Prolific investment firm Naspers is making a push into bitcoin and financial services after it backed Philippines-based startup Coins.ph to the tune of $5 million.
Coins is focused on offering financial services for the unbanked in the Philippines and Thailand. It uses the blockchain as its underlying technology to facilitate transfers and remittances. It announced the new funding — which comes via the Naspers Ventures division — as an extension to the $5 million Series A round that it closed last October.
Naspers, meanwhile, needs little introduction: the South Africa-based firm specializes in e-commerce and consumer businesses in emerging markets across the world. Its investments include Tencent, Asia’s highest value tech firm, India’s Flipkart, and now-Amazon-owned Souq.com in the Middle East among many others. Its primary presence in Southeast Asia is via global e-commerce firm OLX, but it did put money into Singapore-based bitcoin startup BitX in 2015.
“Coins has done an excellent job of providing consumers with easy, cost-effective access to core financial services,” James Caviness, VP and CPO of Naspers’ PayU business, said in a statement. “We expect Coins to continue to grow and expand across Southeast Asia.”
As part of the investment, Caviness has joined the Coins board.
Expansion is exactly the plan, according Justin Leow, head of business operations for Coins. Leow told TechCrunch in an interview that the company is now looking to bring its services to new markets, although he declined to get specific on future destinations.
“The issues we are solving in the Philippines are quite prevalent in the rest of the [Southeast Asian] region,” he said. “Existing financial systems exclude people who don’t meet the income requirements. That issue is why we’ve had such a large unbanked population.”
The banking gulf is indeed huge. Southeast Asia as a region houses more than 600 million consumers. Its internet economy is forecast to reach $200 billion per year within the next decade but financial systems are a key requirement to make that happen. Currently, just 27 percent of the region’s population has a bank account, according to a KPMG report published last year, and that’s where Coins is looking to make an impact.
The startup currently offers a range of services that include credit, basic banking, bill payments, top-up and remittance payments, none of which require a user to have a bank account. Rather than offering services directly, it works with partners to serve users.
“We are really trying to build an ecosystem of services,” he explained, adding that companies like SoftBank-backed Paytm in India are an inspiration. “The goal is a wallet where people store money and can do everything with it.”
Coins claims to have more than one million registered users and support from over 100,000 merchants.