawei announced partnership with the Gates Foundation on the Level One Project. (12) With the partnership focusing on developing “scalable, low-cost, interoperable and fraud resistant payment systems will be based on open Application Programming Interfaces (API’s) and help people in the world’s poorest regions improve their lives and build sustainable futures by connecting them with digitally based financial tools and services”. (12) Coincidentally occurring right when the Mojaloop API was being developed in the same Level One Project. Nonetheless, the Mojaloop API seems to be both an innovation and solution both Huawei and the BMGF sought to develop in their partnership.
We know that the BMGF and Bill Gates himself, have been aware since 2016 ,of the potential revolution the Interledger Protocol can bring to the financial system1d. With Bill Gates even recognizing how Ripple’s technology can move money across countries efficiently and cheaply. (13) Although Ripple’s known involvement in China is thru LianLian Pay and some possible penetration thru third parties such as AirWallex, there appears to be a potential utilization of the Mojaloop API thru Huawei in FIGI’s project within China. This can potentially explain why Ripple expanded into China with the opening of offices in the country. (14)
Outside of FIGI’s scope in China, there are other developments with UFA2020 affiliates forming and investing in projects that could leverage the Interledger Protocol. A recent example involves a group of Ripple investors and partners raising capital for Currencycloud. Currencycloud is a UK startup that has developed remittance APIs that allows any financial business to integrate money transfer services thru Currencycloud’s platform. A duo of Ripple shareholders in SBI and Siam Commercial Bank participated in the Series E round for the UK startup. But interesting enough, VISA and the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation also partook in the series round. (15) Two key members of the UFA2020 initiative. These investors intend to promote and utilize Currencycloud’s API for cross-border payments. While VISA has also entered a partnership with the UK startup. Thrugh the partnership, VISA plans to expand and improve their services by using Currencycloud’s platform. (16) Yet Currencycloud has another notable partnership with the Ripple associate, DWOLLA. DWOLLA is not only known for sharing a seat with Ripple on the US Faster Payments Council but more importantly, for their collaboration in developing the Mojaloop platform. (17) DWOLLA will be leveraging the UK startup’s platform to expand their network for coverage on 38 currencies in 180 countries. (16) And on a final note, Currenycloud has an impressive group of clients that includes The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (16) Furgther adding another affiliate to the assortment of UFA2020 and Ripple partners involved with Currencycloud. (16)
Looking at announcements or projects through the perspective of promoting and expanding the Universal Financial Access 2020 initiative, one can conceivably see the purpose and structure of collaborations done by Ripple associates to possibly promote adoption of the Interledger Protocol.
LATAM: Low Interoperability Highlights Crypto’s Big Potential
Across Latin America, a fragmented payments landscape has resulted in low interoperability, often leading to high fees for both senders and receivers of payments. Regulators in the region are working — with varying progress and approaches — to enable real-time payment options that foster greater interoperability, increase financial inclusion, generate revenue for banks and businesses and help protect economies from global market volatility. With use cases like inbound remittance flows seen as a critical component of GDP for numerous LATAM countries, identifying ways to reduce costs associated with those remittances is a key driver of regional growth.
At the same time, central banks are becoming more interested in re-examining their relationship with crypto, creating an opening for the crypto and blockchain sectors to help bring forth a unified LATAM payments system to make low-cost, faster and more seamless transactions a real possibility. Of course, not all crypto is created equal. Using a digital asset that was designed specifically for payments will be key to implementing a successful digital payments system that can handle high transaction volumes without friction.
Latin America as a region is highly dependent on the US dollar: from US remittance flows and USD as a reserve currency, to economies like Costa Rica and El Salvador that use dollars interchangeably with local bills. Some LATAM businesses even use USD as a liquidity source by routing payments through American banks to transfer funds to international accounts within the region. This reliance on USD means crypto adoption in the States is likely to have a major impact on crypto adoption in Latin America.
There are also various new fintech players in the market that are working to get involved in consumer payments. From an awareness standpoint, for example, the sponsorship of football clubs across the region by crypto exchanges is helping to bolster public understanding of how to access crypto. Public adoption and embrace of crypto as an alternative to cash holdings or bank accounts is also gaining popularity in some countries as an easier, less volatile alternative to local currency. In one case, the use of crypto as an alternative to cash is being promoted by the government in El Salvador where the adoption of Bitcoin as legal tender is significant. And there are central banks, like that of Brazil and Mexico, that have recognized the value and potential of crypto and have started developing and providing their customers with digital wallets.
