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How many unbanked can bitcoin help?

January 20, 2017
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It is interesting to see the numbers bounced around as to how many unbanked people around the world bitcoin can help. It feels like this magic water that can help billions.

First there are reports without references. For example:

Nov 2014: Bitcoin Could Enable 3.5 Billion Financially Excluded People to Participate in World Trade – https://www.cryptocoinsnews.com/cell-phone-connected-unbanked-bitcoin-will-bank/

Mar 2016: Over 4 billion people, living in the bottom of the pyramid, with daily wages as low as $1.56 and a combined purchasing power of over 5 trillion dollars are ignored by financial organizations that cater largely to urban customers with higher income – http://www.scmspune.ac.in/chapter/2016/Chapter%2014.pdf

Where do those number came from?

Articles that provide sources such as:

Aug 2014: A World Bank report in 2012 cited cost, distance to a banking facility and bureaucratic hurdles as reasons that more than 2.5 billion of the world’s poor lack a bank account.- http://www.coindesk.com/can-bitcoin-deliver-promise-worlds-unbanked/

Feb 2015: Roughly 2.5 billion adults in the world don’t have access to banks, which means somewhere in the order of 5 billion people belong to households that are cut off from a financial system that the rest of us take for granted. -https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2015-02-26/bitcoin-unbanked

Jul 2015: More than 2 billion adults lack access to financial services such as a bank accounts and credit cards to save and borrow funds, according to the World Bank – http://www.cnbc.com/2015/07/05/can-bitcoin-help-the-worlds-unbanked.html

often site the World Bank. (The foreignaffairs.com article above is an excerpt from a book which references “Measuring Financial Inclusion,” World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 6025, April 2012”)

Andreas Antonopoulos digs a little deeper into the numbers.

Dec 2015: The 6 billion unbanked. “Three years ago, 2.5 billion adults were unbanked,” according to the World Bank. “Today, 2 billion adults remain without an account.” Antonopoulos criticizes this report, claiming that the World Bank only counts “male heads of household, which means there are 2 billion ‘unbanked families,’ rather than 2 billion people.

He further picks apart the World Bank’s methodology, pointing out that there are various levels of banking. Some only have access to a checking account in a local currency without access to international transfers or without the ability to store the fruit of their labor in other, perhaps safer currencies. Others may have more access to other national currencies, but might not be able to access financial markets and more advanced financial tools.

About 1.5 billion people, he says, have “banking of privilege where I can open an account tomorrow morning on the Tokyo stock market, and it would take me 3 minutes to achieve that.” The vast majority of people are far away from this potential.” – https://news.bitcoin.com/companies-will-not-bring-fintech-third-world-andreas-antonopoulos/

What do we know?

Getting exact numbers are hard but what we do know is that there are about 5.3 billion people older than 15 years of age. Unbanked numbers range from 2 billion to 3.5 billion. That is about 38%- 66% of people on this planet are “unbanked”. Andreas also makes a good point that there are various levels of banking.

Whatever the numbers, we know that it is large and bitcoins can, and is helping. This is not about the “1.5 billion” or so privileged that are able to open an account in a few minutes but the other 2, 3 or 4 billion who cannot.

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