Exclusive media partner: The New York Times

Newsletter

Receive regular updates about forthcoming events and other news from Intelligence Squared

Thanks

You have been added to our mailing list and will now be among the first to hear about events.

Play video

Watch

Debate: Crypto Can Bank the Unbanked

Can crypto bank the unbanked or is it a dangerous idea that could do more harm than good?

There are almost two billion people in the world without a bank account. Many unbanked people are shut out of the economy and forced to work illegally. But crypto advocates believe they have found the solution: accelerate the adoption of cryptocurrency in low income countries. In El Salvador, for example, 70 per cent of citizens are unbanked and roughly one quarter of the working population lives in the United States, from where they send remittance payments to their families back home. In the future, these payments could be made using crypto, which would dramatically reduce cross-border fees and allow families to send crypto to their loved ones across borders in an instant. Unlike regular banking, sending crypto doesn’t require families to have a home address or ID documents, which many lower-income people lack. All they will need is a Wi-Fi connection and a digital device to start using crypto and to make secure transactions on the blockchain networks cryptocurrencies run on.

But some security experts have their doubts. ‘Banking the unbanked’ may sound like a good idea but it assumes that people who lack financial services primarily need a better and cheaper way to access them. A 2015 World Bank report looking at financial inclusion found that 59 per cent of survey respondents cited lack of money as the main reason for not having a bank account. Rather than luring people into the murky world of cryptocurrencies, where volatile prices and scammers can make the poor poorer, should we not instead be looking at ways to help people in developing nations generate more income?

Who’s right and who’s wrong? Can crypto bank the unbanked or is it a dangerous idea that could do more harm than good?


Speakers

For The Motion

Peter McCormack

Journalist, investor and host of the hit podcast What Bitcoin Did


Journalist, investor and host of the hit podcast What Bitcoin Did, in which he focuses on human rights, censorship and cryptocurrencies. He recently travelled to El Salvador for a meeting with President Nayib Bukele to discuss the adoption of cryptocurrencies and paid for the entire trip in Bitcoin.
Against The Motion

Yaya Fanusie

Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS)


Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). His research focuses on the national security implications of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. Yaya spent seven years as both an economic and counterterrorism analyst in the CIA, where he regularly briefed federal law enforcement, U.S. military personnel, and White House-level policy makers — including President George W. Bush, whom he personally briefed on terrorism threats. In 2009, he spent three months in Afghanistan providing analytic support to senior military officials. 
Chair

Anne McElvoy

Senior Editor at The Economist and head of Economist Radio podcasts


Senior Editor at The Economist and head of Economist Radio podcasts. She is a regular presenter of arts and politics shows on Radio 3 and Radio 4, and a panellist on the BBC's Moral Maze. She also writes a weekly political column on British and European politics for the Evening Standard.

 

Speakers subject to change.