The Future of Humanitarian Aid with Joseph Thompson

The pandemic catalysed the world's transition to digital processes. Alongside natural disasters and persistent poverty, it also shined a light on the need for global humanitarian efforts to upgrade to better ways of delivering on their goals for impact and preparing for an uncertain climate future. Combined with emerging solutions for self-custody of digital identity, leaders of humanitarian initiatives are rethinking how they can make each dollar go further while reducing overhead and misuse of funds with the help of new financial infrastructure.

Joining us this week to explore this topic is Joseph Thompson, Co-Founder & CEO at AID:Tech, a Circle customer and a company dedicated to providing targeted disbursements, quick identification of users, and ease of payments. He works to highly effective humanitarian solutions, increase transparency in digital transactions, and supercharge impact on a global scale. Joseph has a BSC in Software Systems and has four MSCs, as well as an MBA from Manchester Business School.

Listen today to hear us chat about the future of humanitarian aid and where we think it's going.

Jeremy Allaire: Hello, and welcome to The Money Movement. Today, we are joined by Joseph Thompson who's the CEO and co-founder of AID:Tech, a firm that is at the cutting edge of using crypto and blockchain for corruption-resistant, transparent, efficient, and accessible aid distribution around the world, something that I think holds enormous promise. We're going to dig in on that. I'm also very pleased to be joined as co-host by Dante Disparte, Chief Strategy Officer and Head of Global Policy here at Circle. Welcome gentlemen.

Joseph Thompson: Jeremy, great to be here. Appreciate the opportunity to speak with yourself and Dante. Thank you.

Jeremy: Absolutely. I may kick things off and Dante and I think will navigate this conversation with you. Maybe just to start, it'd be really wonderful for our listeners to hear a little bit of your story and how did you arrive at the problem that you're working on now, and what was that inspiration mission, what brought you there? Then we can dive into a little bit more of the what and how as we explore this theme.

Joseph: Sure. It's a bit of a crazy story and it started somewhere you wouldn't expect. Believe it or not, the idea or the concept for AID:Tech originated in the Sahara desert, believe it or not of all places. It was in 2009, I was running an event, I raised money for charity. It was six marathons and six days in the Sahara desert, raised over $100,000, ran the events, the money went to an organization, but there was no transparency in where that money actually went.

Tried to follow up, see what was the impact of that money? My background's in banking in telco. I don't have a humanitarian background at all, but after the event, trying to understand where the money has gone, where it had been used, absolutely no idea. That was 2009. Then it was really 2013-2014 when I started getting into blockchain.

I was studying a masters in digital currencies and we had the idea, myself and a co-founder, was if you Google the search engine, we wanted to build a transparency engine. How can you have transparency on the flow of funds for crypto via international aid, welfare, federal aid disbursements? We really realized at this junction to individualize payments and to add layers of transparency across blockchain and what it could become, you had to link it to an individual.

That's the background of the story how AID:Tech was born. Essentially, by mistake in the Sahara desert trying to understand where donations go, what's the impact, how can you involve community and people have confidence in where their money's actually going? That was that. Then in December 2015, we became the first company in the world to deliver international aid to Syrian refugees on the border with Lebanon in Syria.

There we distributed, I think it was like $10,000 to 500 Syrian refugees, but every transaction could only happen once so we were able to prove that. We had some attempted fraudulent transactions that actually just didn't happen. Now then we were onto, [unintelligible 00:03:19] going, if we can link payments to an individual, we can create this tamper-resistant technology, or you use this tamper-resistant technology to make sure money goes where it's supposed to go. That was the pilot of how it started and where we created AID:Tech from.

Jeremy: That's awesome. Maybe just at a high level, where is AID:Tech today? Where are you in terms of realizing that mission and vision?

Joseph: Right now, we've been growing quite well over the last number of years. We're raising our series pay rounds. Hopefully, you guys are coming in, which is fantastic, and we have a couple of big contracts on the table. We're doing a large project with Women's World Banking in Philippines at the moment. Using USDC, we're building on the Algorand blockchain, there's a partnership there for 2 million users which is really cool.

