Kenya’s M-PESA is hailed as one of the world’s innovative mobile money programs. It was launched in 2007 as a joint venture between Vodafone and the Kenyan telecommunications company Safaricom, but it now also operates in some sub-Sahara African countries as well as in India and Afghanistan. It is basically a virtual wallet, allowing users to transfer money without the need for a bank account. This initiative brought a new option to most of the 80 percent of the country’s 44 million citizens that have cellphones – but most of them do not bank accounts; the percentage of people without bank accounts in Kenya is especially high.
Thanks to a new venture called Kipochi, M-PESA now operates in the virtual currencies space as well. Through M-PESA, users are now able to buy bitcoins, which can be used for digital commerce or even for making cross border money transfers, something M-PESA users cannot do now.
Gyft, which “manages your gift cards without the hassle or plastic”, is a platform with approximately 200 retailer relationships, including Burger King, Lowes, American Eagle and Nike. Now, through a partnership with Bitcoin payment processor BitPay Inc., Bitcoins can now be used for Gyft purchases. Gyft gives Bitcoin users more options. Gyft supports mobile Bitcoin purchases only on the Android platform, however.
The CEO of Gyft, Vinny Lingham, says “The biggest issue with Bitcoin to date is: Where do you spend these bitcoins?” Even though the currency can now be used at around 50,000 retail locations, the problem in the past was that making payments with the currency was mostly not supported. That might also have been a reason for the currency acting more like a commodity for some time.
It is truly exciting to see where Bitcoin may go into the future. For more of our coverage on Bitcoin check out these posts.