They Are the Crypto Leaders in Latin America in the First Half of 2021

Ripio, Panda Group, Buda, Bitso, Mercado Bitcoin, Reserve... the crypto players in the region explain why there’s a boom in this market.

Top from left: Pablo González (Bitso/Mexico), Sebastián Serrano (Ripio/Argentina), and Arley Lozano (Panda Group/Colombia). Bottom from left: Gustavo Chamati (Mercado Bitcoin, Brazil), Guillermo Torrealba (Buda.com/Colombia), and Gabriel Jiménez (Reserve, Venezuela)
Reading time: 2 min.

Buenos Aires — By Francisco Aldaya

Each semester, Bloomberg Línea presents the people and institutions that stood out the most in the Latin American crypto market.

In the face of global and regional concerns about freedom, inflation, and the concentration of new technologies and databases in large corporations, investment in cryptocurrencies has taken flight during the coronavirus pandemic.

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These were the most important players in our region during this third major development cycle of cryptocurrencies and other blockchain solutions.

Sebastián Serrano, CEO and founder of Ripio (Argentina)

Ripio is one of the leading wallets and exchanges in Latin America. With eight years in the market, it was one of the pioneering crypto companies in the region and in the world. It has approximately two million users, mainly in Argentina and Brazil, and its mission is to be the gateway to an emerging technology that is shaping the new global digital economy.

What uses will Latin Americans have for bitcoin in 10 years?

  • “We are moving more and more to a digital economy where this technology is going to be one of the pillars with respect to the registration of value and ownership,” says Serrano.
  • What we are starting to see with NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) in art is completely transferable to the whole registry of what is unique and what has value in something intangible. That’s probably the biggest disruption of this technology.”
  • According to the CEO, particularly in Latin America, it is reaching a critical mass that will lead to its use as a form of payment.

What are their uses today?

  • They are a “store of value in countries like Argentina or Venezuela, where the local currency is not very strong”.
  • For the founder, they are also a form of investment, because if they continue to be adopted, it will raise value. There are many people who acquire them because they are limited, for example there will only be 21 million bitcoins, he adds.

In the last year and a half it has also started to be used for staking, which is a way of obtaining returns on these assets, says Serrano.

BTC price forecast for 2031.

  • Serrano argues that there have been cycles of adoption and price growth approximately every four years: in 2013, 2017 and now in 2021.
  • “There is a lot of interest, which brings users, developers and investment. We’re seeing lots and lots of investment right now,” he says.
  • Estimates from some analysts is that each bitcoin could be worth US$1 million at today’s value, and this technology could be being used by more than 10% of humanity,” he adds.

Apart from ETH and BTC, what are the three most valuable cryptocurrencies?

  • The founder highlights USDC, “a stablecoin with parity with the dollar that is getting a lot of use, and that will allow DeFi to grow much more”.
  • Polkadot’s DOT is experimenting on MultiChain, where you can get more capacity to interconnect different chains, he adds.
  • In addition:
    • Polygon, which allows you to give ethereum a hell of a lot more capacity.”
    • Zcash, which uses Zero-Knowledge Proof technology, and allows transactions to be much more private than with other cryptos.

Which businesses will change the most as a result of the implementation of blockchain technologies?

  • The most impacted will be digital businesses, says Serrano. Digital art, for example, will change a lot and will have a new identity.
  • There will be a lot of development of systems, identity technologies on the Internet that will be based on blockchain.
  • For the CEO, the capital market will be “completely changed” and will live on the Internet. Decentralized finance has already surpassed three million users in a year and a half of growth, and we are going to a much more complex market, with instruments that we have never seen before, because this technology can be programmed and developed with smart contracts, things that were impossible before, he concludes.

Arley Lozano, CEO of Panda Group and Panda Exchange (Colombia)

Panda Group is a conglomerate of companies that develops cryptocurrency solutions for people’s daily lives. The company founded in Colombia has payment processors, exchanges and crypto ATMs. It is one of the most recognized exchanges in Colombia and at the beginning of 2021 it was chosen among the nine alliances that will test crypto deposit and withdrawal operations with financial entities in the Superfinancial sandbox.

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What uses will Latin Americans have for bitcoin in 10 years?

  • The executive believes that in the coming years cryptocurrencies will be used much more on a daily basis, allowing operations in different day-to-day activities.
  • Lozano believes that in the next 10 years, the governments of the region will make the transition from digital money to cryptocurrency, as El Salvador wants to try to do.
  • From his point of view, the fact that governments migrate to cryptography will allow them to have a more transparent economy in terms of expenditure and tax control, migrating towards automatic taxes thanks to the tracking that these new technologies allow.