Then the big opportunity we have is actually in the US. We're working with two large clients, one's called Saint Vincent de Paul Disaster Relief, and the other one is National VOAD which is National Volunteer Active in Disaster Organization. Essentially, what they do is they deliver federal money to people whose house have been hit by natural disasters. Currently, it's a very laborious situation for people to put claims in, to get verified, to prove their identity.

Between these two organizations, they have about 10 million volunteers as well which I can explain later on that we see huge, huge opportunity in actually pulling together people's donations, people actually allocating time, and using this potentially being rewarded in the future.

What we're really focusing on is the non-crypto donators, people who want transparency, people who are donating time, donating money who are not really getting rewarded for it. We think it's a huge opportunity to actually have cryptocurrencies as a massive and massive player going forward. Southeast Asia and the US are our focus right now, US being the biggest opportunity.

Dante Disparte: Joseph, great to see you on air, and Jeremy, great to join you on this episode and be able to ask the hard questions this time around. I think when you think about aid and development and the humanitarian uses of blockchain and digital currencies, there are a number of skeptics around the world who say these solutions need a couple of other technologies and capabilities to be in place before you could really mobilize.

For example, we have a world with a billion people with no form of national identity, so how do you safely extend the perimeter of payments if you cancel for that? You need clearly some degree of internet connectivity, otherwise how do you reach last-mile communities? Then thirdly, you need to have this digital wallet ecosystem and the software and hardware ecosystem, if you will, in place.

AID:Tech is clearly at the very frontier of not only looking very deeply at those problems but turning the narrative on its head and looking at them as opportunities. It'd be great, I think, for the listeners, Joseph, to hear view of that assessment. Is the skeptics view right or can we in fact turn the arc of financial inclusion on its head and use these technologies as a part of that base layer of connectivity?

Joseph: Yes. That's a big question. I'm going to try and get through and if I forget any part, just remind me.

Dante: Don't worry, I'm here.

[laughter]

Joseph: The identity part, if you ask me what AID:Tech does, I'd say the core of what we do is merge identity and payments. That's what we do. I'm very fortunate to be the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal Pioneer for blockchain globally and the Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year. The reason we've got these awards, I'll give the credit to my team, they do all the hard work building, but what we focus on is you need to merge identity with payments to the individual.

Sustainable Development Goals 16.9 says everybody should have a legal ID by 2030. My fear looking forward is if a person doesn't have an identity, they're going to be excluded from Web 2.0 and they're going to be excluded from Web 3.0. The way we view this, it should be privacy by design, people should own and control their own data going forward. Obviously, in different countries, you're going to have different KYC levels and so on. You can have tier KYC.

I give you an example of a project that was a really difficult project to do, but if you Google the first baby born on the blockchain, that was a project that we did in partnership with the German government and the large NGO in Tanzania. Essentially, what the problem that we were trying to solve there is when somebody's born, they should have a birth certificate, but in the developing world, that may not be the case.

Being able to give the mothers a digital identity and linking that identity to the child, that mother is able to actually get the right medicine, the right tablets, blood tests, et cetera, et cetera, and so on. We don't know who the end-user is, we don't get that data, and in the situation where we're working in Tanzania, there was not internet connectivity. We actually had plastic QR card-- Sorry, a plastic card with a QR code on it.

The woman was able to verify her identity with a pin and then the transactions were connected on-chain when they were brought back in connectivity. If the mother couldn't provide her pin, she wouldn't get access to it, but then the doctors and the NGOs were able to see what medicine was actually for that person, for that woman.

A great use case or an example of this was one of the hemoglobin machines for actually measuring the blood of the pregnant woman was broken. All the outputs from this machine was completely incorrect so the women were being given the wrong medicine the whole way. Being able to verify using a proven identity that the woman controlled, she was able to actually show, I'm due this medicine, this is my track record of actually going for visits and so on and that was completely in control of the mothers.

