Global Crypto's Focus on Africa with Visa's Cuy Sheffield & Stellar's Tori Samples
Here at crypto@scale, we're of the belief that Africa is home to market conditions that will enable widespread, mainstream crypto adoption, and that many of the most immediate and meaningful crypto use cases will happen on the continent.
We’re not the only ones who think that - and in today’s episode we’re joined by two friends from outside of the continent who are both deeply interested in the African crypto ecosystem, as well.
Today’s guests are Tori Samples, senior product manager at Stellar Development Foundation, and Cuy Sheffield, the head of crypto at Visa.
00:00 - Intro
02:43 - Intro to Tori
04:35 - Intro to Cuy
08:29 - Visa is investing $1 billion in Africa
10:37 - Why SDF is focused on Africa
15:09 - Crypto use cases on the continent
30:42 - Crypto-enabled impact and change
43:40 - Tori's recommendations
44:55 - Cuy's recommendations
48:28 - Follow all of us on Twitter!
[00:00:00] Cuy Sheffield: I think anyone who has a long enough term view, if you're thinking about things 10 years from now, you can't not think about Africa. You can't not think about where is the middle class going to be and where is – what are the demographic in population trends? I've had the opportunity to meet amazing entrepreneurs and operators building companies. And many times they need infrastructure like blockchains to build on top of because there are alternatives. And so, we're really excited to see how we can support the ecosystem and how these technologies are used across the continent.
[00:00:35] Justin Norman: Hello and welcome to crypto@scale. I'm Justin Norman. My co-host, Gwera Kiwana, and I are of the belief that Africa is home to market conditions that will enable widespread mainstream crypto adoption. And that many of the most immediate and meaningful crypto use cases will happen on the continent. We're not the only ones who think that.
And in today's episode, we're joined by two friends from outside of the continent who are both deeply interested in the African crypto ecosystem for many of the same reasons that Gwera and I are. Today's guests are Tori Samples, Senior Product Manager at Stellar Development Foundation. And Cuy Sheffield, Head of Crypto at Visa.
If you enjoyed this episode of crypto@scale, please subscribe on YouTube or your favorite podcast app and share with a friend or a colleague who you think may enjoy it as well.
Before we dive in, just a reminder, the views or opinions of our guests are their own and don't necessarily reflect those of the companies they are representing. And as always, nothing we say should be taken as tax financial or legal advice. And please do your own research.
This episode of crypto@scale is brought to you by Ripple. Anyone who sent money across borders to or within Africa knows how cumbersome, expensive and slow the process can be. When it comes to remittances, sub-Saharan Africa remains the most expensive region to send money to. And for businesses, trapped capital, slow settlements and high failure rates pose major challenges.
The current financial infrastructure just doesn't work very well for the modern global economy. Ripple believes that crypto-enabled payments can help. Ripple's payment solution, on-demand liquidity, enables organizations to settle global payments in real-time at a fraction of the cost and without tying up working capital and destination accounts.
By leveraging the digital asset, XRP, as a bridge currency, funds can be sent and received in local currency on either side of a transaction. And across Africa, Ripple is partnering with local financial institutions and fintechs to bring the benefits of better cross-border remittances to the region.
To learn more and get in contact with the Ripple team, head over to ripple.com.
[00:02:33] Justin Norman: Tori, thanks so much for joining us. Can you tell us a little bit about your work at Stellar and the role that your past experience in African fintech has played in your journey into where you are today?
[00:02:43] Tori Samples: Sure. Thanks for having me. I'm Tori Samples. And I'm in product at Stellar, Stellar Development Foundation, leading our humanitarian work and bulk payments, which is obviously a natural pairing. But it actually makes sense. Organizations need to pay individuals around the world every day. Whether that's for refugee assistance in emergency settings, or gig workers, or payroll. And the Stellar blockchain helps organizations to do that at scale instantly, cheaply, transparently. All that good stuff with money that comes in a stable form and can be cashed out globally.
The bulk payments tool that I work on is called the Stellar Disbursement Platform, which can be used for any type of bulk payments. And the humanitarian program on top of that is Stellar Aid Assist, which has been used by organizations like the UNHCR in Ukraine to send assistance to refugees.
With regard to Africa, I've had a long personal history with Africa. Going back most of my life, even to when I was a very young kid, I've been involved with resettled refugee communities from Africa and the US for many years. I've lived in Tanzania a couple times short-term and have always had various things that have kept me engaged with the continent.
And then in 2018, I started a company called Leaf Global Fintech that was originally meant to help refugees and migrants to safely store and transport their assets across borders. That became a general-purpose digital wallet that operated on both smartphones and non-smartphones and was built on the Stellar blockchain.
We were actually the first to offer blockchain-based services to people without smartphones through USSD. And I was based on Rwanda for several years leading our team there until we got acquired by a US company, publicly-traded US company called IDT, last year. And so, I joined them and transitioned things over before coming to SDF.
[00:04:22] Justin Norman: Cuy, good to have you here as well. I think Visa needs no introduction. But could you give us a little bit of a summary about the work that you're doing specifically in crypto with Visa and why you, in particular, have had a keen eye on Africa?
