Argentines have been looking for cryptocurrencies to protect themselves from the volatility of the peso. That’s where the startup Ripio saw the opportunity to leverage its business. The Argentine fintech which defines itself as a “promoter of the new digital economy”, builds financial products using blockchain.
The economic tension caused by the new coronavirus crisis has aggravated Argentina‘s fragile fiscal situation, leading to a further drop in the peso against the dollar. After years of crisis, high inflation, and high foreign debt, the dollar is the only currency that counts for Argentines when making an important transaction, such as buying or selling a property.
Cryptocurrency may be another solution for Argentines to protect themselves from the volatility of their currency. At least that’s what Ripio’s CFO, Matías Dajcz thinks. His mission is to convince Argentines that technology can be as reliable as the dollar.
The startup is one of several cryptocurrency bets in Latin America, but it is the fastest-growing one in the region, it says. In addition to Argentina, Ripio also operates in Brazil, Mexico, Uruguay, and Spain.
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Ripio translated from Spanish means gravel. “Like gravel, we open new paths,” says the company that wants to provide financial inclusion to the unbanked population, which means almost half of people in Argentina, according to data from World Bank Global Findex in 2017.
After 22 years in the traditional banking industry, Dajcz has been working at Ripio for two and a half years. The startup has already made four investment rounds, raising $4.6 million.
The startup was born seven years ago as the first bitcoin payment processor in Latin America, under the name Bitpagos. Today, Ripio offers a digital wallet, in addition to exchange and credit services.
The digital wallet allows the user to buy, sell, store, and transfer Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Users can open a free account and make a deposit by bank transfer or through MercadoPago to buy digital assets. “Our main product is a digital wallet designed for those users that want to buy and store crypto but don’t necessarily know how to read the market or trade crypto assets. The main options are simple: deposit and withdraw funds (in local currency) and buy or sell crypto at a market price,” explains the CFO.
The exchange platform is made for real-time cryptocurrency trading. It is built for crypto-savvy users, who can place buy and sell orders at their preferred price and also choose between different types of orders.
Last month, the World Economic Forum released the 20th edition of its Technology Pioneers, a community that, each year, selects one-hundred early to growth-stage companies from all over the globe that are pioneering new technologies and innovations. In this latest edition, four companies in the group are Latin Americans: CargoX, Descomplica, NotCo, and Ripio.
How can crypto be a way in Argentina’s current economic situation?
The problem of currency devaluation in Argentina has become a breeding ground for cryptocurrencies in the country. Ripio currently has 500,000 users. “We have been experiencing a huge increase in users on our platforms since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Dajcz.
During the second quarter of this year, Ripio experienced an immediate boost in its operations and the transaction volume tripled. “People are looking for new financial alternatives, mainly in Latin America, and we see how cryptocurrency is slowly approaching mass adoption due to the current situation,” he explains.
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For the CFO, now is the right time to bet on crypto in the country and in Latin America as well.
Argentina has one of the largest crypto communities in the world and is also a hub for blockchain development, says Dajcz, adding that this is related to the aforementioned historical economic crisis, significant devaluations of the peso and high rates of inflation. “This has resulted in younger people, aged between 18 and 30, walking towards cryptocurrency, instead of traditional investment options.”
According to Dajcz, most Argentines who entered the cryptocurrency market to protect themselves from deflation used to buy foreign currency every month and started buying crypto assets in the wake of US dollars. “The huge increase in demand for dollar-linked stablecoins is a clear sign of this scenario,” he says.
As buying foreign currency is currently limited in the country, crypto-savvy users turn to stablecoins such as USDC or Dai as an alternative. In addition to the well-known Bitcoin, Dai and the USD Coin entered Ripio’s portfolio with the proposal to remain anchored to the American currency. That is, effectively backed by a fund composed of traditional assets.
In the case of USD Coin, for each coin issued, there is a US dollar stored in a bank account that is constantly monitored and audited by different agents, such as financial entities and other companies in the sector.
“These crypto-assets gained a lot of popularity because stablecoin holders don’t need to expose themselves to more volatile assets such as Bitcoin or Ethereum. Most stablecoins peg their price to the US dollar, as it is the most widely adopted fiat currency worldwide,” he says.
Dai stablecoin, in its turn, is backed by other digital assets but also seeks to guarantee parity with the dollar, using other cryptocurrencies (mainly Ethereum or ETH) as a backup, through a decentralized collateral system. That is why it is also called ‘cryptodollars’.