What are their uses today?

  • For Lozano, the main use today is speculation. Individuals currently buy the digital asset, which is scarce in the case of bitcoin, in search of a profit, he adds.
  • The Panda Group executive highlights the role that cryptocurrencies are playing in remittances in the region. He cites the example of Venezuelans abroad, which works for anyone sending remittances, “it does not mean that people receive bitcoin there, cryptocurrencies are only used in this space of sending from A to B. At the end of the day, pesos come in, bitcoin is used to transport value and bolivars or dollars go out”.

BTC price forecast for 2031.

  • As a personal forecast, emphasizing that this is no recommendation, Lozano sees the price of bitcoin “in billions of dollars” in the next few years.
  • There are already studies that say that if you own 0.01 bitcoin that today are worth less than US$1,000 in 10 years you are going to be part of a list of millionaires. Let’s remember that there are 21 million units, it is scarce,” he adds.
  • In 2031 the price of bitcoin could exceed US$1 million, he stresses.

Will Ethereum succeed in making DeFi mainstream?

  • Ethereum will be successful for what it was created for, which is smart contracts, says the Panda executive.
  • In the case of DeFi, Lozano considers that it is a technology too new which brings many risks in terms of hacks and security.
  • I don’t think DeFi will survive, although it can be mainstream to take it to other types of projects,” he says.

Apart from ETH and BTC, what are the three most valuable cryptocurrencies?

  • “I really like Dot and Bitcoin Cash,” said the executive, highlighting the potential of these cryptocurrencies, which would allow “many more things” to be done with lower fees, for example.
  • Everything in the top 10 is interesting, but we must remember that it is a technology that is still in a beta stage, says Lozano, stressing that if someone invests in crypto, they should do so with money they are willing to risk, because the market is volatile and could lose.

Which businesses will change the most as a result of the implementation of blockchain technologies?

  • Notaries and businesses that were created to certify documents will be among those that will disappear because “everything will be so easy to certify or register by smart contracts”.
  • The financial system will also be completely transformed, “but I think it will be a transition of more than 20 years. Technology is changing the way we perceive money”.

Guillermo Torrealba, CEO of Buda.com (Chile)

Buda.com has positioned itself as one of the largest cryptocurrency marketplaces in South America. Born in 2015 under the name SurBTC, the platform allows transactions with bitcoins, ethereum and litecoin. It operates with official currencies of Argentina, Colombia, Peru and Chile. Since March, it has been part of the Fintech Fincrime Exchange, a private organization founded in the United Kingdom that brings together more than 200 Fintechs to discuss issues related to the prevention of financial crime.

What uses will Latin Americans have for bitcoin in 10 years?

  • For Torrealba, bitcoin serves to solve multiple needs such as savings or investment, since its value increases over time.
  • It is “extremely efficient” and economical for money transfers over the Internet, being a 100% digital technology that operates full time, he says.
  • Bitcoin is beginning to replace the Swift system, says Torrealba.
  • The CEO believes that in the next 10 years the “de facto technology” that companies will use for payments and collections, worldwide, will be bitcoin.

What are their uses today?

  • About 80% of Buda.com’s customers buy bitcoin as an investment, while the remaining 20% are “utilitarians”: they use bitcoin in a particular way, such as for remittances, he says.
  • For the executive, there is a growing number of people who are starting to pay online with bitcoin because they do not have access to credit cards.

BTC price forecast for 2031.

  • Based on history, the cryptocurrency’s potential and studies, the price of bitcoin could “far” exceed $1 million in 10 years, according to Torrealba.

Will Ethereum succeed in making DeFi mainstream?

  • Ethereum has a high probability of being the most important smart contract platform in the next 10 years, although it will share its prominence with at least three or four others, he notes.
  • Decentralized finance is not a fad, but a trend that will continue into the future, he adds.

Apart from ETH and BTC, what are the three most valuable cryptocurrencies?

  • Other cryptocurrencies that seek to create concepts significantly different from the others are stablecoins, such as USDC, Tether and DAI, he argues.
  • There are cryptocurrencies that promise to be great smart contract platforms such as, for example, Cardano’s ADA, he says.

Which businesses will change the most as a result of the implementation of blockchain technologies?

  • For Torerealba, the financial industry will be the most affected, especially in banking entities and decentralized insurance companies, where the trust that blockchain technology generates plays a fundamental role.
  • Also: government services and notaries, where blockchain can contribute to disintermediation.