[00:04:35] Cuy Sheffield: Sure. It's great to be here. And when we think about crypto at Visa, we always start by saying crypto isn't just one thing. We see it as like a collection of technologies that have many different use cases and are evolving at a pretty rapid rate. And so, we really look at it just objectively as if these new technologies, like public blockchains, advanced, cryptography, distributed systems, how can we apply them to our existing products, into our existing network in VisaNet? And then what can we build on top of these technologies outside of our network?
I think we're really fortunate to be able to take a very long-term view. We actually started the crypto team back in the last bear market late 2018, early 2019. We tend to prefer bear markets in crypto when there's just less noise and less distraction. You can actually focus on the technology and how it can be applied.
And so, as we think about what impact can these technologies have over the next 10 years and how will they be used and applied within the payments ecosystem, we really start with the fact that, in markets today where you can walk in with an iPhone and use Apple Pay and buy your coffee any place in the United States, there's not really a problem to be solved. Payments work very well. But there's a big part of the world that doesn't have many of those opportunities and the payment infrastructure just isn't as mature.
And so, we think that there's a path for blockchains to play an important role and have emerging economies to be able to leapfrog and embrace and utilize these as new modern technologies for payments and financial services. And so, I think anyone who has a long enough term view, if you're thinking about things 10 years from now, you can't not think about Africa. You can't not think about where is the middle class going to be and where is – what are the demographic in population trends?
I've actually never been to the continent. I might be the only person on the show who's literally never been there. It's one of the top places on my list that I hope to travel to soon. But I've had the opportunity to meet amazing entrepreneurs and operators building companies and just incredibly impressed by the talent and the motivation and what people are building.
And many times, they need infrastructure like blockchains to build on top of because there aren't alternatives. And so, we're really excited to see how we can support the ecosystem and how these technologies are used across the continent.
[00:07:16] Justin Norman: I think that trip is long overdue now.
[00:07:18] Cuy Sheffield: It is. it is. I don't travel a lot in general. It's not like I've gone all over the world. I'm just not going to the continent. The next major trip I make, we'll have to all go together.
[00:07:30] Gwera Kiwana: I'd be remiss if we didn't look to history to inform future relationships between the global North and Africa specifically. Historically, this relationship has been characterized by significant imbalances driven by exploitation. Although inequalities still persist between these regions, advancements in technology education and the emergence of successful Pan-African initiatives have helped rebalance the scales.
We're seeing a new scramble for Africa. With crypto innovators taking steps to engage and contribute, go after the opportunity that exists on the continent. This time, the energy for this scramble for Africa is less about extraction and more about collaboration toward a shared vision of driving growth for the next generation of adoption. But also, really for the next generation of growth of the continent.
Cuy, let's start with you. Visa have recently pledged to invest a billion dollars in Africa over five years. Can you talk more about this and what your thoughts are on how this is going?
[00:08:29] Cuy Sheffield: Yeah. We made this pledge in late 2022. And it was really an important moment and commitment step for Visa in Africa. And these investments are going to be focused on a variety of things around the payments ecosystem from Visa direct, and tap to phone and many new technologies that we're exploring and experimenting. But it's also going to include a big focus on expanding financial inclusion. Helping small and women-led businesses and really strengthening our local presence.
I recognize that sitting in San Francisco, I can't understand what's happening on the ground and build products that are going to help people's lives. And so, we need to have talent that we can work with in the region. And so, we set up a sub-Saharan Africa innovation studio in Nairobi. We have the She's Next Grant Program in Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, Morocco and Egypt. And then we're setting up more local operations.
And so, we opened an office in Democratic Republic of Congo. One in Ethiopia. And so, we recognize as a company, again, as we think about our future and over the next decade, there's a huge opportunity and role for us to play. And we think if we're successful, there's both – it's a big business opportunity. It's a big opportunity to help bring more people into digital payments and improve lives.
[00:09:50] Gwera Kiwana: Yeah. Very deliberate attention being paid to the content of Africa. And Visa, large player in the fintech payment space. And also, a lot to lose really. Historically, Visa has been so card-focused in Africa where card penetration and even card acceptance is still quite low. It's really cool to see that Visa obviously is continuing this DNA that you guys have of financial services innovation. Crypto has a role to play.
Tori, we're going to come to you. Your background in African fintech and your current role at a layer 1 blockchain foundation shows a clear Venn diagram that puts you in a rare position to uniquely understand the journey of financial inclusion and what role L1s can play in this space as well. What kinds of conversations are you having regarding Africa right now?
[00:10:37] Tori Samples: Well, thankfully, I think we've mostly moved beyond the narrative of Africa being a taker or a receiver of resources from other parts of the world. Africa is generative and has collectively started to take care of its own in the crypto space. And that makes sense, right? Africans are best positioned to know what Africans need. I'm thankful that I get to come alongside and build interesting products that enable people to achieve or at least try to achieve their full potential.
