Bitcoin for the unbanked


By Frank Karsten

A comedian once joked: “I’ve seen a bank that says ’24 hour banking’, but I don’t have that much time.”

According to the World Bank, more than a billion people in the world do not have access to banking services. In Morocco, Nigeria and the Philippines, more than 50% of the population is unbanked. For them there is only “zero hour banking”. Fortunately, Bitcoin can offer a solution, because it is so accessible that you can even create your own account for your goldfish!

In developing countries, banks often refuse a new customer because they have too little money or do not have a permanent address. Many live in rural areas and are therefore out of reach of a bank branch. Others are simply illiterate and cannot read the bank contract. In Saudi Arabia, women even have to get permission from their husbands to have their own bank account.

Without a bank account, you experience many disadvantages that you and I hardly realize as bank account holders. Because everything has to be done in cash, you run the risk of being robbed or robbed. You have to store your savings in a tin, sock or mattress, which offers little security. Plus, the mattress doesn’t pay interest!

Cheap and fast banking services are an important condition for economic growth. If you only have cash, it often takes a lot of time, money and effort to make payments.

One of the Bitcoin mottos is: “Be your own bank”. Bitcoin gives anyone with a smartphone the ability to make financial transactions and store value. A twelve-year-old Nigerian girl can also simply install a wallet application (like Muun) and be in business within five minutes. She doesn’t even have to give her name or age, she doesn’t have to ask anyone for permission and no one has to know. If she has a small business, she can instantly accept Bitcoin payments from customers with a simple QR code.

With Bitcoin, you can also hedge against currency devaluation, something poorer countries especially suffer from. Argentina had 100% inflation last year, and Lebanon and Venezuela even more than 200%. Their citizens could see all their savings evaporate within a few years.

By paying and receiving transactions in Bitcoin, citizens can protect themselves from this. Because although it has strong price fluctuations, this cryptocurrency is more stable in value than most government currencies in the longer term.

Around 2008, inflation in Zimbabwe was so high that the central bank issued notes worth up to 100 billion dollars. The economy collapsed and although everyone was a billionaire, almost everyone was starving. If enough people could use Bitcoin, there would not have been an economic collapse.

Bitcoin is democratizing financial services. But much still needs to be done to help all the unbanked. Wider acceptance is needed so that people can easily pay and be paid with it. Fortunately, this is happening quickly, partly because smartphones are becoming cheaper and because internet access is becoming more and more common.

But political acceptance is also important. In 2021, El Salvador became the first country in the world to declare Bitcoin legal tender and even allow people to pay taxes with it. This example was followed last year by the Central African Republic, one of the poorest countries in the world. These are relatively small but important successes.

Every time another country gets into monetary trouble, it will increase interest in Bitcoin – a currency that cannot be manipulated by anyone and a “bank” that never closes.

Perhaps Bitcoin can mean more than traditional development aid, because you can only realize a strong economy with a strong currency.

  • Frank Karsten is the author of The Discrimination Myth ( and co-author of The Democracy Beyond (