Pablo González, cofounder and president of Bitso (México)

Where there is a will, there is a way. It took Bitso, one of the first cryptocurrency exchanges in Mexico and Latin America, six years to reach its first million active users and less than 10 months to reach two million. The record responds to a greater openness of investors, companies and even nations that are increasingly optimistic, but also curious about the use of virtual assets. The company allows buying, selling, sending or receiving in Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, its most recent incursion, while since January 2021 it obtained authorization from the financial regulator in Colombia to test the market under the figure of sandbox. It is the only platform in the region that holds a license from the Gibraltar Financial Services Commission, the jurisdiction with the most advanced regulatory frameworks in crypto trading. Pablo González, who founded the company seven years ago, is again looking to the future.

What uses will Latin Americans have for bitcoin in 10 years?

  • What is happening in the coastal community of El Zonte in El Salvador is probably the most accurate look yet at people’s relationship with cryptocurrency as a means of local payment. “It’s very exciting to see how it develops,” according to González.
  • A second future use is as a means of savings, which although incipient today, shows the way in nations such as Argentina, where it is used as a safeguard currency.
  • There will be cases of financial services such as loans and credits, but with a completely decentralized and global system.

What are their uses today?

  • González is about to celebrate 10 years using bitcoin. He says that at the beginning it was more experimental. In 2015 and 2016 interest increased and he started using it on a day-to-day basis for international payments.
  • Most people, however, use BTC for sending remittances, online payments for those who do not have a bank account or even local or services that enable purchases with it.

BTC price forecast for 2031.

  • Irrelevant. That’s the key word for González. More than a number, “we’re all going to be using bitcoin in some way in our day-to-day lives.”
  • But why? The entrepreneur’s vision is that within 10 years society will be using cryptocurrency worldwide, so the focus on price will lose importance and even stabilize in the face of increased usage.
  • The vision: “I personally believe that BTC will be the international currency, as the dollar is today, the world currency”.

Will Ethereum succeed in making DeFi mainstream?

  • González prefers to call it an “interesting development” for now. Most of the experiments focused on the decentralization of finance, or DeFi, have been done on top of ethereum, while bitcoin has been focused more as a form of secure money.
  • The former makes a network, a slightly more experimental protocol, where it allows developers to create on top of bitcoin, so it moves faster than bitcoin. In more technical terms, it is called a layer two solution, according to González.

Apart from ETH and BTC, what are the three most valuable cryptocurrencies?

  • González insists on being a “faithful believer” in bitcoin and believes it is the cryptocurrency that should be given the most attention, as well as ethereum. However, there are other projects.
  • The first is Uniswap, a decentralized exchange that also promotes a token. “I would pay a lot of attention to it, I don’t know if to the currency, but definitely to the project.” Also to Decentraland, a decentralized virtual reality platform powered by the ethereum blockchain.

Which businesses will change the most as a result of the implementation of blockchain technologies?

  • Beyond the biggest disruption, which will be the change in the use of money and everything that is built on it, such as financial services, social payments and trade finance, González is betting on NFTs, which enable 100% unique digital value.
  • Two other bets will be in the video game and real estate industries, which will lend themselves to enable different ways in which people communicate.
  • Contrary to popular opinion. González doesn’t necessarily see blockchain being used for personal identity, property registration and even voting in an electoral process. “Maybe yes, but it won’t be a huge change.”

Gustavo Chamati, founder of Mercado Bitcoin (Brasil)

Gustavo Chamati, founder of Mercado Bitcoin, the leading Brazilian cryptocurrency exchange. Founded in 2013, the platform claims to have 3 million users and is preparing for internationalization. Chamati is currently on the company’s board of directors. In July, the holding company 2TM, which controls the platform, received an injection of US$200 million from SoftBank, thus achieving a valuation of around US$2.1 billion. It thus became the first unicorn in the Latin American cryptoassets segment.

What uses will Latin Americans have for bitcoin in 10 years?

  • Cryptoassets are technologies that have three main obstacles today: speed, scalability, and transaction cost, and all these bottlenecks will be removed in 10 years, Chamati says.
  • For the founder, blockchain and cryptoasset technologies will underpin all the value exchanges we will do in 10 years, we will start recording ownership through tokens, and we will most likely gain efficiency, speed and reduce costs. A marketplace that works 24/7 and is transparent by being registered on blockchain, he adds.

What are their uses today?

  • “It’s an investment,” he says. According to Chamati, owning a fraction of these assets is a belief that these technologies will become more important. Today, Bitcoin is already a store of value asset, just like gold, he adds.

BTC price forecast for 2031.