My journey is definitely one of learning. By no means an expert. But by immersing myself and my life in the day-to-day experiences of my users, I can translate that to other parts of the world. There's still a huge gap.
I talk a lot about the differences between what's on paper and reality. Kind of going both directions. People in the West don't have a lot of direct experience with Africa by and large. I'm generalizing here. And so, they rely on what they see, which is usually in reports or on websites. And those aren't always accurate. And things change quickly.
And so, I do a lot of explaining. One that came up recently was around the idea of financial access. A very well-respected institution that I work with was saying that – well, not that I work for it directly. But that we work with as a partner. And was saying that pretty much all East Africans are financially included. Because mobile money is available in those markets.
And for anyone who has lived it, that doesn't touch what makes mobile money hard or inaccessible to some, which is an ID to get an account set up. High peer-to-peer transaction fees, at least outside of Kenya. Consistent access to a charged phone. And so, availability doesn't touch day-to-day use.
If financial inclusion is made up of financial access, usage and quality, you need all of those. And a service being available doesn't mean that it's being used effectively. There's this narrative that I've seen lately that all the good African opportunities have already been seized. And I vehemently disagree with that. Go walk around on any given street and you'll see that there's still plenty of opportunity to go around. And the current fintech and blockchain offerings still aren't needing the day-to-day needs of many people across the continent.
My personal opinion, I'll say, is that savings are sexy no matter how they're built or where they're stored. Crypto can obviously play a huge role in that, especially in opening up access to global stablecoins. Savings, generally, are what makes us resilient and allow us to make life better for ourselves and our families. And savings are also where we see people's creativity naturally on display.
And so, I personally don't care whether people keep their savings in a bank or not. Because that might not always be the best option for them. But our job as financial services professionals is to enable people with choice, right? To allow them to access their money, immediately, safely, conveniently. Equip them with options to protect and grow their wealth over time. That principle starts to overlap with the earned wage access, save now, buy later, fractional investment, all sorts of things. Many of which you can facilitate with a blockchain.
There's, unfortunately, no way around financial shocks and the financial burdens of supporting families and communities. But my hope for Africa is that the majority of people in the coming years can get beyond thinking about tomorrow and start capitalizing on wealth-building practices that have made the rich very rich across the world. And especially, using new technology to leapfrog and reduce access inequalities.
[00:13:57] Gwera Kiwana: You mentioned that you're going to be traveling across the continent very soon. Can you give us a high-level of what you're most interested in what kinds of conversations you're interested in engaging in? What you're looking to debunk or learn while you're there?
[00:14:10] Tori Samples: I'll be there specifically to attend a couple events. One in Kenya, one in Rwanda. But my personal excitement is all around the conversations that I get to have with builders, with users, with legacy financial institutions to figure out what is keeping them from leveraging this technology that has been around for a while but isn't exactly widespread.
And, of course, I work for the Stellar Development Foundation. My interest is in seeing people utilize the Stellar network. But just generally, I feel like there's a gap still between what could be and what is. And that's what I want to learn more about.
[00:14:48] Justin Norman: We should actually, Cuy, ask you that same follow-up question. Because even though you talked about having not traveled to the continent before, you mentioned having a lot of questions to Africans across the continent. What are the sorts of things that are interesting to you? We're going to talk about your personal interest in NFTs in a minute. Maybe don't answer that. But in general, some other things that are interesting to you about and the responses you're getting and the conversation you're having on the continent.
[00:15:09] Cuy Sheffield: Yeah. I think one of the most interesting things that we've seen is the demand for stablecoins and the type of activity of developers building products around them.
And so, when we look at stablecoins today, if you're in the United States and you only make domestic payments, why would you need a dollar on a blockchain? Payments work pretty well. But there are people who would much rather have dollars than have a local currency that has been inflating, or that's not reliable, or that they don't trust.
And so, I think, in many ways, we've seen stablecoins become a way to supply this very large global demand for dollars. And it's pretty difficult to get dollar-based bank accounts in many markets. And some consumers don't trust the local banks. And you might have to have certain limits or higher fees.
And so, just being able for anyone across the world to choose what currency they want to hold and to be able to hold a hundred dollars in a self-custodial wallet, we think it's something that's super powerful. And then we look at it as it's a new type of a banking as a service type of technology.
A lot of fintech in the United States and in a number of developed markets, it's really been interfaces that have been built on top of banks. They've been usually well-funded entrepreneurs that have a history of success that could go raise money and then go partner with a bank and build an interface on top of it. But that doesn't really work if you're three people, and you're 18 years old and you're talented developers. It's pretty hard to go in and convince a bank to let you build on top of them.
And so, we're finding that there's just this – particularly in markets like Nigeria and in areas like Lagos, there's a ton of developer talent. Really, really amazing ambitious developers. But they can't just go and build on top of a bank. And so, they look at blockchains and the APIs that blockchains offer as infrastructure that they can build on top of.