Because Brazil is often a leader in Latin America in the adoption of new technology, it’s worth noting that the country is driving smart and progressive crypto use and regulation. In March of 2022, Brazil announced that it had selected nine projects to advance in its quest to develop a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC), indicating a real thirst for a digital future. Brazil’s central bank has also been ahead of the curve in showing public-facing interest in the potential of DeFi, NFTs and even the metaverse. And in terms of consumer adoption, Brazil is seeing crypto trading activity boom, portending a bright crypto future for the region.
From a compliance perspective, businesses in the region are able to use the same fiat compliance measures, like Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML), for crypto transactions to ensure the safety of these flows and help protect the integrity of the financial system.
Barriers and Challenges to Success
Because crypto has, at times, been perceived as a threat to the established bank sector — which has historically controlled the financial markets and influenced regulatory and legal structures in the region — any major movement toward crypto is likely to encounter some level of structural resistance. As payments infrastructure is often dictated by larger banks and their governmental relationships, this could make it difficult for digital banks to compete for market share on a level playing field. But, in fact, as we’ll describe below, crypto offers all kinds of financial institutions powerful new business opportunities.
From a consumer perspective, there is also a disconnect between traditional banking and the use of money for everyday transactions across many LATAM economies. Lower incomes often equate to less acceptance of fee-based banking services, meaning that both convenience and efficiency take a backseat to value in many markets. This can manifest itself in people being more willing to wait in line to pay cash rather than incur a fee for an online transaction that might be completed in seconds. Without implementing better ways to make digital payments and financial services available, large sections of the LATAM economy are often left underbanked.
Lastly, with such a high dependency on USD and US clearing institutions, as costs rise in the States, fear and volatility in the LATAM marketplace also rise. The possibility of insulation from other regions’ financial swings underscores a major reason why achieving interoperability across Latin America and avoiding the de-risking trend in the US is so critical for LATAM economies.
Opportunities and What’s Next
There is a lucrative opening for traditional banks, fintechs and governments to increase adoption of crypto-forward technology to address this underbanked and fragmented market. These challenges will be much easier to solve once digital banks have more ready access to the market, helping drive down high fees and frictions associated with institutionally-controlled transactions. This will also help move people away from physical cash and into the digital payments space — increasing convenience for consumers and creating new markets for both businesses and banks without heavy reliance on the traditional US banking sector.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on both consumers and banks in the region that have historically relied on cash transactions. Many financial institutions are already seeing growth in digital payments due to an uptick in cashless transactions as the region looks for safer, quicker and more convenient payments alternatives. An Americas Market Intelligence study shows that Brazil’s banked population grew to 88% in 2021 with Chile not far behind at 82%. Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru all experienced growth that year as well. The region will need to continue prioritizing foundational infrastructures like internet connection, electricity, and institutional trust for digital payments to remain viable and financially inclusive.
Smart and progressive regulation will beget further successful regulation — leading to increased innovation and progress around crypto across Latin America. In the wake of the regulatory debate happening in the United States, there is a large opportunity for banks and fintechs to work with regional regulators to create smart public policy frameworks to ensure that all boats rise.
LATAM is a diverse and varied region, with both developed and emerging economies breaking into the digital payments landscape to varying degrees. But by finding interoperability across the region, Latin America can become more financially independent, more financially attractive to outside investment, and more financially inclusive.
Learn how Ripple’s payments solution can help absorb price fluctuations, allowing for more certainty, visibility and transparency in real-time payments.
For the Love of NFTs: VSA Partners and Rare Air Media Bring Jordan NFTs to the XRPL
Non-Fungible Tokens, or NFTs, are creating tremendous opportunities for creators and collectors of art, memorabilia, and other digital assets. Since the initial launch of Ripple’s Creator Fund, we have seen incredible momentum and exciting NFT use cases come to life on the XRP Ledger (XRPL). Creators like Justin Bua, xPunks, and Sebring Revolution continue to prove out tokenization projects and capabilities for metaverses, gaming, art and beyond.
