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In banking, one of the most innovative implementations are ATMs. Having the ability to buy and sell digital currencies through a familiar element has proven to be successful in areas of Europe and the United States. In Latin America, however, the number of ATMs is limited but this will soon change.
Matías Goldenhörn, LatAm director of Athena Bitcoin, the US ATM company, is looking to expand into the Latin American market. After installing machines in the main cities of Colombia, Athena’s next target is Argentina, starting with its capital, Buenos Aires.
Goldenhörn left Argentina in 2001-2002 due to the economic crisis, during the time the infamous “corralito” (bank freeze) measure was applied. Now, he looks back to the South American nation again hoping to offer cryptocurrencies as a solution.
“The cashier will be the bridge between the trust money and crypto. Being a physical object that a person can see and touch is special for new users,” Goldenhörn said, according to Infobae.
Athena Bitcoin is looking to expand into Latin America because it is a sector where crypto ATMs are almost non-existent, “There are now around 3,500 Bitcoin and altcoins ATMs in the United States and virtually none in Latin America. That’s where we saw the opportunity.”
According to Goldenhörn, these ATMs will first be placed in shopping malls to measure their level of acceptance depending on social class, age, and other related factors. However, the exact location of these devices has not yet been confirmed. The plan is to bring in at least 12 ATMs and have them up and running by the end of August.
Buenos Aires is not Athena’s only target. The company will soon begin negotiations in Brazil and will continue their expansion into Mexico, where they already have ATM’s and have plans to open more in the short term.
There are some challenges to achieve Athena’s objectives in the region because regulatory ideas differ between countries. Installing ATM’s takes time, money and energy, however, milestones are being met “once we see how it is to enter each country, the adoption is there, the people are waiting for us. There is demand,” Goldenhörn said.
In Buenos Aires, Athena will start working only with Bitcoin (BTC), Bitcoin Cash (BCH), Ethereum (ETH) and Litecoin (LTC).
In addition to Athena, other companies have plans to launch in South America. Ubanx, a brand that is presented as an easy and intuitive connection for the crypto economy has more in mind than just ATMs. Its mission is to be the bridge that connects and educates the public on this monetary revolution while providing a unique user experience.
The Ubanx proposal is integrated with financial institutions and local currencies through its platform composed of a digital wallet, Latamx Crypto Exchange and Ubanx Spaces (physical stores). BNN had the opportunity to speak with Pablo Orlando Trackzuk, president of Ubanx.
BNN: Tell us about yourself, your blockchain related projects and role at Ubanx.
Orlando: At the moment I am dedicated entirely to this project, I’m the Chairman and President of the company. Ubanx is an ambitious idea which encompasses many countries worldwide, starting with Latin America. Our first product, LatamX, will be the first Crypto Exchange dedicated to mass adoption in Latin America, aimed at amateur users and trading professionals. It will offer traditional services of the trading platforms for cryptocurrencies, in a very easy and intuitive way for the user, in addition, it will have the complete integration with the banking systems in each country to be able to offer the use of local currencies. After this, Ubanx will continue to include products related to financial services for the massive benefit of the community, is a long way but our team has the experience and diversity to achieve all these objectives.
BNN: Being a physical object that people can see and touch could generate trust for new users, do you think crypto ATMs are the ideal bridge between fiat money and cryptos for Argentina and the rest of LatAm?
Orlando: To say that the ATMs are the ideal bridge seems to me to be a bit limiting, but definitely the ATMs, in general, represent one of the factors of that bridge for the adoption of cryptocurrencies to reach their massification. It represents an easy entry into this industry so that users unfamiliar with cryptocurrencies can use an old concept like ATMs to adopt this new technology and its benefits. In addition, their physical presence generates confidence and helps these new users understand in real time how they can benefit from the facilities when deciding to adopt cryptocurrencies. Ubanx will play an important role in the introduction of crypto ATMs in Latin America. We already have a partnership with a major brand which will facilitate the distribution of ATMs to continue this expansion in the adoption of this new industry.
BNN: Every country in the region has very different views on laws because we’ve only just begun adoption. What would be your recommendations for crypto ATMs to establish themselves prominently in the region?
Orlando: The most important thing is to comply with the laws and limits of local banking systems. In general, these laws and limits are intended to protect the user, which must be present in this type of action. When it comes to money, the most important thing is safety, and these regulations must be implemented by providers as users are unaware of the risks only until some unanticipated event occurs. At the same time, we suppliers are trying to achieve a massive adoption of this industry, which generates trust and security is paramount.
BNN: In 2014, South Africa launched its first BTC ATM. The project was not well received at that time. What do you think happened in 2014 and what is the difference now in 2018? Does bitcoin’s popularity play an important role?
Orlando: I think the main cause is the increased popularity of bitcoin in late 2017, but it’s not the only cause. South Africa is number one among those interested in the word “bitcoin” in their Google searches, and according to a MyBroadband 2018 Cryptocurrency Survey report, 47% of South Africans plan to invest in cryptocurrency and crypto mining. These machines already exist in Zimbabwe and Djibouti, but unlike them, South Africa has the most sophisticated financial services sector in Africa and has been the favorite in terms of crypto taxation on the continent. This region of the world has become a hub for business and digital innovators, with the crypto exchange platform, Golix.com of Zimbabwe, and the fact that South African regulators are highly permissive towards blockchain technology makes it even more attractive. This, together with the instability of the local currency, encourages the use of digital alternatives.
ATM’s locations rapidly increasing
So far in 2018, 1,477 new bitcoin ATMs have been launched worldwide. That is 70% more operational units than at the end of 2017. The importance of these tools is that they facilitate access to crypto activity and give the crypto community the ability to spend their coin.
Regarding exchange volumes through bitcoin ATMs, the United States there was a 1.2% increase; and in Canada, thanks to the installation of 19 new machines, there was a 3.7% increase. But it should be noted that the country that registered the highest growth was Colombia, placing seven new machines in July achieving a 70% increase in the exchanges. For this and other reasons, Latin America is positioned as a fertile ground for all those who wish to invest in cryptocurrency and blockchain technology.