And so, we think the barrier to entry to building new financial products is going to get lower and lower. And so, we think that that's great for the world if you can have talented people be able to create products that you don't even have to no blockchains are being used behind the scenes. It might look and feel like Venmo. But it's more accessible to be built and operated by people in the markets that are there to serve the customers next to them. And so, I think that's been the first thing that's really stood out, is the developer ecosystem and the demand for stablecoins.
[00:17:46] Justin Norman: There's a couple of themes that come up, right? Permissionless, borderless, accessibility. All of these things that we talk a lot about in the global context. Tori, I want to ask you about that because you've done a lot of work with refugees both in your prior role and then currently at Stellar. I know that there's a program to help facilitate cash transfers to the Ukraine, for example. You talked a little bit earlier also about this idea of financial inclusion and the challenges with regards to lack of identity infrastructure.
And so, this idea about leveraging public blockchains and new payments rails to create opportunities to facilitate financial inclusion, for example, in environments of scarcity, right? With refugees or an environment like that. Can you talk a little bit about some of those pilots and how, for example, some of the lessons from what Stellar is doing in Ukraine can map well to the African context?
[00:18:37] Tori Samples: I should caveat that SDF builds products and releases them open source so that anybody can use them. The pilots that have gone live with Stellar Aid Assist and the Stellar Disbursement Platform or that have been publicized have been conducted by the UNHCR and the International Rescue Committee, IRC. But it's their money being dispersed in those cash transfers. They're the ones who are actually running those tools, which is incredible if you think about it. The UN, this very legacy institution, UNHCR, is able to tap into the power of this new technology and use it to benefit people all around the world.
I think that's amazing. And it doesn't have to be run through an organization like SDF. It's a decentralized technology. And we're seeing the power being put – the agency being put into the people who are actually the experts on this. And so, I think that's great overall.
I would say that the lessons that kind of map to the African context, the overall one, is just make better products for the senders and receivers of funds so that the inefficiencies of the legacy financial system no longer disproportionately affect people working in emerging markets. That's been the case over time. That's why we can say that payments aren't really an issue in the US anymore. But they still are all over the world.
With the Stellar Disbursement Platform, the SDP, the UNHCR has been public about its use of it in Ukraine. But we actually built it to be used in any geography. And that's for any time an organization needs to send money to multiple people at once.
We've seen so far that the user experience for the receivers of funds is critical. That experience of being able to easily be invited to an easy to use digital wallet with minimal setup and no understanding of blockchain required, that is a viable path into the world of crypto for most people. Cash transfer programs will continue to benefit from this technology and continued use by UNHCR and others. But that isn't the only use case. And so, I think a lot about Uber drivers in Kenya that shouldn't have to wait months to be paid. I'm thinking about government programs that need to ensure that every shilling, or franc, or whatever reaches its intended destination with transparency and efficiency.
I'm thinking about multinational companies that need to pay people, pay their staff in various countries around the continent. The Stellar Disbursement Platform does all of that. And all of those transactions are written to the Stellar blockchain, which obviously starts to tap into those fast, cheap, transparent, accessible, all of those great things.
But from what we've seen in Ukraine and elsewhere, overall, again, we need to make the crypto world accessible with tools and technologies that people already have. And it needs to be interoperable with systems that they already use. That's what's going to make it successful. You have to layer onto existing patterns in people's lives. That's one general just product principle, right? But it especially applies, I think, for crypto and blockchain. We have to keep that product mindset. My favorite thing personally, just look at people and how they pay for electricity. Make that a ramp into and out of digital assets. That's going to change the world.
[00:21:37] Justin Norman: Cool. Thanks, Tori. And Cuy, coming back to you, I think Tori just talked about a sort of wide variety of use cases of crypto. And one-use case in the Web3 context in particular that you've been very vocal about is NFTs. And we talk a lot at crypto@scale and on The Flip about African creatives and sort of the opportunity to build up those industries in the context of comparative advantages for the continent. Can you talk a little bit more about that? Why you have such an affinity for them and in the context, again, if you have permissionless, boarderless? What that means for Africans in particular in your view?
[00:22:13] Cuy Sheffield: Yeah. I've been excited about NFTs for a few years now. And we've been closely following and engaging with communities here at Visa. I think we've kind of started with this notion of creators are kind of the next small businesses. They're just digital small businesses. And if you look at what are young people going to do or what to do to make a living, many of them are spending a lot of time on the internet. They're creating. Whether it's music, or art, or content. There's so many different aspects of it.
But I think, too often, people think about small businesses just as brick-and-mortar mom-and-pop shops. We like to think about small businesses as individuals that are just trying to make a living. And so, if you're a talented creator – and we think talent is distributed all over the world. It's not that all the talent is in the United States.
I think there's so many amazing creators who are creating art and music. And if you look at Afrobeats and how globally popular some of the content in music is becoming, the question is how can you monetize it and make a living through it?
And I think, historically, the main monetization for the creator economy has been advertising revenue. It's been you are trying to get eyeballs or views. And then you you get paid a small amount of money per that by a large social media platform.
And I think it was actually one of your earlier shows and hearing you interview some creators and say, "Wait a minute. If you're a really popular creator in Nigeria, you're not going to make as much in terms of advertising revenue as a popular Creator in the United States." Because advertisers are willing to pay less. Because the eyeballs are willing to spend less.
