As the largest cryptocurrency company in Latin America, Blockchain.com’s LatAm’s Crypto Boom blog series delves into ways countries across LatAm are utilizing cryptocurrency.
Countries leverage cryptocurrency to thrive in conditions of heightened inflation and accelerate financial inclusion for over 200 million unbanked individuals across the region.
First up in this series is Guatemala. Once the core of Mayan civilization, today Guatemala boasts a population of 18 million and is home to Central America’s largest city, Guatemala City.
Despite having the largest economy in Central America, over 50% of the population are unbanked and the country’s income distribution ranks are among the most unequal in the world.
We spoke with local crypto enthusiasts, business owners, and educators about the ways that cryptocurrency is being used to create new financial opportunities for Guatemalan citizens.
Local innovators and entrepreneurs
The crypto ecosystem is powered by innovation and Guatemalan tech start-up IBEX has made its mark on the LatAm scene by developing a transactional solution for merchants to accept bitcoin payments.
Across the border in El Salvador, IBEX has already become the official bitcoin payment partner of Starbucks El Salvador and other clients including Dominos, Wendys, and KFC.
Based in Guatemala City, IBEX Chief Technology Officer Rafa Cordon explains,
“while our biggest Central American market is El Salvador, we also have a number of Guatemala-based clients, including the microbrewery Cervecería San Roque.”
“We believe there is a strong correlation between the development of financial markets and socioeconomic well-being.”
IBEX has found a market that is eager to adopt new systems of payment. Juan José Urruela, co-founder of brewery Cervecería San Roque, shares that
“accepting bitcoin as a business was a ‘no brainer.’ IBEX has helped us attract a younger customer base through accepting crypto. Our payment fees are significantly reduced compared to credit cards.”
Cryptocurrency as an inclusive form of payment
Digital nomad-focused hostel Adra Hostel in Antigua, the former Guatemalan capital and tourism hotspot, started accepting bitcoin as a form of payment after a community meet-up hosted in the hostel explored the topic of cryptocurrency.
Adra’s owners, local husband and wife team Ricardo Ruiz and Jeaninne Ruata, were taken by what bitcoin could do for their employees. Ricardo explains,
“for us, one of the major benefits of accepting bitcoin is the opportunity for our employees to have their own individual wallets to accept tips. The majority of our employees have family members in the United States.
Sending and receiving remittances through traditional methods of transfer is expensive. Using crypto offers a low-fee solution.”
Promoting community and longevity in the tourism industry
Guatemalan-American crypto meet-up host Rishi Bond lives in Lake Atitlan, where around 60–80% of the economy is driven by tourism while 74% of its inhabitants live in poverty, 34% of whom live in extreme poverty.
“Most of the businesses at Lake Atitlan are unbanked and do not accept credit cards. If they do, banks are charging anywhere between 4.5–7% fees,” says Rishi.
“Guatemala also has a very closed banking system, so it’s not easy for tourists to spend money. ATM fees are so high and many vendors don’t accept card payments.”
After Peter McCormack, host of the podcast What Bitcoin Did came along to one of Rishi’s crypto meet-ups, Rishi and other crypto enthusiasts on the lake were inspired to develop a similar concept to El Salvador’s ‘Bitcoin Beach,’ a social program that onboards local businesses to accept bitcoin as a form of payment.
“I went to Bitcoin Beach a month after Peter’s visit and the team behind the initiative shared the first steps on how we could get started to develop our own Bitcoin Lake.
We now have 16 or 17 businesses onboarded here in San Marcos, Lake Atitlan, including Guatemala’s first street vendor to accept bitcoin.”
“As part of the onboarding process, I educate businesses on what they need to do to either hold on to their crypto (hodl) or cash out using the bitcoin ATM that we have.
Everything that we offer is absolutely free for businesses and being able to give that gift to my people, to my Guatemalans, is something that I’m very passionate about.”
While cryptocurrencies are not presently legal tender in Guatemala, associations such as the ACUCRIP (Central American Association of Cryptocurrency Users) educate chambers and universities on the potential of cryptocurrency in a high inflationary environment and recently provided training to the Minister of Economics on blockchain technology — a promising step forward in the country’s future in crypto.
We can’t wait to see what Guatemala does next.