Making Waves in Media & Entertainment
Now Rare Air Media, producer of Michael Jordan’s visual autobiography For the Love of the Game, is getting into the NFT game, too. The company is working with VSA Partners, the premier creative agency partner to Ripple’s Creator Fund, to design, develop, and market a range of NFTs on the XRPL, including a one-of-a-kind selection of digital assets covering former NBA player Michael Jordan’s life and storied career. The first batch of NFTs is expected to hit the market in Q2 2022 and will include an intimate selection of original, momentous images of Michael Jordan, accompanied by his personal thoughts and observations leading up to the photo.
As additional use cases for programmable, functional NFTs continue to be built out and tested across industries, the media & entertainment space has been among the earliest adopters of the technology: expanding NFT use cases across music, sports, ticketing, access rights, and beyond. From celebrities like Snoop Dogg and Paris Hilton, to professional athletes like LeBron James, and major brands including Disney and the Grammys — it seems there is no shortage of possibilities for NFT applications in the industry.
High-profile brands, celebrities and their agencies have specialized needs when it comes to identity and ownership of digital assets. The unique security and identification attributes of distributed ledger technology have opened up extraordinary opportunities for creators of digital content to not only assign value to their work, but to profit from it and share behind-the-scenes stories with an even wider audience. With more and more collectors coming aboard the blockchain train, both sides of digital asset commerce can be confident in the assets they purchase and create.
Why Create NFTs on the XRPL?
The XRP Ledger has ease of use and native token functionality built-in by design. Released in January, NFT-Devnet — a beta environment built to enhance NFT support on the XRPL — lowers the technical barriers to entry for those looking to get started either creating and minting their own NFTs or on behalf of their customers and their brands.
A couple of the key benefits to using XRPL for NFT creation include:
- Speed: each transaction on the XRPL takes no more than 3-5 seconds to complete.
- Low Cost: at fractions of a penny per transaction, costs are inexpensive enough to enable a wide variety of NFT use cases.
- Sustainable: the XRPL is the first major blockchain to be carbon-neutral — maintaining neutrality since 2020 — and is more efficient than leading proof-of-work blockchains.
- Simplicity: NFT capabilities on the XRP Ledger pre-program all activities that an NFT user may wish to complete, including minting, burning, trading, requiring royalties, and more.
Created for All Creators
Whether you are new to the NFT space or are looking for a new ledger to build on, the XRPL is customizable to meet your NFT needs—large or small. As one contributor to the growing XRPL community, we’re working closely with developers, creators, marketplaces, creative agencies and brands to help define the future of NFTs and the tokenization of assets in a low-cost, sustainable and accessible way.
As the Creator Fund and its supported NFT projects continue to grow and gain momentum, especially across the media & entertainment industry, it’s likely we will continue to see expanded uses and partnerships take shape—not only on the XRPL but across the broader tokenization landscape as a whole.
CBDCs: From the “Hype” to the “How” of Making Financial Inclusion a Reality – Part 2
In our recent survey of over 1,600 financial leaders across 22 countries, we uncovered some pretty astounding insights: A whopping 85% of payment leaders at financial institutions globally think their country will launch a digital currency in the next four years.
If these last two years in a pandemic have taught us anything, it’s that time flies. So this begs the question: What needs to happen between now and four years from now in order to make those launches possible? It turns out there’s quite a bit to consider, not only as central bankers and commercial bankers, but as individuals as well.
In our first post on this topic, we discussed why the term “financial inclusion” has become such a buzzword when talking about Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs), and how we at Ripple succinctly define it (hint: making financial services available to people who don’t have access to them today). While the insight gleaned from our research is promising and the uptick in global CBDC exploration encouraging, there is still much to be addressed in regards to how the implementation of these digital currencies will impact society, and what primary hurdles we need to collectively overcome in order to achieve that vision of a more financially inclusive future.
Key Use Cases: A Quick Recap
As a refresher, in the first post we identified three primary use cases where we see CBDCs having the biggest immediate impact on financial inclusion across the payments and financial landscape: cross-border remittances, access to peer-to-peer (P2P) loans, and the ability to establish credit history.