And so, it's not the best monetization to enable the middle class of creators. It kind of skews to either your Mr. Beast and you have billions of eyeballs and you get paid a lot. Or if you only have a few and you can't make a living. And so, we would like to see the creator economy become more commerce-based, where people can actually sell goods instead of just trying to sell attention.
And it's hard to sell physical goods to a global audience because then you have to deal with distribution. And how would you ship physical art from a creator in Rwanda to my house in Menlo Park? It's just very cost prohibitive to be able to do. And so, we see blockchains as just these rails that can distribute and deliver digital goods to any blockchain address. And so, your blockchain address becomes like a shipping address.
And so, now if someone anywhere in the world wants to buy digital art or digital music, if they want to buy a music NFT, they can get access. It doesn't make a difference whether you're in Nigeria or whether you're in California where that's actually coming from.
And so, I think that there's a huge opportunity to lower the barrier to entry for creators, and particularly, the middle class of creators to make a living through finding people who are excited about their work and being able to sell a product, a good to those people that can be delivered instantly across the world. I think that opens up a lot of different possibilities.
And so, I'm just really excited about how culture can be turned into really amazing, unique digital goods and then distributed. And so, I've been collecting NFTs for several years now. And we started a Visa creator program. We have an amazing artist, Gus Sarkodee, in Ghana, who's a photographer, who's been doing really interesting work. We've been kind of helping advising on ways that he can mint NFTs and distribute that work.
And so, we think the creator economy is not going away. It's going to be a major place that people make a living. And in fact, it's going to be an on-ramp for crypto. Where if you get paid, if you are able to sell a good and you get paid in a stablecoin or in a cryptocurrency, that might be one of the easier on-ramps for people to get into these digital economies versus having to take existing Fiat and go and find some way to convert it into crypto.
[00:26:24] Justin Norman: Just as a follow-up question, I think I want to ask both of you this question. We talked a little bit about the paradigms from a technology perspective of what blockchain technology allows your respective organizations to do. But then you just talked about it a little bit, Cuy, with respect to business model, right? Moving from an advertising-based business model to a commerce-based business model. Do you guys either individually or your organizations think about the opportunities to leverage new business models that are made possible by public blockchains? And perhaps in the context of fintech in particular where we always talk about fees, right? Are fees going to go to zero for payments? And that's a big question in the mobile money context or in the African fintech context. Do you think about the business model question in a different way in the crypto context?
[00:27:10] Tori Samples: There's something there. I don't know the answer. Right? There are a lot of things that I think are being explored right now. But we have yet to figure out what's going to stick. And that's okay. That's a natural learning cycle.
I think that we've definitely seen, as access opens up to Global stablecoin markets and there are seamless, more seamless ways to get money in and out of the digital economy, it does open up opportunities. Whether that's at an individual level for creators or a more institutional level.
I love the creativity that I see in different forms of payments models, whether it's buying now, paying later. Saving now, buying later. All sorts of things. But I think that it's going to look a little bit different in every market probably. There's no one answer that is going to dominate business models for everyone everywhere. Right? So much of it is dependent upon that local context and local purchasing habits, comfort with technology, all of that. That's a very long way of saying I don't know. But I'm excited to see.
[00:28:15] Cuy Sheffield: The way that I like to think about it is we kind of go all the way back to Visa has this really rich, unique history. We've been around for 60 years now. And so, when Visa was started in the late 60s, the original vision and mission was to be the premier system for value exchange.
And so, it was so much grander than just we're not just a card network for consumer-to-merchant payments. There are many different types of value exchange that are going to exist. And our goal is how do we create value and participate in that value exchange and help people be able to benefit from it.
And so, when I look at blockchains, I look at blockchains as like general purpose systems for value exchange, where there are many different types of transactions that run on blockchains. There are stable coin payments that are B2B and P2P. And actually, we don't see that many that are consumer-to-merchant yet.
There are NFT mints. People creating a digital good. People transfer a digital good. There are DeFi loans. There are governance votes. There are all these different types of value exchange.
And so, if you think about Visa's overall addressable market as just consumer-to-merchant payments using a card, that's one thing. If you think about all of these new forms of value exchange that many of them didn't even exist – creating a digital good. That wasn't a transaction. There was no transaction that need to be processed. There were no fraud tools that you needed when you created a digital good.
We think that they're going to be a lot of different roles that we can play both at the infrastructure layer as well as value-add services. If our clients between merchants, banks, fintechs and consumers are going to want to interact with these networks, how could they do that in a safe, secure and reliable way? And there are going to be all these use cases that we can't even imagine. But they're all going to rely on this kind of shared infrastructure of how a blockchain operates and processes transactions.
[00:30:17] Gwera Kiwana: All right. Let's look toward a possible future for crypto at scale in Africa. There's obvious low-hanging fruit opportunities in this scramble that's going on, the Scramble for Africa, with a number of global companies directing attention to the opportunities on the continent and the growing scene of ambitious homegrown problem solvers. Tori, who do you think is poised to make a big impact? And what role do partnerships play in driving this impact?