Even in low connectivity or no connectivity, it's still able to show that an unchained blockchain identity could be used properly here for a woman collecting data for her-- not collecting data but verifying that she needed medicine, her child needed medicine, and so on. That was an example of how we viewed identity as the base component regardless of the technology because these end-users don't care about technology at the end of the day, it needs to benefit them and needs to have some beneficial use for them. Essentially, we're just using digital assets to represent their hospital visits, their medicine, et cetera, et cetera.

That's an example of how you can use identity owned by the end-user, and then if you move that forward, then you connect into payment rails. Traditional fiat payment rails, what's the KYC for onboarding for persons to get a bank account, even the basic bank account, and then having a wallet. Our vision for the future is a person should own their own data going forward.

A wallet should be interoperable, multi-chain, but most importantly, a person can carry their own credentials. What we mean by credentials are verified credentials that, for example, if I'm approved by this doctor or this hospital, or in the US, if I'm approved by this NGO for volunteering my time, I can use that credential and sign up for another, example, NGO or a voluntary organization. A person is always in control of their own data, but it has to be in our opinion mobile and wallet-based for a person to build that data credit profile.

Essentially, building a social impact profile that they can move. If you see people in 5 or 10 years, they should be able to take their data from the real world, bring it into the metaverse, have a safe space where your reputation is earned, it's not bought. That's how we see things moving forward in the future. It all goes back to a person having the baseline identity that they should be in control of. That connected to different payment rails whether it be crypto or fiat.

Jeremy: I want to ladder off that, Joseph. We spend a lot of time thinking about decentralized identity. I remember very well when we were getting started with Circle, now almost nine years ago, when I looked at blockchains, the thing that immediately occurred to me, especially when thinking about the ideas of an extensible blockchain where you could extend it with unique forms of assets and data, then programmability through smart contracts. These were ideas very early on. It struck me that this could solve two problems.

There were a couple of missing layers of the internet. One was money and the other's identity and they're very tied together. As we know, they're deeply tied together. Attempts to solve the problem of decentralized identity on blockchains have largely eluded us. Meaning there are absolutely efforts out there, including some really interesting work that you guys have done.

I think the question we're asking is, can we see standards emerge that are not tied to any specific blockchain, that are not tied to any specific crypto wallet implementation, but which could be supported by any wallet that would allow for known issuers, verified issuers of identities, like financial institutions, healthcare institutions, others to create identity tokens that then people could take with them and store them in their self-custody or store them with a custodian?

Wouldn't have to give out all their personal information, but could just have a cryptographic proof to another app, or another service, or whatnot that they're a valid individual. Not just proving that they've been KYC, but also being able to cryptographically prove other claims about their identity. I'm from this location. I'm of this age. I have this credit score or what have you. Being able to do that on top of crypto native primitives that could work, that ecosystems could build around.

I'm curious and this is an area of very significant interest for us. When we think Stablecoins like USDC, we envision that it's something that can be used for any payment. Whether it's a micropayment at a digital vending machine, so to speak, or a large-scale transaction supporting a major international financial trade or everything in between.

When you think about the ideal world for identity, where we're not creating more honey pots of data, where we're not creating new centralized endpoints, where people really are in control, what does that look like to you? How do you see that problem being solved? Because clearly if there can be standards around this that could unlock a tremendous amount of value in terms of the use cases that you're really committed to making happen.

Joseph: Yes, it's a great question and it's something that we think about and talk about a lot of the time with our clients. Even when our investors look at this going forward. Two trains of thought here. One is a lot of effort has gotten into identity solutions and blockchain over the last number of years. I think people have built identity solutions for the sake of building identity solutions where they're actually building identity solutions to solve identity problems. I don't think there's been enough good use cases across all blockchains of how identity could be used.

