In an exclusive interview with Tecnoblog, the CEO and founder of Ripio, an Argentine cryptocurrency startup, said the pandemic was a “perfect storm” for digital assets to become much more relevant in the financial and technology markets. The company recently acquired Bitcoin Trade, one of the most important cryptocurrency exchanges in Brazil.
Sebástian Serrano, 39, is the founder and current CEO of Ripio, one of the oldest cryptocurrency companies in Latin America and the fastest growing in the region. The startup now has over 1.3 million users, 150 employees and operates mainly in Brazil and Argentina.
Even already operating in Brazil offering digital wallet and payment services, the company was looking for a way to expand its influence in the Brazilian market. For the CEO, the acquisition of Bitcoin Trade “was the best opportunity for being the most reputable broker, and perhaps the most professional in the Brazilian market”.
“Our mission is to provide access to this technology for all of Latin America. Brazil is and has always been the largest market, the country with the largest economy, so it is very important for us, ”said Serrano.
Throughout the conversation, the CEO comments on the role of cryptocurrencies in the Argentine crisis, explaining that bitcoin, for example, is seen as a kind of “digital gold”. The asset would be one of the alternatives, together with stablecoins such as USDC, to preserve wealth in the face of the various restrictions facing Argentines today, the growing devaluation of the peso and high inflation.
For Serrano, Ripio is different from large international competitors, such as Binance, because it is a local company that works less aggressively towards regulators in the region. Large offshore exchanges face more regulatory problems, so users should be aware of the risks.
The founder of Ripio also comments on the historic highs in the value of bitcoin and other crypto. Their market expectations for 2021 are highly volatile, new price records and greater regulation. Serrano concludes that it is necessary to study hard to invest in cryptocurrencies safely. Check out the full interview below:
“Bitcoin is a kind of digital gold”
How did you get to know and enter the world of cryptocurrencies?
I’ve been a nerd all my life. I started programming at 8 years old, I was always a technology fanatic, a total nerd. When I was finishing high school in a small town where I lived in Patagonia, I got to know the internet and that was very important for me.
I started working on my first venture with other people in my city who was an internet provider. This experience was very informative. So I studied physics, I did many other things until in the year 2012 I got to know bitcoin. I felt a kind of déjá vu thinking about the internet principle. A decentralized network is a missing protocol.
It is a new form of money, money becoming software, all of which was very revolutionary for me. There is still the factor of me being Argentine, my country has very repetitive economic crises, with a very weak currency, very abused by different governments. Therefore, the bitcoin proposal was immediate for the Argentines, and in 2013 I said “I have to work with this”.
It was there that I founded Ripio, first as a payment processing platform, and in 2014 we created the virtual wallet, which today is the company’s main product. Always with this mission of providing access to cryptocurrencies across Latin America.
You mentioned the weight instability. Could cryptocurrencies help to provide more economic stability for Argentines?
It is an alternative that many users are starting to use. In Argentina there are many restrictions on saving money, and cryptocurrencies are a way to protect your wealth. Bitcoin is a kind of “digital gold”.
In recent years, governments are printing a lot of money, so the value of the currency disappears. There is a lot to do with the growth in the price of bitcoin and other crypto for this reason. It is a good alternative and also part of the transformation of humanity.
We need a global currency and a way to interact and collaborate economically around the world. Just as we send a text message anywhere on the planet today, we need a monetary form that allows the same thing: transferring money easily to anyone in the world. That is the promise of this technology.
Within Ripio, has there been any increase in the volume of transactions in cryptocurrencies after the imposition of restrictions on the purchase of dollars in Argentina?
Yes, we see the use of cryptocurrencies a lot as these news and decisions come out. The cryptocurrency market is open 24 hours a day, while banks have very limited hours. So, the Argentine government has the habit of making these announcements on Friday afternoon, when the market is not working to minimize the immediate impacts.
So, as cryptocurrencies are always available, when news like that comes out, we see a lot of activity in Argentina. There is also a new type of asset, called stablecoins, which are cryptocurrencies with no volatility and which follow the price of the dollar.
In Argentina, with the restrictions that exist when buying dollars, many people use these tokens as a store of value, so they are very popular here.
What changes for users of Ripio and Bitcoin Trade?
What does the acquisition of Bitcoin Trade mean for Ripio’s operations in Brazil?
