The Philippines is the twelfth most populous nation in the world, and according to the world bank, has the 39th largest Gross Domestic Product (GDP). With many modern cities, and a world class telecommunications infrastructure, the island country south of Taiwan ranks 1st in average time spent online and 3rd for incoming migrant remittances. This unique combination makes Bitcoin a very useful currency for a large percentage of the country.
Recently the Philippines has been a major target market for entrepreneurs pushing Bitcoin adoption, and this week it looks like it may be starting to pay off.
Soon after the Manila Bulletin, a top-five newspaper in the Philippines, ran a very positive bitcoin article on the cover of their business section, trade on LocalBitcoins in Manila hit unprecedented highs. The subject of the featured article was a local Bitcoin company called Paylance.
Spikes like these can sometimes happen from a one-time sale. In this case the top bitcoin seller at LocalBitcoins happens to be the CEO of the company in the news, and has stepped forward to explain that this is indeed a bonafide increase in popularity.
Paylance CEO Jay Villarante, known as jbvillarante on localbitcoins, is the sites largest seller of bitcoins in Manila. In a post he made, on the website Reddit, he confirmed that this spike is not isolated, nor is it a single new buyer.
“This is not a bug. We definitely see this kind of volume in my Localbitcoin account. [...] I also own and manage a site: www.paylance.ph, which is also experiencing a big growth”
- Jay Villarante, Paylance CEO
Villarante's Paylance is a mixed-use site consisting of a remittance solution, local shopping with bitcoin, and even a way to earn bitcoins through playing video games. It also allows anyone to send Pesos to Filipinos extremely easily, powered by bitcoin.
Brave New Coin reached out to Villarante and asked if the spike was related to his recent press in the Bulletin. “I can't tell for sure if they're related because I don't ask my trade partners why they're buying/selling. But what I can tell you is I got a lot of new big traders locally in the Philippines,” he said.
“More than $100,000 worth of PHP transactions went through my account the past week. I had more transactions traded in USD but PHP really spiked.”
Villarante confirmed that the biggest trades in Filipino pesos were for those buying BTC. As a Localbitcoins trader, he usually gets to speak with his customers personally, and in doing so, he explained that “The biggest trading partners I traded with keep their bitcoins as a form of investment.”
Exchanges there are also seeing increased traffic. According to Anthony Chua, President of the filipino exchange Coinage, the influx doesn't appear to be isolated to one business or venue. He told Brave New Coin that he’s recently seen “huge volume in general for the Philippines,” and also said that his exchange is seeing an increase in users signing up for the service.
Chua's exchange, Coinage, began as a graduate of the Boost VC accelerator program in Silicon Valley, with a handy $20,000 US seed funding to start their business with. In October of last year Coinage launched in Cebu, the fifth largest city in the Philippines. Chua says he doesn't really attribute the recent spike in volume it to anything other than “new users learning about bitcoin.”
Google is also seeing the increase. Searches from the Philippines have recently climbed to a level not seen since late in 2013, when bitcoin's price was nearing it’s all-time high.
It is no secret that this island country has a conducive environment for Bitcoin to thrive in, and a range of other companies have been targeting the country, some of them with substantial Venture Capital backing.
Coins.ph, which launched in 2014, offers several services including ways to transfer cash, pay bills, and load users cell phones, all using bitcoin. They have the largest number of retail locations for Filipinos, largely because of partnerships with some of the country’s largest banks and e-commerce platforms.
Coins.ph partnerships have been confirmed with companies including Metrodeal, Lhuiller, Banco de Oro, Bank of the Philippines Islands, China Bank and MayBank. In December, the company announced a new partnership with Security Bank. This will enable the banks clients to purchase Bitcoin by depositing cash at 450 ATMs.
Although native to Hong Kong, Bitspark expanded its services to the Philippines and Indonesia in January 2015. The company charges a flat rate of HK$14 (US$1.81) for payments made to the Philippines, making it an attractive alternative to traditional remittance providers. Bitspark also allows users to send payments from end to end without touching bitcoins at any point, taking the fear of volatility risk out of the entire process.
Taking the same approach to remittance, powered by Bitcoin, is Satoshi Citadel Industries (SCI). The company's flagship product is Rebit.ph, which is one of the most popular remittance services in the country.
“The beneficiary doesn’t need to know that those funds were ever transmitted via Bitcoin, they only know that the sender had to spend a little less money while doing so. There’s no volatility risk as the recipient never touches Bitcoin; all risk is managed by the service”
- Luis Buenaventura, Rebit.ph Co-founder told Tech Crunch
The company also runs a clever global bitcoin remittance website, called Rebittance. The service has signed up more than a dozen other remittance partners, in various countries around the world, and added them into a matrix alongside the Rebit service. Users who come to the website can send bitcoins to anyone, across the network of service providers, anywhere in the world, and recipients receive the funds in their local currency.
Local angel investor Joe Maristela recently invested $100,000 in the SCI, which was founded in 2014. The company now controls several Filipino Bitcoin start ups. Among their offerings are; BitMarket.ph, a merchant business solution similar to BitPay; PrePaidBitcoin.ph, a way to sell bitcoins using plastic scratch-off cards over the counter in retail stores; BuyBitcoin.ph, a way to sell bitcoins online; and an up-and-coming wallet called BitBit.
With so many services and locations for Filipinos to use locally, they may already be the most heavily served nation for bitcoin commerce on Earth. Considering the local traffic increase, it may already be possible for the Philippines to ramp up bitcoin adoption to mainstream levels.