In a way, some identity solutions are actually trying to create vendor lock-in as opposed to making you have your identity go across multichain. That's one criticism we have of the different identity plays going forward. Basically, not to make the same mistakes that were made in Web 2.0 for trying to build a Web 3.0 world. In terms of identity, we've looked at multiple chains, we've tested and piled on different chains throughout the years. It's become very apparent to us that selective disclosures are going to be very important.

That's to be able to prove certain amount of information about yourself harder, be it your name or possibly approved verified wallet address that holds multiple credentials. In the future, we see this going forward. You obviously have your W3C standards body and nearly every blockchain has their own W3C-approved method. We're working very closely with the guys at Algorand. We really like the Algorand blockchain. We've just helped them build their first identity methods, the ID Algo. Our view for that is to be open multichain across the future.

For the benefit of the user, they should be able to take their data with them on whatever chain that they want. In the future, we see, okay, if you've verified identity, you have a wallet. You don't have to release all that information about what you've done or your transactional history, but it's proven, it's trusted, a pseudonymous profile. That's how we would actually see it going forward. We really like the idea of, if you go into the metaverse, you mint your identity as an NFT that is unique to you. You can't sell it going forward. You actually earn and build reputation. You earn and build reputation instead of buying a reputation.

If we compare this to say gaming, you're a gamer online, and you're at the top of the table. If you start playing, you drop down, you can't just buy more kudos to get back up there at the top. Thinking what's worked successfully, appointing that to an individual who may have a trusted credit history, even in crypto, not even in traditional fiat world where their identity shows that they've taken out loans, they've provided liquidity for certain pools, it's all trusted. It's all verified. That person is then building in a social reputation that they should decide if it's privacy by default, or if they want to release that information to financial institutions, and so on.

That's how we see a perfect role going forward, that the user is actually in control of what they're doing here as opposed to a gatekeeper telling them what they need to share. We really believe in selective disclosure is going to be very, very important going forward, and zero-knowledge proofs, people releasing what information that they want to release. That's how we view it. That's what we're looking to build towards.

In the US, as we're building this wallet with our clients, our clients, for example, they had 48 million hours of volunteered hours last year in the US. They've 9.9 million volunteers, but they've no way to track it. Everything is in one slot instead of recurring. If they were able to have a wallet where they have created the credential, a verified credential for the end-user, that user doesn't need to go through the whole onboarding KYC process across different organizations.

Jeremy: Totally.

Joseph: Even with corporates, this is what I think is really interesting, that individuals can actually prove to their employers, "Hey, I've done X amount of hours volunteering. This could help me in my career internally in this organization." I think you're pushing it towards employers to say, okay, we have to trust these trusted credentials, these trusted data points that are owned by our employees, although maybe outside of work. We see a big emergence of payments, credibility, social reputation linked to an individual.

Jeremy: I think that is spot on and very consistent with what we hope to see. We're looking at the problem of how can a individual prove to a protocol that they're a verified individual or prove certain attributes about themselves to a protocol. DeFi itself is market infrastructure that exists in protocols, but to utilize that, I think ultimately, people want to be able to know that they're known actors. Whether it be games and NFTs or DeFi, or corruption resistant, transparent, age distribution. All of these really require these building blocks.

Lots of exciting stuff happening there and stay tuned as we're hoping to make a big contribution to some of the problems in this space, in the near future as well. I want to shift a little bit to Stablecoins themselves. I know from the work that you guys have done, you've supported traditional fiat, traditional fiat instrument, fiat virtual cards, lots of different things that could be useful to people. Maybe talk a little bit about your journey into using Stablecoins. USDC, where you are with that.

What do you see as the biggest impediments to that being really a preferred medium of exchange for the ultimate recipients of age? Because the problem is it might be efficient to go from someone who's got some fiat, tokenize it, get it out into someone who's got a digital wallet. Making that useful on a day to day basis, at least in the markets that you're serving, how far away from people staying in Stablecoins as their stored value and medium of exchange?