[00:30:42] Tori Samples: Well, there are a few different answers, right? I'm a payments girl at heart. I think anyone who's working on micropayments, removing the friction that we still see cross-border, tackling merchant acceptance, all that poised well. Still a lot of innovation to come that can help people generate and retain wealth that's lost in the process of moving it.
With a little broader, anything that improves MSME resilience, I'm also keen on. I think MSMEs are the backbone of developing economies. But they often get wiped out due to unforeseen challenges. And so, insurance, digital tools training, all of that can help including a lot blockchain-based product.
But honestly, I think the organizations that could make the biggest impact are those that are either currently disincentivized from doing that or that typically move the slowest. Without naming names, ins and outs, Pan-African Banks, remittance companies with physical agent locations.
Africa leans towards formality in respect for institutions. At least they're my experience. And so, that means that those larger companies that are established are going to be taken seriously in a way that startups just aren't. Maybe outside of Nigeria. Because I am not arrogant enough to speak for Nigeria ever.
But I think that it's fair to say that those partnerships with large established companies still play an outsized role for new and innovative companies in Africa. And so, I would love to see those underutilized assets in sitting in large companies applied towards new technologies and business models. Anyone with a distribution network across Africa could be a potential game changer in fintech. Still, it doesn't even have to be a fintech company. I think that that partnership is still key.
When I think about crypto and crypto at scale, I think that it's going to look like choice. It has to, right? Like people having multiple options in terms of digital assets. Multiple ways of accessing those assets. Whether that's different wallet apps, USSD, savings groups, offline cards or something else that we haven't even thought of yet. But they've got to have optionality for what they do with that value so that they can provide for their needs. Pay anyone anywhere. Send and receive with whoever they need to and save and grow their wealth over time. That can't happen without L1's, [inaudible 00:32:58] institutions, on and off ramps, wallets, asset issuers, et cetera, all coming together and partnering to make that a reality.
[00:33:05] Gwera Kiwana: I love that. The fact that you shouted out these slower moving entities like MNOs, which are mobile network operators, and banks, these are probably the ones who are most crypto-averse. Who are most just don't want to touch it. Maybe there's an intern in the HQ somewhere banging on about crypto. But the head of compliance is just shutting it down completely, right? It's going to take these kinds of partnerships, I guess, and also established fintechs or even innovative companies to kind of guide them along that journey.
Yeah, I think Visa and even MFS Africa. Sorry to give ourselves shoutouts. I think we have a responsibility to kind of handhold these entities. And, yeah, I'm pretty excited about what that would look.
Cuy, what do you think the future of the African crypto ecosystem will look and feel like? And I also like to follow that up with asking you to tie that in with maybe juxtaposing it to what the future of the American crypto ecosystem will look like.
[00:34:01] Cuy Sheffield: First, completely agree with Tori's comments. You have to have bottoms-up organic innovation from fintechs and developers in addition to top-down established institutions coming into the space. And I think, to date, it's been mostly bottoms-up and kind of these parallel ecosystems that are interesting, they're innovations. But it's not something that mainstream consumers are comfortable using.
And I think it's really just going to take time. We hope that Visa can become a bridge where we play a unique role and that we spend in our days talking to innovative small fintechs, and DeFi protocols and layer ones. And then we go and talk to the largest banks and the largest MNOs. And so, we want to be a resource that can help them, again, understand this as a technology.
I think people get way too emotional about crypto. They hear crypto and they're, "Oh, crypto." Versus just people don't get emotional about cloud computing. They don't get as emotional about AI. Now they're getting more emotional about AI. And so, I feel like it's a little different.
And so, just to kind of take a step back and say there are a number of emerging technologies that show promise for different innovations and payments, financial services. And it's going to require large institutions that have the distribution and have trust to commercialize many of them. And they'll have to do that in partnership and learning from smaller companies that are always going to going to lead the way.
And I think part of it is, for blockchains to be successful, most people should never have to know what a blockchain is. And I think, today, we're at a point in the industry where pretty much every crypto wallet or everything that uses a blockchain, you know it uses a blockchain. And many times, it's like that's what's advertised. It's a crypto wallet. You want to trade crypto. Speculation is still one of the main use cases.
I think we're finally getting to the point where the infrastructure is maturing enough where you can start to build products that you don't have to explain anything about a blockchain or a cryptographic key. You just give someone an app. You give them a wallet. You give them a product and you say, "Hey, use this to send someone money." And the technology is abstracted away behind the scenes.
And we don't think anyone should have any more brand affinity for a blockchain protocol than they should for an internet protocol. It should just work. And I think that if you can combine large trusted institutions with distribution, commercializing these technologies but abstracting them away, they could start to power real products and services without people even knowing what they are.
I think that's a win. That's a win for crypto. And too often, we focus on trying to convince people to make an explicit choice that they are either into crypto or not into crypto, which I think is just most people don't care. They want a product that can benefit their lives.
