Introduction to Unbanked

The term 'unbanked' refers to individuals or communities that do not use banks or financial institutions for their monetary transactions. They operate in an economy that relies mainly on cash transactions and are not availed of traditional banking services such as credit cards, savings or checking accounts, loans, etc.

The Concept of Being 'Unbanked'

The concept of being 'unbanked' is often associated with developing or under-developed countries wherein banking infrastructures are minimal or non-existent. A lack of access to simple, affordable financial services can severely limit economic growth and stability. It includes all marginalized sections of the society such as low-income families, migrants or people in remote areas where banking facilities are limited or costly.

Reasons for being unbanked can vary. It might be due to a lack of trust in the banking system, limited understanding of how it works, high transaction fees, or institutes requiring a certain threshold account balance which they cannot afford.

Relevance in Today's Global Economic Context

In the modern, digitalized world, being unbanked can set communities at a significant disadvantage. Financial inclusion plays a key role in poverty reduction by enabling people to save for potential financial shocks, invest in opportunities, or avail of credit facilities.

The rise of digital currencies like Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has introduced a potential game-changer for millions of unbanked individuals. As cryptocurrencies are decentralized digital assets that allow peer to peer transactions over the internet, they are independent of traditional banking systems. This makes them a promising solution for those who cannot access traditional banking services.

Mobile technology and the internet have made it conceivable for low-income individuals in remote areas to use smartphones to handle cryptocurrency transactions. Cryptocurrency wallets and blockchain technology could offer a cost-effective, efficient, and secure alternative to traditional banking.

While there are issues to be addressed, like volatility of cryptocurrency values and regulatory challenges, potentially, cryptocurrencies can provide financial services to the unbanked, helping them to participate in the global economy and further economic development in these areas.

Unbanked Population & Cryptocurrency

Unbanked Population & Cryptocurrency

The term 'unbanked' refers to individuals who do not have an account at a formal financial institution. This population is invariably found among the poor and in developing countries. According to the World Bank, around 1.7 billion adults worldwide remain unbanked—without an account at a financial institution or through a mobile money provider.

Struggles in Traditional Banking Systems

Several challenges are being faced by such massive unbanked population when dealing with traditional banking systems. These issues persist due to geographical constraints, lack of necessary documentation, unproven credit-worthiness, and high costs associated with setting up and maintaining bank accounts.

  • Geographical Constraints: Many of the unbanked reside in rural or remote areas where banking infrastructure is sparse or non-existent, making it challenging to access basic financial services.
  • Lack of Documentation: Traditional banks require a slew of documentation to open an account. However, the unbanked often lack necessary identification or supporting documents.
  • Unproven Credit-worthiness: The unbanked usually have no credit history, making it difficult for banks to assess them for loan eligibility.
  • High Costs: The charges associated with opening and maintaining a bank account may be beyond the financial capacity of the unbanked. Furthermore, marginalized communities often suffer from financial illiteracy, further exacerbating their exclusion from traditional banking.

Cryptocurrency as a Viable Solution

Cryptocurrency—digital or virtual currency secured by cryptography—has the potential to address many issues faced by the unbanked. The decentralized nature of cryptocurrencies allows anyone with a smartphone and internet connection to create a digital wallet, bypassing the traditional banking system.

  • Accessibility: Cryptocurrency allows for 'banking' directly from smartphones, providing a solution to geographical constraints.
  • Low Costs: Transactions with cryptocurrencies are generally cheaper than traditional banking, especially for cross-border payments.
  • Identification: Some cryptocurrencies employ identification protocols that are less stringent than those of banks, providing plausible solutions for individuals lacking in official documentation.
  • Financial Inclusion: By allowing easy access to financial services, cryptocurrencies could significantly boost financial inclusion, economic growth and poverty reduction.

Overall, while cryptocurrency adoption among the unbanked hinges on several factors such as internet accessibility, regulatory acceptance, and the mitigation of risk associated with crypto-assets volatility. It nonetheless presents an innovative solution to banking the unbanked.

The Role of Cryptocurrency in Empowering Unbanked

The Role of Cryptocurrency in Empowering Unbanked

Cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, offer a new pathway for economic independence for the world's unbanked people, or those without access to traditional banking services. This digital currency revolution introduces several benefits over traditional financial institutions, such as accessibility, microtransactions, and the elimination of cumbersome paperwork and KYC processes.