Joseph: It's something we're building right now for our wallet. We call it global wallet solution. We're building this with the guys at Algorand and the Women's World Banking and this goes live in, I think, April time. Probably not but we're looking at April time. At the genesis when we decided to build this, we did a project last year. It was in the background on it with Save the Children and the Asian Development Bank in the Philippines. That project there was in an area called Marawi.

In Marawi, there were some Islamic insurgency over the last number of years. It was difficult for our partners and clients to onboard people and know where the money was going to the right person, so we did quite a successful project there. Microsoft were involved as well, Microsoft philanthropy. It turned out that if we were providing a wallet where it's somebody would onboard themselves, they'd self-provision themselves, they still need to get verified. That was the ID piece find repayment in the reams of regulation there.

Topping up a person directly with fiat, we do that in the payments rail within the Philippines. Then if we want to give people more ability to have access to more financial products. The example of what we're building right now is if a person receives or holds algo, they can stake. Folks pick on funds to take up micro insurance. Insurance is not something that you will do every day or even once there, even remembering, you do it once a year, your car insurance, your house insurance.

If we were able to let people have a savings wallet receiving algo, they could actually stake that. They get a notification to say that you saved $5 or $10 this month to do what you want. Here, we can pull in your insurance company where a person is using the cryptocurrency staking and the rewards are paying for their insurance policy and that solves that purpose there fantastic. Both fees, end-users own their own data. You still have the element, especially in Southeast Asia where people want to have US dollars or the equivalent of US dollars in their wallet.

They have the Philippine Peso, they'll have algo, it's either DeFi or their savings, but they also want to have US dollars as well. That's sending money or receiving money or actually sending money in-country. When we were looking at the Stablecoins, different Stablecoins, we saw that you guys obviously are working closely with Algorand and that made a lot of sense for us. We didn't have to go recreate everything from scratch.

The ability for a person to have one wallet with three different payment mechanisms, and they're actually four. You've Philippine peso, potentially Algorand, USDC, and the local fiat banking rails that they have in the country. On the first round, we interviewed around 60 people odd to get their feedback and their thoughts on what would this mean having these different currencies?

It turns out Philippine pesos, [unintelligible 00:22:45] for 7/11s, taking money out of pawn shops, which is a big thing in the Philippines. Secondly was if there was a way that their money could actually work for them, staking on a cryptocurrency was great. Third of all, everything is denominated in USD. That's what people know, that's the value people understand and it doesn't have, obviously, that fluctuation in the price. Everything would stay the same for the person.

That's why we decided to actually build a wallet, an identity here with different payment levels on top, it gives the person the ability to save, trade internationally, sending money or receiving money through family members abroad, whether it be the US, Singapore, Dubai, and then introducing them to cryptocurrencies in a way of not-- I wouldn't say speculating but more so for savings. We know there's a lot of people speculating cryptocurrencies and that's fine. The users that we're working with are non-crypto natives, so you have to give them the incentive to actually use it in the first place.

What really interested people was I can have this wallet, I can trade internationally at a super low cost, super cheap cost where I don't have to go to high fee remittance shops where people would actually queue up on a Saturday to receive or cash out money and so on. The ability to have that Stablecoin as USDC within the wallet was a massive or is a massive benefit and that's what we're literally designing with our end users as we speak with them right now.

Also, in the US, the way we're building what we're calling a volunteer to earn, where people can actually get rewarded for volunteering their time. If you look at, I think volume of philanthropy globally is 2.3 trillion. 80% of that is time-based and people don't get rewarded for their time. You could almost look up volunteering as a basic attention token, in some sense.

That's great in the wallet but people want to cash out. If they don't want the volatility they're going to need to be able to cash out and say USDC and then if you have a traditional fiat payment rail such as VISA, a person's getting rewarded for what they're doing anyway and now they can actually spend that at their local stores anyway as the VISA endpoint, for example.

Having USDC as a Stablecoin within our sphere, what we do, and what we're building is massively important. We probably underestimate it because we're so focused on the identity and the crypto piece but having that Stablecoin payments layer there that we can say build on Algorand or any other chains in the future is really important to [unintelligible 00:25:14] and they say we probably underestimated at the start. That's just two examples of how we've integrated and why it's so important.