And so, I think that from a payments perspective, there's so much more opportunity in emerging markets and across the African continent than there is in the United States. And I think in the United States, there are payment flows, large value, cross-border, B2B. If you want to send a million dollars on a Saturday, stablecoins are probably the best way to do that. I think that you'll see interesting things like streaming micropayments and kind of some of these futuristic use cases.
It's either really big payments, really small payments. Kind of at the edges. But I think, across the continent and a number of markets there, you could see actual mainstream adoption and usage of blockchains for all different types of payments that, really, where blockchains start to displace cash.
And I think that, in many ways, they are global real-time networks that already exists that you could build on top of, which is easier than trying to go market-by-market and having central banks and governments build their own RTP rails, which you've seen there've been successful cases in Brazil and India. But there's still a long way to go.
And so, I tell everyone, it's just going to take time. And I think the combination of these things coming together, a question that there will be value created, it's hard to predict who the winners are. But it takes many years for those types of changes to happen.
[00:38:21] Tori Samples: To piggyback on what Cuy was saying – and really give a shout-out to Visa for the innovative work that they've done and being that bridge. Speaking as a former fintech founder, as an entrepreneur, that credibility for startups in tagging along through a program like Visa Everywhere or all the work that Visa has done with Visa Everywhere Initiative, Visa Direct, all sorts of innovative programs have made a huge difference for fintech founders around the world.
And that bridge is, I think, imperative for long-term success. Because having organizations like Visa that can go into those long-standing institutions or a room full of central bank governors and can share about the value of new technology and get their compliance teams comfortable and have a handful of fintech companies that they already work with. That is something that those companies couldn't do themselves.
And so, I think we need more of those. And Visa has been a leader in that space for years. And I hope that they continue to do the same. But, yeah. I've personally benefited from those. And I really appreciate the work that they're doing in that space.
[00:39:29] Gwera Kiwana: Continuing to push the envelope. Yeah, Cuy is definitely leading that charge. And I don't envy your role, Cuy. I think there's definitely still a lot of minds to be changed or journeys to be handheld through. Yeah, shout out to that.
I'm going to actually ask Justin to say something real quick. Because we had a listener community event in Johannesburg. And Justin, you said something really cool which is, again, drawing parallels to what we're seeing in crypto now. And you described how the media industry was seeing new media. Would you mind giving that spiel one more time?
[00:40:02] Justin Norman: Well, I was saying how in the early days of the internet, right? And I guess it maps to Web1, Web2, Web3. But in the early days of the internet, there were internet companies, right? And now every company is an internet company.
And then during Web2 and social media, there were a lot of new media companies or people in a new media role. And right now, when you say new media, it makes you sound old, right?
But I guess every company is already doing social media and digital marketing, all of these things. And I think the extent to which crypto becomes well-penetrated will be indicative of us not talking about crypto companies anymore. Kind of like AI as well, right? Where how AI is being absorbed into a lot of different kinds of companies. And there's infrastructure underneath AI.
But I think that – and I'd be interested to hear what you guys think. But I think that for crypto to be mainstream, we don't really want to be talking about crypto companies. We just want to be having those use cases be a part of commerce, or be a part of payments or whatever it might be. And not look at it as a distinctly separate thing.
[00:41:03] Gwera Kiwana: Yeah. Having the use case of UNHCR is able to disperse funds to refugees and in the Ukraine crisis immediately. I don't have to talk all about the fact that there's a layer 1 blockchain and a protocol. I don't care. If we get to a point that, Tori, you can just talk about it as like, "Yeah, we helped UNHCR get money to people in need as quickly as possible."
[00:41:28] Tori Samples: That's the dream.
[00:41:29] Gwera Kiwana: Yeah. That is the dream.
[00:41:30] Cuy Sheffield: I would just say, even on that point, it's interesting when I've met a number of founders building on the continent. Even if they aren't crypto companies per se. Eeven if they don't operate or offer crypto products. To hear how they still may be using stablecoins in their corporate treasuries to store value, to move value, to pay suppliers, I think that's one of the best examples where you're going to have many different companies that are just going to incorporate these technologies for their own internal uses even if the end product that they're offering to a consumer has nothing to do with crypto. And I think that's the role that stablecoins can play, is if you're starting a business that's a global business and you're outside the United States, you probably want to have some access to dollars.
And it seems to be even more difficult over time for many startups to get dollar-based banking. So stablecoins are starting to become this kind of – it's the dollar-based bank account for emerging global startups from many of these markets. And that alone is they're not a crypto company. Every company needs financial services themselves to be able to operate.
And so, I think that's going to be one of the first use cases, is just behind the scenes, sophisticated companies using these Technologies themselves. And then as they start to use these technologies, then they'll say, "Okay, what can we build that we can provide and offer to consumers?" Abstracting away some of the complexity behind it.
[00:43:00] Justin Norman: And just to tie a bow on that, I think it's obvious, but I'll say it anyway, right? The demand for these types of use cases can only come from companies outside of the US, right? People don't concern themselves with access to dollars when they do business in dollars. But for everyone else, it's a really important opportunity.