The key advantage of cryptocurrencies is their higher level of accessibility compared to traditional banks. Cryptocurrencies are essentially decentralized, meaning they are not controlled by any single governing entity, such as a bank or government. This means people can access and trade cryptocurrencies anywhere, anytime, as long as they have internet access. This is especially beneficial to those in remote or underdeveloped areas, where traditional banking services are limited or non-existent.


Microtransactions, or small financial transactions, are typically not feasible with traditional financial systems due to the fees associated with them. However, the advent of cryptocurrencies and their underlying technology, blockchain, makes these transactions not only possible, but also efficient. With cryptocurrencies, even the poorest individuals can engage in economic activities, such as buying small amounts of goods or services, without the burden of hefty transaction fees.

Absence of Paperwork and KYC Procedures

The traditional banking system often requires a solid amount of paperwork and Know-Your-Customer (KYC) processes, which can be overwhelming to the unbanked. These processes usually need proofs of identity, address, income, and other documents, which unbanked individuals might not have. Cryptocurrencies provide a way around this problem. While some digital currency exchanges do require verification, there are platforms and methods where individuals can buy, sell, or trade cryptocurrencies without extensive verification processes, thereby making it an accessible option for the unbanked.


The potential of cryptocurrencies to empower the unbanked cannot be overstated. By offering an accessible, cost-effective, and less bureaucratic alternative to traditional banking, these digital currencies open new economic opportunities for people who have been left behind by traditional financial systems.

Case Studies of Unbanked Adopting Cryptocurrency

Case Studies of Unbanked Adopting Cryptocurrency

In Venezuela, a country facing hyperinflation, political instability, and sanctions, Bitcoin provides a stable and more secure way for citizens to store their wealth. Many Venezuelans trust the decentralized cryptocurrency more than their own national currency, the Bolivar, as it is not subject to the whims of a volatile government. Cryptocurrency has also provided a lifeline for Venezuelans to receive remittances from abroad, thus sustaining families in desperate times. Bitcoin is openly traded on Venezuelan exchanges, and in the local Peer to Peer (P2P) market, signifying its integration into the country's economic activities.

Case Study 2: Unbanked populations in Africa and Cryptocurrency Adoption

In Africa, with a significant portion of the population being unbanked, cryptocurrency offers a new possibility of financial inclusion. Many individuals use cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin and Ethereum, for cross-border transactions, eliminating the need for expensive foreign exchange fees typically charged by banks. This has been particularly beneficial for small businesses and freelance workers who operate internationally. Countries such as Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya have shown particularly high adoption rates. In fact, a report by Chainalysis in 2020 showed that monthly cryptocurrency transfers to and from Africa under $10,000 had increased by 55% over the past year, amounting to $316 million in June. This shows the rising relevance of cryptocurrency in the local economies.

Case Study 3: The Philippines and Cryptocurrency

The Philippines has been another region where unbanked populations have embraced cryptocurrencies. In a country where over 70% of citizens don't have a bank account, cryptocurrencies provide an accessible alternative for transferring funds. Since its introduction, Bitcoin has been embraced as a way to send and receive money across the country's scattered islands, making it a vital part of many Filipinos' lives. Apps like Coins.ph have made it simple for people to convert their digital currency into local Philippine pesos. According to the Central Bank of Philippines, the volume of transactions using digital currencies doubled to $390.37 million in the first half of 2018 from $189.18 million in 2017 highlighting the influence of cryptocurrencies on the local economy.

Case Study 4: Zimbabwe and Bitcoin

Zimbabwe has faced economic instability, including cash shortages and a collapsing currency. Amid these challenges, Bitcoin has emerged as a promising option. When the government banned the use of foreign currencies in 2019, Bitcoin became valuable for individuals trying to build and preserve their wealth. The use of cryptocurrency has become a practical solution for cross-border transactions, maintaining business transactions, and essentially contributing to the growth of the informal economy, despite the government's inconsistent stance on cryptocurrencies.