Dante: That's tremendous. Joseph, you've related your remarks throughout to the Sustainable Development Goals. The first is to eradicate extreme poverty but later, the SDGs describe this call to action on reducing remittance costs from the global average of 7% to 3%. Then so many of the examples you described, responses in the Philippines and elsewhere can potentially tap that large diaspora populations and yet, we see that not only is there limited competition in how money moves across traditional rails across borders.

How do you see that ability to make that kind of activity more deliberate, especially when there is humanitarian response? We have a typhoon response underway, for example, right now in the Philippines. We have of course this dire, dire humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. So much of the way humanitarian aid moves today, the norm is pallets of physical cash which are like a honeypot for corruption, bribery, and fraud.

What do we need to do and what sort of coalitions do we need to have in place where the technology is there and all other conditions are equal? Is it just the lack of will? What's the missing link at the policy level to light up the planet with fast corruption-resistant aid in development corridors or relief corridors for moving money?

Joseph: It's a great question. I don't want to say anything to offend anybody in any sense. The response is if you look at-- A European response is very different to a US response. A lot of these things, it's people want to do well but the policy is not coordinated on an international level, and people have their own self-interest, and so on. Again, it goes to if a person is to have an identity, the transaction fees become a lot higher, either it'd be remittances or would be aid in the first place.

We always go back to the point, if somebody is provided with an identity, what can this do for them? They can lower costs and so on. Talking about the SDGs, I think it's target 6.9, bringing the remittance of fees right down to three and a half. Blockchain gives the ability to do that but it won't give the ability to do that if it's a once-off. We think it needs to be recurring in those transactions. If you look at, say, disaster response there are some really cool things I think Blockchain will allow you to do.

You can build a smart contract and we call this forecast-based financing that we're probably going to deploy this in the US hopefully in Q2, Q3, that if people have onboarded themselves to get a verified identity from the distributing partner, if X amount of rainfalls in the 24-hour period, or if wind goes above a certain miles-per-hour, you can actually automate trigger payments to those wallets individually, en masse to individuals.

You're lowering the cost of transaction distribution, you have your verified users. You can't stop a natural disaster happening but you can equip people to be proactive instead of reactive. Now that means in the bottom line for governments and organizations, you have a lot less operational costs, you can get people a lot quicker. For example, if you know a hurricane is going to hit your town and you got topped up, you can go and buy reinforcements for your house so the damage is going to be less.

I believe it's going to be in the future, it's going to be almost dow-based where the community can actually make donations or the community can donate their staking or imagine having-- I think this is mentioned before by some people online that you can have different protocols and donate a percentage of their fees every year and then the community actually votes where that should go in any given time and given period.

Instead of waiting for governments or policymakers to come together, I think a community-driven approach is going to be game-changing for federal aid, natural disaster relief in-country and internationally as well. Again, if people have verified identities, those [unintelligible 00:29:14] billion on banks are now essentially-- Won't say bank but they have access to financial services they didn't have the opportunity before.

That just massively reduces cost because a person doesn't have to wait for money to get in. Go to a local remittance service, queue up and then spend 5%, 6%, 10% on exchange, not for US dollars, whatever the actual currency is. I think the problems are there and the problems are getting worse, especially around natural disasters but I think there's going to be a massive opportunity to-- especially for Stablecoins to pay people out here instantaneously, super, super quickly, and cheaply.

That's been our remit, is not focusing too much on the [unintelligible 00:29:55] but focusing on the use case, getting product-market fit, and bringing it to scale. That's what we've been really focusing on to solve the problems of natural disaster relief, remittances, and so on.

Dante: I completely agree. All of that is very close to home while I was serving on FEMA's National Advisory Council here in the US. The idea that you could use blockchains for parametric insurance and paying out claims based on a weather-related event. Also, the concept that a dow is, in fact, very much emblematic of a mutual insurance structure, where you share the losses and you share the risks as well.

