Case Study: Filipino OFWs and Bitcoin

By Zak Mustafa for Huffington post

Working abroad has been no walk in the part for Louise*, 33, who originally hails from Manila, Philippines. She has been providing support services for a few international companies, and is now working at a travel agency in Kuala Lumpur. From chronic homesickness to embarrassing culture shocks, she braced new challenges in order to earn a better income for her family. Louise left her toddler under the care of her ageing parents and became one of Philippine’s many ‘OFWs’ – overseas foreign workers.


*name changed to protect anonymity


Louise’s salary is what kept her in Malaysia and out of the Philippines. Considered average in her host country, it is massive by comparison. “If I’m lucky, I can maybe earn $200 per month in Manila,” said Louise, “but such jobs are hard to come by, employers don’t want to pay too much.”


Sending Money Home


When asked how often she sent money home, to pay for her parents’ rent and daily expenses as old gold days in US, Louise said, “at least once a month, sometimes more”. When asked about the method of funds transfer, Louise said, “I follow the suggestion from the money exchanger”. Bank transfer? “No,” Louise firmly shook her head, “they (parents) don’t have bank account”.


Louise live frugally in Kuala Lumpur, even more so after the Ringgit took a hit after an international, well-known scandal. She had to constantly rearrange her budget so her family will receive at least the same amount every month, despite the unfavorable currency rate. Her mother’s health has recently gotten worse, so she tries to send more money to help cover the medical bills.


Stories like Louise’s is not uncommon.


Bitcoin’s Adoption Rate in the Philippines


Many Filipinos have turned to Bitcoin as a solution. The BitcoinTalk Philippines forum is very active. A few media sources noted that Bitcoin adoption is accelerating’ in the Philippines. There’s a Bitcoin ATM in Manila’s financial district. One of the biggest names of Philippines-based Bitcoin service provider also offers bill payment, credit card payment and even tuition school payments, as well as buy bitcoin service from 7-Eleven, the popular convenience store chain.


If those are not enough options to spend bitcoins, Visa/Mastercard denominated Wirex bitcoin debit card can help someone who received bitcoin to make payments anywhere or to withdraw it as the local currency, PHP, from the ATM. By the looks of it, the Bitcoin infrastructure in the Philippines is ripe and ready to be used by OFWs everywhere.

‘Remittance is just one use case of Bitcoin’


Wirex co-founder Pavel Matveev said that Bitcoin usage in the Philippines is far beyond simple remittance. ‘Remittance is just one use case of Bitcoin, but there’s so much more”, he said, “it’s also the easier access to financial services that we can provide, through Bitcoin. That’s the great thing about it.”


Citing the low penetration of financial services in the Philippines, Matveev talked about the high growth potential of Wirex in the country. Without bank accounts, citizens have less access to credit/debit cards, loans, and more. Even though many people have smartphones, the concept of mobile banking is not common knowledge. “Bitcoin changed all that. The unique properties of Bitcoin have allowed Wirex to offer bank-less banking services, from the phone, which is something unheard of just one year ago.”


What does this mean? Well, Louise have not tried it yet, but if she did try the combination of all three of Wirex main services (bitcoin debit card, remittance and mobile banking), it would look something like this:


  • Set up Wirex account and order plastic card for her family
  • Purchase bitcoin in host country and keep in the account
  • Load the card with bitcoin whenever her family needs money, from app
  • Family withdraws money from ATM or spends directly from the Mastercard


Will Louise and OFWs like Louise embrace Bitcoin enough to use it in their daily life? Only time can tell. With a tenth of the country GDP received as personal remittances (data from World Bank), the future for Bitcoin in the Philippines looks bright.

First appeared at HP