Latin America Embraces Digital Finance and the Next Internet Era
- With its rapid maturation, there is evidence that blockchain infrastructure is poised to handle even more economic activity in the very near future, both within Latin America and around the world
- Taken together, Latin America’s well-established market demand, policy support and widespread dollar usage make the region a natural fit for broader stablecoin adoption
- Circle offers infrastructure — stablecoins, wallets and other developer tools — that builders can access to create new financial services that are interoperable through a new global operating system for money
Stablecoins power financial interoperability and “Web3” for LatAm fintechs and developers
Stablecoins and tokenized data on open blockchains are unleashing a new wave of global commerce, making it significantly easier for people and businesses to move, store and own value locally and around the world.
Last year, global stablecoin settlement exceeded $7 trillion compared to $14 trillion settled at Visa and Mastercard.1
With its rapid maturation, there is evidence that blockchain infrastructure is poised to handle even more economic activity in the very near future, both within Latin America and around the world. As this article will explore, finance on the blockchain solves real problems in ways that traditional finance simply cannot.
We think that in the coming years, millions of businesses and billions of people will turn to new, regulated, blockchain-based financial services that will compete with traditional financial institutions for savings, payments, credit and more. Given advances in software development that make it easier to build with and use the blockchain, it will be easy for developers to embed these services in a way that’s invisible to merchants and their users.
This shift is already underway — and accelerating — with Latin America taking on a leading role globally. From mid-2021 to mid-2022, citizens of LatAm countries received $562 billion in digital currency value.2 According to Mastercard, 51% of Latin American consumers have made a purchase with digital currency and one-third have used a stablecoin for everyday purchases.3
Digital currency use in Latin America
This explosive growth is largely fueled by a simple-yet-powerful value proposition — expanded access.
Around the world, 1.7 billion people are underbanked, yet two-thirds of these people own a smartphone.4 Much as the original internet democratized access to information, public blockchains can turn these internet connected devices into compliant endpoints for both traditional finance and innovative new financial services that are completely disrupting traditional process and bureaucracy.
Reaching the underbanked4
In the coming years, the convergence of money and the internet could unleash changes that resemble what took place during the rise of the original internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s as millions of people around the world— and then billions — gained access.
We anticipate that trillions of dollars in value will eventually migrate to blockchain-based financial services, representing a significant share of the world’s money supply. We also anticipate that — in addition to the emergence of new services on the blockchain — more traditional financial instruments will migrate on chain, exposing them to significant populations that have traditionally lacked access.
This infrastructure represents a significant new stage in the internet’s ongoing evolution, which we’ve had the good fortune to help shape as Web founders and during lengthy stints expanding Google’s global payments business in 30 countries and running an emerging markets FX desk at JP Morgan.
We see striking parallels between where this “internet of money” is today and the original internet as it took shape during the 1990s. The original internet was born in the 1960s, yet it didn’t reach escape velocity until browsers became widely available and easy to use for mass audiences. This breakthrough enabled the creation of the cornerstones of the internet economy — search, social media, eCommerce and more — that fully disrupted and revolutionized many trillion-dollar industries.
This same evolution is happening again in real time. Digital currency and blockchains are quickly moving beyond the dial-up phase, with the user experience improving while the blockchains themselves are getting faster, cleaner and more resilient.
In another echo of the original internet, the open-source nature of this new infrastructure has fueled its early use and is key to enabling widespread adoption. Many of the most important blockchain resources are freely available for developers to build with, making it easy to create interoperable apps that could one day surpass today’s web and financial services giants on a new global operating system for money.
Let’s take a deeper look at some of the factors that are fueling LatAm’s rapid embrace of digital currency, and the exciting future that we’re building in the region and beyond.
