A fintech entrepreneur pivots to Web3 with crypto financial services from Circle
Breaking down barriers to financial inclusion
Christian Duffus is on a mission. Since graduating from the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business in 2000, Duffus has founded and led three separate ventures aimed at broadening access to finance, in addition to a stint at Goldman Sachs. Duffus was also an early blockchain adopter with the vision to see how Web3’s inherent decentralization can eliminate friction and help boost global economic prosperity for billions of people.
Duffus’s latest venture is Fonbnk, which fuses a range of innovative technologies to help people in underbanked markets convert prepaid SIM cards into virtual debit cards.
M-Pesa paves the way for Fonbnk
Duffus conceived of Fonbnk in 2018, when a family member returned from a trip to Kenya with a SIM card connected to M-Pesa, a mobile money service now owned by Safaricom that was launched in 2007 and is used throughout Africa and beyond to transfer both prepaid minutes and financial value. The SIM card contained $10 of airtime, which Duffus sold online, spurring the idea for his next venture.
Fonbnk, which launched in December 2019 is a blockchain-based marketplace for individuals and businesses around the world to trade prepaid airtime. Fonbnk users can on-ramp into Web3 as well as traditional financial services as easily as topping up their mobile phones. Using Fonbnk’s wallet, any of the world’s 8 billion prepaid mobile SIM cards can now be used as a financial OAuth or gateway by the 1.7 billion people globally who are currently unbanked.
Dollar digital currency fuels opportunity
Duffus chose to run Fonbnk’s payments and treasury on Circle’s USDC, a dollar digital currency that is fully backed by cash and short-dated U.S. government obligations, so that it is always redeemable 1:1 for U.S. dollars. Each month, Circle publishes attestation reports regarding the reserve balances backing USDC.
“USDC is a reinterpretation of what financial value can be,” Duffus says. “It’s stable, programmable money that’s ideal for mobile transactions, which makes it foundational to the next generation of commerce. And because it’s so transparent and highly regulated, it’s easy to understand how it works.”
Fonbnk adds global scale with Circle Mint infrastructure
Circle’s payments and treasury enables Fonbnk to do things that can’t do with traditional payment systems. It starts with Fonbank’s free Circle Mint account, which gives them global scale and integration right out of the box in ways that banks and other payments providers can’t match. Duffus uses Fonbnk’s Circle Mint account to mint USDC so its customers can send funds across the Ethereum, Stellar and TRON blockchain ecosystems. USDC is available on 8 blockchains with more integrations expected, giving businesses the flexibility to reach hundreds of crypto wallets globally.
“I see this as the future of banking. Circle has the potential to be a global institution on par with today’s megabanks. Their commitment to transparency and compliance is a clear differentiator and gives us the confidence to build a global business with them.”
– Christian Duffus, Fonbnk Founder & CEO
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