If properly planned for and implemented, the application of digital currency technology to these use cases has the potential to dramatically change the landscape for the better, making the world a more accessible and inclusive place. Across all of these use cases, however, there is a consistent set of practical hurdles to solve: education, user experience, identity, offline access and security. In the first post, we covered education and user experience, so let’s dive into identity, offline access and security, and how CBDCs can help clear these hurdles.
Key Hurdles to Implementation: Going Beyond the Hype
Developed countries require a national identity to open a bank account, which poses inclusivity problems in and of itself. For citizens who don’t have a family name, a passport, a driver’s license or any other form of identification, this presents a seemingly insurmountable hurdle. We need non-traditional ways of establishing identity for those people to gain access to financial services. With the use of a CBDC, those individuals would have the ability to be associated with a digital wallet, allowing them to meet basic Know Your Customer (KYC) requirements for identity verification. For example, in places where mobile phone usage is high but access to financial services is low, leveraging registered SIM cards and mobile phones as a way of proving identity for payments without a traditional ID number could help create a threshold to meet these requirements.
Even in countries like the US, there is ample opportunity for digital currency-backed solutions to improve current processes related to payments and identity. In the case of the pandemic, governments around the world were challenged to extend stimulus funds to those without bank accounts or because of technology limitations. Funds were delayed, or had to be issued by paper check—or people slipped through the cracks altogether. With a CBDC, stimulus monies could be distributed instantly and directly to every citizen with a mobile phone—regardless of bank account or ID status—via a digital wallet using similar SIM card/mobile methods.
In order to access and use CBDCs, internet access is required. CBDC usage will grow with internet usage through mobile devices, especially given the increasing rate of smartphone penetration throughout the world. However, implementing critical telecommunications infrastructure won’t be enough to match the pace of innovation needed to ensure constantly available internet access on a 24/7 basis. This goes for both developing nations and countries like the US, where currently 7% of all Americans say they don’t use the internet.
CBDC platform design needs to consider offline access. Having internet access as a prerequisite to success may harm CBDC adoption and usage, both for those without regular access to the internet and for instances where unexpected power outages occur or devices run out of battery, for example.
With this in mind, CBDCs that provide alternate solutions—particularly those that don’t require constant charging and can run without a direct power source or internet connection for consecutive days or weeks—and can accommodate offline scenarios will be critical to implementation. One example of how to solve for offline access could be a solution that mirrors the Indian e-Rupi, which leverages digital voucher mechanisms such as QR codes that can be printed offline and scanned to make retail purchases.
This is one idea of many being piloted, and we believe even better solutions will surface. As overall CBDC adoption and usage continues to grow, it will be critical for central banks and governments to proactively think about how to enable offline access, built in by design.
While the use of digital currencies and digital wallets holds a lot of promise for financial inclusion, it also poses potential security risks. With a bigger chunk of the global population making payments, transferring funds, and managing finances on their mobile devices, new vulnerabilities arise.
These security breaches can come in both physical and digital form. For example, simply leaving your phone at a restaurant or other public place, or having it stolen on public transportation. Virtual risks can include anything from phishing scams and social engineering hacks, to Denial-of-Service (DoS) and double-spend attacks. While a lot of people already use financial apps on their mobile devices and are aware of these risks, many do not and this will likely be a barrier to entry for those people.
Luckily there are ways to avoid and mitigate these risks with the use of CBDCs. One such solution is a blockchain-based CBDC that uses a multi-signature (“multi-sig”) wallet. This means at least two other trusted parties would hold credentials to that same wallet to help ensure no unauthorized use or access. These other trusted parties could be the central bank itself and/or family members or other contacts of the mobile device owner. Additionally, by imposing spending limits and methods to track transaction frequency when the CBDC user is offline, the impact of such attacks would be greatly reduced.
Paving a Path Forward
While there is work to be done to pave the way for a CBDC-driven future, the journey ahead is an exciting one and undoubtedly promises a more inclusive, sustainable financial system. Digital currencies offer many additional benefits that are currently unmatched in today’s financial landscape, and we’re confident that central banks, commercial banks, and society as a whole can work together to overcome the hurdles and create a clear path forward as we continue to prove out the technology, pilot projects around the world, and ensure equal and equitable access.
Download our CBDC whitepaper to learn more.
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