Are you getting some traction here domestically in the US? We saw not long ago with tornadoes, for example, in Kentucky and Circle in partnership with Endowment, tried to leverage some of these technologies to expedite fundraising and disaster assistance, even stateside. Are you getting some traction here in the US as well?

Joseph: Yes, we did a pilot [unintelligible 00:30:51] two years, got run for a year with St. Vincent de Paul Disaster Services in the US. That was helping victims of natural disasters get payments. They could actually go to stores, Walmarts, and the likes to actually replenish what damage that was done to their house. That was a really cool, successful pilot. We won an award for it.

By winning an award, we were able to go to some of our clients who would be very old in their methodologies. They're not data-driven, they're not technology-driven, but we can reduce their operational complexity. By our clients having a direct line to their end beneficiaries, they can actually prove their credentials to get insurance. Some people can't take their insurance because of their postcode or they can't prove any documentation.

With our two clients in the US, we've managed to turn those pilots into two four-year contracts where we'll be the blockchain supplier if you want to call it that. Essentially, we're building a wallet that will help them get to their end-users quickly, help them provide wallets, and potentially what the concept that we call volunteer to earn where people get rewarded for donating time, money, and so on. We see our biggest opportunity is in the US.

If you look at philanthropy in the US, it's actually bigger than remittances globally which is a phenomenal figure. I think it's about 600 billion. It's huge. We need to look at so many people trying to solve remittance, cross-border payments, and then just in the US alone there's so much money and there's so many people wanting to help, but there's very inefficient ways. You have payments over here, you have identity over here, but none of it's correlated together to serve these organizations on the end beneficiaries in a way that we can do now.

Jeremy: Makes sense. I want to come back to, I think of this as like the holy grail question which is clearly going from someone who's making a disbursement to a known recipient is really, really key. At the same time, in a lot of places, cash is the preferred medium of exchange. It's not because people are corrupt. There's always this assumption that cash just means that people are going to be corrupt. It has the benefit of being a bearer instrument and people know it can be settled. It can't be taken away from them and informal economies and other things. This is obviously an extremely common thing.

I think behaviorally and psychologically, for many people around the world in many communities, cash is king. That's okay. I think when you look at digital currencies like USDC, it has attributes of digital cash. It exists as a digital asset on a blockchain. It can be transacted point to point between counterparties without an intermediary. The power of blockchains. One knows that when they have it, they have it. It has that benefit of final settlement and security and privacy. These are all important features that make it useful as a form of digital cash.

I'm interested in your view on a lot of communities that are underbanked, the concept of having everyone on a monitored system and on a system that has a whole identity layer. Is there a threshold? We have this in the existing AML regulations. You got $1,000 or $300 or whatever those thresholds are, these risk-based thresholds.

Do you think on a principled level, it's important that individuals around the world should be able to just download a software wallet and do peer-to-peer digital cash transactions. The disbursement can be efficient and verified, but then the circulation can actually be a digital cash equivalent transaction experience in those markets. With chains like Algorand that make it a fraction of a penny and fast and cheap and so on, it starts to really unlock that where people aren't worrying about gas fees and things like that. What do you think of that kind of issue? Do you maybe agree that the holy grail is providing people everywhere with a digital cash equivalent medium?

Joseph: Totally. When we speak with clients, we are not trying to push them a protocol or technology. We're saying, "This can make your life easier and your end-users life easier." You always get asked that question about, what's the [unintelligible 00:35:29]? How does a person actually get this cash, especially if a person-- Let's say, we look at the non-crypto items. We're building [inaudible 00:35:36] that were never solved in the first place in Web 2.0. We're very careful. We don't want people to be excluded from Web 3.0.

For example, we're working with the guys at VISA. A person may have a verified credential, download the wallet, get their ID verified, and they only have an allowance of $500 or $1,000 and it could be a virtual debit card. A person can actually spend that in a local store, whatever the case it may be.

