Bitcoin – an opportunity for African trade?
“It’s like shampoo: you try it, it works, you use it.”
It is with a smile that Elizabeth Rossiello compares bitcoin to shampoo when asked if it is hard to convince African businesses to use the highly-disputed virtual currency.
But the issues she has set out to solve are of a more serious nature. “This is not a light problem. These are companies that are really struggling and when you’re struggling, you look for other solutions,” she says.
Rossiello is the founder and CEO of BitPesa, a pan-African exchange platform that uses bitcoin to help businesses make or receive international payments.
She started the company in Kenya in 2013, after having worked in investment banking in Europe and then moving to Nairobi in 2009 to work in microfinance. There, she discovered the everyday hurdles faced by Kenyan businesses: despite a real need, they lack ways to move money across borders. Paying a supplier abroad or receiving a payment from a regional customer is not only expensive – according to Rossiello the average cost is 12% in Africa – it is also highly manual and inconvenient, and can take weeks.