Why LatAm is primed to drive this shift globally
Whereas North America drove global adoption of the original internet, LatAm is taking on a leading role when it comes to digital currency and financial technology more broadly. This is partly due to necessity, since many populations within the region lack access to analog financial services. Demographics also play a key role. With a population of 658 million5 — roughly double the U.S. — LatAm boasts around the same number of people as Southeast Asia, another hub for digital finance innovation. Nearly a quarter of this population is aged 14 or younger, giving Latin America another key advantage over other global regions with aging populations.6
Latin America’s strong developer base is also a major factor. There are nearly a million developers in the region who are active in offshore development,7 much of which is outsourced by American companies.8 This developer base is increasingly making an impact locally, with homegrown fintechs and neobanks driving major cost and accessibility improvements to Latin America’s financial sector.9
Higher LatAm fintech adoption is associated with lower income inequality, as evidenced by the fact that three-quarters of the region’s 30 million digital bank customers are previously unbanked or underbanked consumers and small/medium enterprises (SMEs).10 Fintech is also widely supported by policymakers, since it provides financial authorities with new tools to manage risks and compliance.11
Given this broad regulatory support and demand from the region’s businesses and consumers, the LatAm fintech sector has recently doubled in size and now features approximately 2500 platforms.12
LatAm fintech — a global powerhouse
Taken together, Latin America’s well-established market demand, policy support and widespread dollar usage make the region a natural fit for broader stablecoin adoption. As noted earlier, stablecoins are already working their way into the purchasing power of Latin American consumers. Many countries are exploring Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs), with Brasil having already selected 14 institutions to take part in its digital real pilot.13
Which brings us to today — and tomorrow. Fintech, traditional banking, stablecoins and CBDCs all exist (or will soon), but remain disconnected. The path to a future state of frictionless value-exchange will require additional infrastructure that can work in the background to bring all of these layers together, creating financial interoperability both locally within Latin America and globally.
Circle is focused on building this interoperability in financial services through compliant stablecoins, secure message protocols and other open-source, blockchain-based solutions that drive friction out value-transfer.
Here’s how we’re making it happen.
Our vision for internet-native financial infrastructure
It all starts with our stablecoins. Circle launched USDC — a dollar digital currency — in 2018, and it has since grown into one of the most liquid and widely held digital currencies in the world. Each day, roughly $4 billion in USDC changes hands.14 Nearly 2 million people in more than 190 countries hold USDC in digital wallets.15
USDC is a fully reserved stablecoin backed 100% by highly liquid cash and cash-equivalent assets and is always redeemable 1:1 for US dollars. A portion of the USDC reserve is invested in the Circle Reserve Fund (USDXX), an SEC-regulated money market fund managed by BlackRock. Daily independent third-party reporting on the portfolio is publicly available.
While most stablecoin activity today is denominated in dollars instead of local Latin American currencies, this can help people in the region bridge to the dominant currency for global trade.16 Historically, more than 90% of trade invoicing in the Americas has been denominated in dollars.17 In the rest of the world outside of Europe, this figure is still roughly 70%–80%.18
Dollar share of trade invoicing19
We do anticipate that more non-dollar stablecoins will become available over time. As a first step toward this future, in 2021 we began offering EURC. This euro-backed stablecoin is issued under the same full-reserve model as USDC.
Let’s take a look at several aspects of USDC’s design that make it uniquely suited to function as a layer to help accelerate financial interoperability.
- A dollar API for internet finance
USDC is essentially a dollar API for internet-native financial services. It is a highly regulated, open-source building block that offers easy integration into other fintech, bank and digital currency projects to enable nearly-instant, nearly free transactions denominated in the world’s most widely used currency.
- Built for blockchain interoperability
USDC is designed to flow across many blockchains. It is native on 9 blockchains today, with additional blockchain launches planned. Over time, our plan is to make USDC available wherever developers are active and the right security measures are in place, so that it can be used widely across the blockchain ecosystem.
Select USDC blockchain settlement speeds
This data is intended to be a reference to when Circle Account recognizes settlement, it is not meant to imply an absolute limit of a given blockchain network's capabilities.
At the same time, we are making more blockchain complexity fade into the background. Our recently launched Cross-Chain Transfer Protocol (CCTP) helps reduce friction when sending USDC from one blockchain to another. In the near future, we hope to enable CCTP support for every blockchain where USDC is native, making it seamless to send dollars across supported blockchains.
- Programmable wallets and developer services
Our programmable wallets let developers embed storage, transfer and spending capabilities for USDC and other digital assets into existing apps. This means internet businesses that have already achieved scale won’t need to rebuild popular interfaces from the ground up. Instead, they can simply bolt digital assets into existing customer experiences.20
To reiterate, every aspect of our infrastructure — stablecoins, wallets and other developer tools — is available for developers to use. We want builders to access these building blocks to create new services that are interoperable through a new global operating system for money.
How Latin America is bringing it all together
Here are some examples of how LatAm fintechs and developers are putting USDC to work.
- Mercado Libre
The biggest eCommerce marketplace in Latin America has begun offering its customers access to digital dollars through its fintech offering. Mercado Libre chose USDC because of its transparency, trust, utility and interoperability.
This digital dollar account provider worked with the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the U.S. government and Circle to create a humanitarian aid pipeline that used USDC to bypass controls imposed by the Maduro regime.
This Argentina-based fintech enables almost two million customers across Latin America to access and hold USDC, which can be spent alongside local currency in Argentina via the Lemon Card on the Visa network. Users across regions can seamlessly find friends and family via $lemontag and send them USDC nearly instantly without fees.