For users of Ripio and Bitcoin Trade, at first, nothing changes. They will continue with their Ripio wallets and will continue to have the Bitcoin Trade broker available as they have always worked. What will happen is that the user bases will be integrated.
You can use the Ripio wallet and at the same time do trading and other more advanced things through the same Bitcoin Trade account. It’s like a Google user logging in to your email and YouTube. The user will have access to more products and services in the same account.
Will Bitcoin Trade continue to operate in the market or will it eventually be incorporated by Ripio?
Bitcoin Trade will continue to exist as the name of our exchange.
How does Ripio expect to face strong international competitors, such as Binance, which are now expanding their services in Brazil?
This is a market that is going to grow a lot, and there are many differences between players. Binance is for a very speculative user, for example. Ripio and Bitcoin Trade, on the other hand, are local companies, companies that are respectful of laws, that work with the regulators of each country, while other international players are more aggressive, so users also need to know the risks when using offshore exchanges.
This is one of the main differences. Others are in the services, Ripio users have their wallet in a simple application that you take with you, the exchange, which is a trading platform, and tools for large investors and funds seeking access to cryptocurrencies.
It will be a year of a lot of competition and a lot of consolidation. This operation marks what is happening in the cryptocurrency market, which is beginning to mature and train its leaders.
In terms of volume, what are the most traded cryptocurrencies by Ripio?
In volume, the main cryptocurrency has always been bitcoin (BTC), it is the most important and most secure currency. Then, globally speaking, the second cryptocurrency is a stablecoin, more specifically USDC, based on dollars. And then we have Ethereum (ETH).
“Cryptocurrencies are not anonymous”
Recently, the president of the European Central Bank stated that bitcoin wants the creation of globally agreed regulations. In Brazil, can we expect stricter rules on cryptography?
I do not think so. Latin American regulators were more open to new technologies. But I think this is going to be a year of more regulation. For example, there are some recommendations from the FATF (International Financial Action Group), which have to be applied by the Latin governments that are members of the group.
We at Ripio were elected last year by the World Economic Forum as one of the leading technology companies of 2020. And with the agency we are participating in many regulatory forums with authorities around the world to work on trends and regulatory frameworks in order to minimize the risks of this technology, while maximizing the benefits.
I think that all of this is possible, it is a technology with the largest transaction records that no system has reached before, they are public records in blockchain, which is a new technology that creates memory of what happens over the internet.
The risks that many regulators see are mitigating and I think that so far there are discerning opinions about this technology generated by fear and ignorance. As in the beginning of the internet, many people feared for their privacy or the anonymity it brings. Unlike in the past, today the conception is that one should have more anonymity and that we are too exposed in networks.
The job of companies like Ripio is also to educate, talk to regulators and offer knowledge about this technology, it is part of our mission as well.
What about regulators’ fears about anonymity in cryptocurrency transactions?
It is important to say that cryptocurrencies are not anonymous. They are pseudo-anonymous, just like everything on the internet. When a transaction is made with bitcoin, the blockchain records are immutable, and will be there for the rest of the story. The record is under a pseudonym, but it is not the same as anonymous.
As long as your electronic registration at the bitcoin destination is minimally related to your identity, you can trace a transaction to anyone. It is the same as the rest of online technologies. You can create a Twitter account under a fictitious name, but if you associate the identity of the account with the individual who created it, you remove that anonymity.
This is a very important issue of this technology, because it is possible to monitor and analyze the flows of funds that happen in blockchain, while we must also understand the possible risks that involve its use.
Bank of America even alerted investors to a possible speculative bubble involving crypto. What is your analysis of the historic highs of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in 2021? Is it bubble? Is it safe to invest?
First, it’s not a bubble. Cryptocurrencies and technologies have cycles. What happens with bitcoin is that it has a price. So, we can analyze historical records and see these cycles. Now bitcoin is in a new high growth moment. What should happen is a year of great increases.
Ripio, for example, today has 1.3 million users, and we can expect to end the year above 2 million. There should be a lot of growth in cryptocurrencies in new users and price records.
But there will be a lot of volatility as well. Users must be careful, never invest money that cannot be lost and it is necessary to study hard. The worst an investor can do is invest money just because the price is going up. The best we can do is to study this technology, understand its fundamentals and use it and create intuition about how it operates. With that you can make decisions with greater security. The risk is about knowledge.
The investor who studies has much less risk. It will be a very volatile and very attractive year for people who are starting to get deeper into the cryptocurrency market.