[00:43:16] Gwera Kiwana: We're going to wind down. I think I'd really love to grab a glass of wine, or beer, or whatever, coffee, with you guys. And I think we could talk for hours and hours about this. But every week, we ask our guests to give us one or two recommendations of sources that they recommend our crypto@scale community to really about what gets you excited about crypto. Any recommendations that you want to share? We'll start with Tori.
[00:43:40] Tori Samples: Well, I strongly believe that there's no better teacher than your average user. Go talk to them without being creepy. Ask them how they get paid. How they manage their money? Who they send money to? And how often? Make sure they know that you're not trying to rob them or anything. But I found that people are actually quite open about that. Because they're proud of the little creative hacks that they do to retain their value. And they're very open about the things that frustrate them about their financial system. That would be my number one recommendation, is like go be out there. Be in the real world. And then go look at crypto stuff.
Yeah, on the crypto side, there's a lot at the intersection of blockchain, and crypto and financial inclusion, which is kind of where I hang out. Organizations like the Alliance for Financial Inclusion, AFI, is a really good one. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that. If you want to learn about Stellar, SDF publishes a ton of helpful resources. We're really focused on real-world utility.
And so, we do a lot of research in that space. We concentrate on policy and making it very easy to build on the Stellar network. Our CEO also has another fantastic podcast called Block by Block that showcases industry leaders at the intersection of crypto in the real-world.
[00:44:51] Gwera Kiwana: Brilliant. Thank you. Cuy, any recommendations? Anything that's getting you excited about crypto right now?
[00:44:55] Cuy Sheffield: First, what I recommend to everyone is just go on-chain. Use crypto products. Try out wallets. Try out different blockchains. Try out different – don't spend a lot of money doing it. But you can sign up for a wallet and get $5 of USDC and send it back and forth. Or you can mince an NFT. There's just so many things that you could do. And it's very hard to understand where we are and how these technologies are progressing if you're not using these products.
And I find that you have people who are in crypto, in the crypto community, and you ask them, "How many wallets have you tried?" They're like, "Oh, yeah. I only use one wallet. I've used it for three years." You have to continue to try these new technologies
And so, that's the first thing that – and we do this internally. We go and help executives set up their first self-custodial wallet and teach them how to mint an NFT. And you kind of see how far away we are. Well, that was harder than I thought. But you could track where the industry is going by using the products. That's the first piece.
And then the second is on-chain data is an amazing resource. And I think where we are today in terms of the tools, and the dashboards and kind of what you can look at and monitor versus where we were last bear market, it's night and day. Shout out to Dune. We're huge fans of Dune. And just the ability to create dashboards. To then look at all the dashboards. There's a real community in Discord.
And so, we have people who are learning SQL and to do on-chain data analysis. I feel like that just as a skill set. Anywhere in the world, you have one of the most valuable data sets that you just have to learn how to query. And there's an infinite amount of things that you could ask it. And so, that's an amazing opportunity, to just build a reputation and write queries, create dashboards, follow it. We track on-chain data very closely. Learning how to do that across chains. How are stablecoins being used? What's the market share of Tether versus USDC?
And so, I believe in – and completely agree with Tori. Go talk to people. If you talk to people about how they interact with money and payments in general. If you use the latest products and try them out, and if you go deep on on-chain data, there aren't that many people who actually do all three of those things on a regular basis. And so, that really differentiates you and you can build a deep understanding and expertise on where it's heading.
[00:47:24] Gwera Kiwana: It's not orthodox for us to make recommendations. But I'll make one because it ties into everything you guys have said. And also, ties into the event we had in Johannesburg this week. Emerging on-chain is a new publication/community that is releasing – they basically are demystifying the African crypto story with data content and intimate events. We collaborated with them in Johannesburg for this event.
A lot of reports we're seeing out of African crypto right now are a lot of hype and a lot of crap, to be honest. There's a lot of false numbers. Some of these reports, you can just easily fact check them using Dune, right? You can fact-check them using like zapper.fi. There's so many things that they're getting wrong. And I think Emerging Onchain is doing a great job of actually using real on-chain data and telling stories about crypto in Africa. Yeah, definitely check them out. Emerging Onchain.
[00:48:12] Justin Norman: Thanks, Gwera. We'll link to all of that in the show notes. But that wraps up today's discussion. Tori and Cuy, thank you so much for joining us. We just gave our recommendations. Can you just share briefly where can people find out more about you and your companies? Cuy, we'll let you go first.
[00:48:28] Cuy Sheffield: I'm on Twitter @CuySheffield and visa.com/crypto.
[00:48:33] Justin Norman: Thanks. Tori?
[00:48:34] Tori Samples: I'm @Tori_Samples on Twitter and @StellarOrg. Also on Twitter.
[00:48:39] Justin Norman: And you can find us on Twitter @cryptoatscale. And if you enjoyed this episode, please do hit that follow button on your favorite podcast app and share with a friend or a colleague who you think may enjoy it as well.
Tori and Cuy, thanks so much for coming.