Founded in 2013, Ripio is one of the fastest growing companies leading crypto adoption in Latin America. They recently launched USDC cash back via both physical and virtual cards.
Credix is building the future of credit markets. It connects accredited investors with unique credit opportunities in Latin America, using the most advanced technologies to achieve scale, and unlocking risk-adjusted returns through robust risk management and structuring capabilities.
This Colombia-based savings and payments app powers their products with USDC, Euro Coin and Circle infrastructure, enabling access to their dollar and euro-based savings products for thousands of users.
This Brazilian-based, modular platform for secure digital asset custody, tokenization, trading, and management caters to the largest financial institutions in the region.
This LatAm fintech enables infrastructure for local businesses to access crypto liquidity and power their Web3 use-cases. They help some of the largest exchanges in the region expand their coverage.
- Felix Pago
This fast-growing remittance platform makes it possible to send remittances from the U.S. to Mexico via WhatsApp. Their partnership with Mercado Libre enables Mercado Pago users to expand their rails into WhatsApp, powered by USDC.
* Circle Ventures, an affiliate of Circle Internet Financial, LLC, has invested in this company
Let’s build together
This infrastructure represents one of the biggest breakthroughs in the history of financial technology. We would love to help you understand the opportunities and take advantage of interoperability in financial services. Reach out to us anytime.
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- “Stablecoin settlements can surpass all major card networks in 2023: Data.” Cointelegraph. Prashant Jha. December 22, 2022. Retrieved from: https://cointelegraph.com/news/stablecoin-settlements-can-surpass-all-major-card-networks-in-2023-data
- “Latin America’s Key Crypto Adoption Drivers: Storing Value, Sending Remittances, and Seeking Alpha.” ChainAlysis. October 30, 2022. Retrieved from: https://blog.chainalysis.com/reports/latin-america-cryptocurrency-geography-report-2022-preview/
- “Latin America’s crypto conquest is driven by consumers’ needs.” Mastercard. June 21, 2022. Retrieved from: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/latin-america-s-crypto-conquest-is-driven-by-consumers-needs-819718066.html
- “1.7 Billion People Don’t Have a Bank Account — But Mobile Banking Could Change Their Lives.” Marsh McLennan. Khalid Umar. August 9, 2021. Retrieved from: https://www.brinknews.com/bridging-the-digital-divide-to-widen-financial-services-in-central-asia/
- “Latin America – Statistics & Facts.” Statista. Aaron O’Neill. November 22, 2022. Retrieved from: https://www.statista.com/topics/3287/latin-america/#topicOverview
- “Number of software developers involved in offshore development in Latin America in 2022, by country.” Statista. June 26, 2023. Retrieved from: https://www.statista.com/statistics/1290785/software-developers-involved-in-offshore-development-latin-america/#:~:text=Software%20developers%20involved%20in%20offshore%20development%20Latin%20America%202021%2C%20by%20country&text=In%202021%2C%20there%20were%20approximately,Argentina%20totaled%20over%20100%20thousand.
- “Why Latin American Developers are 400% more popular than 5 years ago.” CodersLink. Carlos A. Vasquez. February 24, 2021. Retrieved from: https://coderslink.com/employers/blog/why-latin-american-developers-are-400-more-popular-than-5-years-ago/
- “The Rise and Impact of Fintech in Latin America.” The International Monetary Fund. March 29, 2023. Retrieved from: https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/fintech-notes/Issues/2023/03/28/The-Rise-and-Impact-of-Fintech-in-Latin-America-531055
- How big is Fintech Market in Latin America? The surprising truth.” Newtopia VC. January 6, 2023. Retrieved from: https://newtopia.vc/vc-blog/latam-fintech/how-big-is-fintech-market-in-latin-america/
- Brazil’s Central Bank Selects 14 Participants for CBDC Pilot.” Coindesk. Andres Engler. May 25, 2023. Retrieved from: https://www.coindesk.com/policy/2023/05/25/brazils-central-bank-selects-14-participants-for-cbdc-pilot/
- Internal Circle data
- “The International Role of the U.S. Dollar.” U.S. Federal Reserve. October 6, 2021. Retrieved from: https://www.federalreserve.gov/econres/notes/feds-notes/the-international-role-of-the-u-s-dollar-20211006.html
- Programmable Wallets application programming interface (“API”) is offered by Circle Technology Services, LLC (“CTS”). CTS is not a regulated financial services company and the API does not include financial, investment, tax, legal, regulatory, accounting, business, or other advice. For additional details, please click here to see the Circle Developer terms of service.