Is there any utility in crypto? This is a recurring question from crypto sceptics, who tend to argue that there is no utility outside of speculation. In this post, I give 2 examples in which crypto can be used to drive financial inclusion in emerging markets – particularly through the use of stablecoins (a cryptocurrency whose value is pegged to another asset class e.g. USD Coin (USDC) which is pegged to USD). Worldwide, there are 2 billion unbanked adults, and these fall into the financially excluded category. According to the South African National Treasury, financial inclusion is the provision and use of affordable and appropriate financial services by those segments of society where financial services are needed but not provided, or they are inadequately delivered.
Case 1 – Mandla Money SMS Wallet. Firstly, in September 2022, I gave a talk at the Apex Developer Conference (hosted by Ripple & XRP Ledger Foundation) in Las Vegas on how crypto-assets can drive financial inclusion in emerging markets (click here to watch). In my talk, I made reference to one of the innovative projects that I have been involved with – Mandla Money SMS Wallet – which is a digital wallet that allows users to receive, transact and store value using digital assets via SMS (text message), with no need for a smartphone or an internet connection. The Mandla Money SMS Wallet is built on top of the XRP Ledger (XRPL) which is a decentralized, public blockchain that is fast, energy efficient, and reliable. By making use of stablecoins issued on the XRPL, together with SMS technology which has been around for a while, anyone with a mobile device (including feature phones) has a means to access previously unavailable financial services.
Case 2 – Stellar Aid Assist. More recently (December 2022), Stellar Development Foundation announced the launch of Stellar Aid Assist which makes use of stablecoins to deliver digital aid at scale (e.g. in Ukraine). According to the Stellar team, cash-based interventions serve as a lifeline to millions worldwide in support of basic needs and Stellar Aid Assist – which is fast to deploy and rapidly scale to meet a moment of crisis – gets money into the hands of those who need it, quickly and at low cost.
Considering that there are 2 billion unbanked adults worldwide and that it is possible to send crypto-assets in low-tech environments (where there are no smartphones or internet access) using blockchains such as XRPL, Algorand & Stellar, it is clear that there is a real opportunity to drive financial inclusion in emerging markets through use of blockchain payment rails and stablecoins. So, is there any utility in crypto – I believe the answer is a resounding YES!
Last month I had the opportunity to attend and speak at the premier event of the XRPL Ledger (XRPL) community – The Apex Developer Summit in Las Vegas, USA. At the event, which is hosted annually by Ripple and the XRPL Foundation I got to meet and engage with the XRPL community, which included David Schwartz, a co-founder and current CTO at Ripple.
Before jumping into a summary of David Schwartz talk on The next iteration of XRPL, recall that XRPL is a decentralised, public blockchain led by a global developer community – think of XRPL as a public good. XRPL makes use of a federated byzantine agreement algorithm that enables fast & cheap transactions with finality achieved in 3 to 5 seconds (in simpler terms, transactions with XRP or XRPL-issued assets complete in 3 – 5 seconds). You can learn more about the XRPL here and join the community on discord here.
Now, back to David Schwartz’s keynote, he started the talk with a look at the XRPL design fundamentals which include:
- An integrated decentralised exchange (DEX) – the XRPL has features an inbuilt DEX since the beginning (circa 2012).
- Invariant checking – the ledger has an ability to check for bugs without corrupting the ledger.
- Rekeyable accounts – XRPL features rekeyable accounts, which is a feature that allows for changing the transaction signing key without changing receiving key.
- Issued assets – XRPL supports the ability to issue custom assets (e.g. stablecoins or anything fungible that has value and behaves like currency) with ease.
David went on to note some of the exciting XRPL innovations which include:
- XLS-20d – a proposed standard to issue NFTs on the XRPL i.e. mint/burn/hold/trade NFTs. The XLS-20d is designed for scale.
- Project Clio – a development initiative to create massive storage reduction for servers that handle queries from clients. This will increase throughput, reduce cost to access the ledger and allow the ledger to scale (bearing in mind that the ledger cannot go any faster than consensus can).
- Hooks -a feature of XRPL that allows developers to add smart-contract like functionality to the XRPL. Hooks are small, efficient pieces of code being defined on an XRPL account, allowing logic to be executed before and/or after XRPL transactions.
- Sidechains – a feature of XRPL that allows anyone to run a sidechain to the XRP Ledger while having the freedom to decide how their chains work. You want XRPL mechanics but assets from other chains e.g. running an EVM sidechain to allow even more developers easy access to XRPL’s feature set and bring existing Solidity-based smart contracts written for EVM-compatible chains to the XRPL. Sidechains allow you to innovate at the blockchain level i.e. L1 level e.g. if you wish to tweak the TPS you can do so. Sidechains ultimately provide horizontal scalability.
In addition to David’s keynote, the summit included other keynotes on NFTs, blockchain and law, and new ways to build with some of the ecosystem tools. Here are links to the keynotes:
And then I earlier I mentioned that I got to speak at the conference. I gave a talk on how to send and receive XRPL-based assets in low-tech environments e.g. in place where there is no internet connectivity or smartphones. Here is the link to my talk – Transacting in Low-Tech Environments, Julian Kanjere – I will write a post on this soon.