Potential Challenges for Unbanked Using Cryptocurrency

Potential Challenges for Unbanked Using Cryptocurrency

The unbanked, referring to those without access to traditional banking services, may face significant technological barriers when adopting cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Cryptocurrencies require internet access and a digital device like a smartphone or a computer for transactions. For the unbanked, who often live in remote or impoverished areas, acquiring such resources can present a major hurdle.

Literacy Challenges

Also posing a challenge is the level of literacy and education required to navigate the cryptocurrency ecosystem. Cryptocurrencies operate on complex principles of advanced mathematics and computer science, making them difficult to understand for individuals without advanced education. In places where the unbanked population resides, there is often a high rate of illiteracy, further exacerbating the problem.

Regulatory Issues

Regulations worldwide are still catching up to the rapid development of cryptocurrencies. Regulatory uncertainty can inhibit the adoption of cryptocurrencies among the unbanked. They may face legal impediments or lack of governmental acceptance in their respective countries. In some cases, governments have outright banned cryptocurrencies, which obviously puts a definitive stop to their adoption by the unbanked.

Volatility of the Cryptocurrency Market

Cryptocurrency markets are known for their extreme volatility. The value of assets like Bitcoin can fluctuate wildly in a very short time, presenting a significant risk for holders. This instability can deter the unbanked, who may already be financially vulnerable, from adopting cryptocurrency as a reliable store of value.

Fraud and Security Concerns

Cryptocurrencies also face issues related to fraud and security. Since cryptocurrency transactions are irreversible and wallets can be vulnerable to hacks, individuals risk losing their holdings without any recourse. For the unbanked, who may lack the resources to protect themselves or recover from such losses, this risk presents a significant barrier to adoption.

Usability and Understanding

Finally, the practicality of using cryptocurrencies for everyday transactions can be challenging for the unbanked. Cryptocurrencies often come with high transaction fees and long wait times, which could be discouraging. Furthermore, the unbanked might struggle with understanding how to effectively use cryptocurrencies, as they often involve somewhat complicated processes like digital wallets, private keys, and blockchain explorers.

The Future for Unbanked with Cryptocurrency

The Future for Unbanked with Cryptocurrency

Cryptocurrency, a type of digital or virtual currency, is becoming an increasingly important tool for the financially marginalized or unbanked population. The World Bank estimates there are approximately 1.7 billion unbanked adults globally, who lack access to conventional financial services such as banks. This is where cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin come into play, offering an alternative, cheaper, and more accessible financial service.

Cryptocurrencies can facilitate low-cost money transfers, which is crucial for the Unbanked who may rely on remittances. Traditional remittance methods - such as money transfer operators - can have high fees, often eating into crucial funds. Cryptocurrency transfers, however, can bypass these fees and speed up the process, irrespective of the geographical distance or local financial infrastructure.

Prospective Developments in Cryptocurrency for the Unbanked

Exciting advancements in the realm of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies continue to evolve, potentially widening accessibility and usability for the Unbanked population. This clearly signifies that the role of cryptocurrencies in financial inclusion initiatives is set to increase.


Stablecoins are a type of cryptocurrency that are designed to have a stable value, in contrast with the high volatility associated with many cryptocurrencies. Stablecoins are often pegged to a specific value, such as a commodity or a fiat currency like the US dollar. The introduction of stablecoins reduces price volatility risk, making them an attractive possibility for day-to-day transactions for the Unbanked.

DeFi (Decentralized Finance)

Decentralized Finance, or DeFi, is a blockchain-based form of finance that doesn’t rely on central financial intermediaries such as banks. DeFi applications aim to recreate traditional financial systems, such as lending and borrowing, without a middleman, in a more accessible, open, and efficient manner. For the Unbanked, this means access to financial services that were previously out of reach.

Integration with Mobile Technology

Mobile phone penetration even in remote or impoverished areas is high. By pairing mobile technology with blockchain systems, cryptocurrency wallets can become accessible even without a bank account. The development of user-friendly mobile applications for managing cryptocurrencies increases the potential for the Unbanked population to adopt this technology.

To summarize, it is clear that cryptocurrency plays, and will continue to play, an important role in providing economic empowerment to the Unbanked population worldwide. With ongoing developments and innovations in the crypto-space, it is likely that this role will only expand in the future.