by Joseph Young
Bitwala, a European bitcoin startup, is expanding to Japan to compete with existing banking services based on incumbent’s relative costliness and inefficiency.
Over the past few years, Bitwala has led the European bitcoin industry by creating innovative bitcoin-based payment solutions, cost-efficient remittance services and utility bill settlement platform.
Despite the strong influence and presence of prominent bitcoin investors such as Roger Ver and multi-million dollar bitcoin exchanges including Bitflyer, the Japanese bitcoin industry and infrastructure remain significantly smaller and weaker than other Asian countries such South Korea, China, the Philippines, and Taiwan.
Bitcoin platforms and applications in South Korea and the Philippines enable simple and cheap bitcoin trading utilizing traditional forms of payments and financial services such as local remittance outlets, ATM deposits and withdrawals, and over-the-counter payments.
Users can even visit tens of thousands of convenience stores in both countries and purchase bitcoin without having to deal with bank accounts, extensive user verification or authentication.
Japan however lacks this infrastructure and is becoming increasingly difficult to trade bitcoin and send money out of the country due to the inefficiency of remittance outlets and financial service providers like PayPal.
Bitwala is trying to close this gap between the underbanked population and bitcoin by supporting the Japanese Yen in its bitcoin platform. The integration of the Yen will allow Japanese users to pay utility bills and top up bitwala debit cards using bitcoin, which will ease the difficulty of local bitcoin users in utilizing the digital currency.
Supported utility bills on the Bitwala platform include water, electricity, insurance, credit card and rental fees, as well as online e-commerce purchases and invoice payments.
The Bitwala team believes that the expansion of their services will allow bitcoin to reach the underserved population of Japan. Like anywhere else in the world, it is expensive to make cross-border payments through conventional banking services and utilize bank transfers in obtaining bitcoin.
Bitcoin will allow Japanese users to make instantaneous international remittances through the Bitwala platform, reducing costs and time for both the sender and the receiver of the payment.
“We see a huge potential for Japan to open up to the innovative technology that lies within the blockchain and the wonders of using Bitcoin on a daily basis. Transferring money abroad is tricky business. Those who send using bank accounts tend to be grossly overcharged with the money arriving what seems like decades later,” explained Bitwala marketing manager Andrea Hesler.
She further noted that the recently proposed bills approved by the Cabinet in Japan to accept and recognize bitcoin as money created a friendlier ecosystem and environment for bitcoin startups and users.
This series of legislation was approved on February 4, 2016 by the Cabinet in Japan, immediately after the arrest of former Mt. Gox CEO Mark Karpeles.
Before the full launch of the Bitwala platform in Japan, the company will collaborate with local users to test average transaction time of the Bitwala bitcoin-to-fiat payment service. The firm will send small payments of 5 EUR to ensure that the bitcoin-to-bank account payments are speedily processed.