  • I think this linkage of Bitcoin as a digital gold is the great validator of everything blockchain-based,” he argues. In this sense, Bitcoin will remain the market leader, regardless of other technologies that emerge, because of the level of usability it already has, and it will be digital gold [in the sense of a store of value]. “Ten years is a long time, but I would say, come on, US$1 million [laughs],” he adds.

Will Ethereum succeed in making DeFi mainstream?

  • Ethereum is making several advances recently, such as updating the protocol, and this is allowing the technology to scale, Chamati says. “DeFi itself is now largely based on Ethereum, but DeFi as a concept, independent of Ethereum, will evolve a lot”.
  • We will have a lot of the credit exchange services, for example, working on DeFi models, on decentralized software running on its own and with people interacting with this software on the other end. “Whether it’s on Ethereum or not, whatever, but DeFi will play a very relevant role in providing services to people, there are still issues to be discussed, like, for example, how this will connect to countries’ financial systems, or what the regulation will look like, but the technology will be ready.”

Apart from ETH and BTC, what are the three most valuable cryptocurrencies?

  • Chainlink: based on a blockchain platform for smart contract management.
  • Yearn Finance: protocols running on the Ethereum blockchain that allow users to borrow money.
  • Polka Dot: allows transfers across different infrastructures (cross-blockchain) of any type of data or assets, not just tokens.

Which businesses will change the most as a result of the implementation of blockchain technologies?

  • “All transactions involving records of information, many of them from regulated markets,” says Chamati.
  • Regulation exists to provide security for the market to function, and in this sense, the rules use technologies from the time when the regulation was created: the financial market is the prime example, he adds.
  • The whole bureaucratic part of the operation for the exchange of assets can be replaced by a newer, more efficient and cheaper model based on decentralization. All business models that require gatekeepers, information validators, can be “disrupted” by this, he concludes.

Gabriel Jiménez, member of the Reserve (Venezuela)

What uses will Latin Americans have for bitcoin in 10 years?

  • Jiménez expects that, by 2031, bitcoin will be considered “more than an investment asset”, and that it will be put to other uses, which he believes it currently does not have due to “technological limitations”. For those cases, however, he expects other alternatives to emerge.
  • “What worries me, especially as a Venezuelan, at the BTC level, is the tradability and access to an international currency that is easy to exchange,” he says.

Will more countries follow El Salvador’s example and legalize the use of BTC as a currency?

  • Jiménez believes that, as technology advances and the needs of societies force them to seek alternatives to the traditional financial system, regulations and other types of approaches to the cryptocurrency system will be promoted.
  • “It is surely something we will continue to see in emerging countries,” he adds.

What are their uses today?

  • “I wouldn’t just call it an investment, a lot of times it’s a gamble as well,” Jimenez says.

BTC price forecast for 2031.

  • More than a prediction, Jiménez shares his “dream”: that it maintains its price, “so that people can really use BTC as money”.
  • “Now, because of market mechanisms that is something that is surely not going to happen, but inspired by that, in that technology we can build different mechanisms to build stable currencies,” he notes.

Will Ethereum succeed in making DeFi mainstream?

  • I think that particularly in DeFi we are extremely early,” considers Jimenez, who insists that DeFi “is not an Ethereum concept,” but was introduced by BTC, from the point of view of decentralized finance, and that it does not belong to a specific cryptocurrency.
  • However, he adds: “The possibilities that can be realized through protocols that do not depend absolutely on anyone, but are completely decentralized, open up a universe of possibilities”.

Apart from ETH and BTC, what are the three most valuable cryptocurrencies?

  • Jiménez heads his top 3 with Reserve: “We are working to have access to a stable currency recognized as a human right and developing open protocols so that any person or company can develop their stable currencies, or developing applications that facilitate access or promoting these projects that are also working on all of this”.
  • In second place, he places USDC: “It has focused on the traditional financial world, taking it to the world of stablecoins, using those mechanisms of trust and security to have a stable currency with a 1 to 1 parity with the dollar”.
  • He ends with DAI: “It is similar to Reserve, it is a decentralized stablecoin, from the point of view that through a smart contract they have a basket that gives them, with the different assets they have in that basket, that element of stabilization; I think this is a new frontier that is being developed and it is a different approach, for example, to that of USDC”.

Which businesses will change the most as a result of the implementation of blockchain technologies?

  • In Jiménez’s opinion, it will be banking: “This new paradigm, that you don’t need an intermediary, that you don’t need a bank, whether a state is issuing private money or not, generates a disruption in the status quo”.
  • But he warns: “I do not see this as something against banks, I think it is a change for the better, to make something more open, inclusive, that meets new needs and the realities that we live today in a digital, connected world”.