The tricky part is that I don't think we can solve, we're trying to solve, is depending on some of those countries, the regulation for a person to get a basic bank account is based on a tiered KYC approach. That's restriction on banking and Web 2.0 and so on, but you can't forget it. You still have to be aware of it if somebody wants to get into the financial system. Our view and our vision of what we want to happen is people own their own data, they own their own identity, and they own their own money.

A person's wallet becomes like their own mini-bank. There's lots of things to solve there in terms of user experience, how does a person cash out, and so on. For example, what we're doing in the Philippines is a person could receive Philippine peso, USDC, or Algo ino their wallet, but they want to cash out at some points. It's not for us to say what they should or shouldn't do with their money. We don't play along those lines.

For example, in the Philippines, people can actually cash out in pawn shops, we weren't aware of this at the start. Now, a person will have money in their wallet. We want that allow them to exchange USDC to Philippine peso and then they can actually take that out in the actual local pawn shop. If there is that going to be that ability of a person having a wallet with an identity, there needs to be an in-wallet exchange mechanism that will allow them to go from one currency to another that they can actually cash out or offer.

Otherwise, you're going to have to bring in third-party vendors, third-party players and they're the problems that we're trying to solve. I don't think blockchain is that far just yet because there's still KYC and AML rules and regulations and the changes in different countries. It's very difficult to build something that fits all, especially if you want to play in the right side of regulation, especially the end-users. You can't make their life more difficult. We're building to make their life easier and lower fees and so on.

It's a difficult one to ask, we're trying to incorporate these problems and trying to build the solutions for them, with that in mind for the end-user that they don't need to remember 34 or 24 see password because it won't work. Just forget about it. Having the ability that you can have one soft virtual debit card within the wallets, can people actually take money out at ATMs if their NFC on their chip will allow them at special vending machines and so on?

They're the type of things that we have in our radar that we're looking at. Again, it goes back to there has to be the US dollar equivalent for everybody because it's what we understand and know internationally, whatever country they're in. I think building these solutions without the Stablecoin components doesn't really make sense from our research and how we're actually engaging. We're trying to speak as many of the potential end-users before we're building it. It's worked well for us and that's where going from pilot, we're able to scale right now.

We don't have all the answers yet, but it's trying to bridge the world from fiat Web 2.0 to Web 3.0 with the user in the middle and bringing their own data financial history. Again, it goes back to having a social credit profile that they own and control. I think it's going to be key in the next few years.

Jeremy: Well, Joseph, it's tremendous to see the progress you're making and we're excited to be partnering with you and supporting what you're trying to accomplish. It's been a great conversation and we'll be excited to have you back on. I know in over the next year, whatever it is, you're going to be making even more progress.

I think for us, from a mission perspective, when we think about the fundamental mission of Circle to raise global economic prosperity through the frictionless exchange of financial value, there's a lot of ways that can be realized. Clearly, these humanitarian dimensions are so fundamental and from an impact perspective, we're really, really passionate about it.

I know for a lot of people who are getting into this industry, the promise of financial inclusion, the promise of the global ubiquity of this is what brings a lot of people into this industry. To have an entrepreneur such as yourself and a firm such as yourself doing what you're doing, it's really an honor for us to be able to work with you. I want to thank you, and thanks for joining the show today.

Joseph: Thanks. I appreciate your time, the opportunity to speak and spread the word about it. Keep up the great work there as well. Dante, really great to connect again. Hopefully, if I meet you in person sometime this year, let's say.

Dante: That's the plan.

Joseph: That's the plan.

Dante: Thank you, Joseph.

Jeremy: Cheers, everybody. Have a good day.

[music]

[00:40:50] [END OF AUDIO]

Jeremy Allaire
Co-Founder, CEO & Chairman at Circle
Dante Disparte
Chief Strategy Officer & Head of Global Policy at Circle
Joseph Thompson
Co-Founder & CEO at AID:Tech

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