Beam is a brand new bitcoin company looking to shake up the African remittance industry. They are utilizing Bitcoin’s payment system and borderless nature to give Ghanaians cheaper and quicker remittances. When bitcoins are sent to Beam, Beam will immediately turn the bitcoins into Ghana’s fiat currency, the Ghana cedi, and deliver the money to the recipient through one of Ghana’s various mobile money services.
According to their website, recipients get an extra GHS 55.55 and save £8.90 in transfer fees by using their service compared to MoneyGram or Western Union.
Beam is made up of two core members - CEO, Nikunj Handa and CTO, Falk Benke. Handa has lived in five countries, including his homeland of India. He is a fully fledged developer with degrees in finance and information systems. Benke is from Germany and is a former employee of IBM. He has a master’s with honors in IT systems engineering as well as a keen interest in machine learning algorithms.
Beam has a skillful team of advisors, including a legal and marketing advisor. Beam is part of the Meltwater Incubator in Accra, Ghana. Meltwater is a prestigious entrepreneurial school, and start up incubator in Ghana, with a long history of helping startups succeed in Africa.
Bitcoin’s Opportunity in Ghana
As Ghanaians travel abroad for better jobs, they send money back to their family in Ghana. The West African nation, located along the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean, is projected to comprise US$39 billion in yearly remittances by 2015, according to World Bank’s Migration and Development Brief 2013 edition. A majority of these remittances being sent to Africa are from the United Kingdom, United States or Canada.
Nikunj shared his thoughts with CoinTelegraph via email about Beam’s opportunity in Africa:
“Traditional Money Transfer organizations like Western Union and MoneyGram charge an average of 12%, sometimes taking up to 2-3 days. Moreover, people have to go through the inconvenience of making payments at physical locations rather than in the comfort of their homes using their computers or phones. With Beam’s beautiful web and mobile interfaces, people will be able to conveniently send money instantly, from the comfort of their homes, for a fraction of the cost (roughly 3-4%)! ”
The team behind Beam didn’t come to Ghana with this opportunity in mind, though. Both came originally to be teacher fellows at the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology. While living in Ghana, they bought and sold over USD 35,000 worth of bitcoins for “100 unique Ghanaians in just 3 months.” This gave them the insight and belief that a service like Beam’s could work in Ghana.
Ghana is still very new to Bitcoin, but there is a growing community. Beam is going to be the first Bitcoin company to launch in Ghana, but there are other companies like, GhanaBitcoin which plan to launch later. People seem to be very open to Bitcoin in the country. “It is new, and fresh, but there is a lot of potential,” says Handa. “People want to use bitcoins to make P2P payments, merchant payments, money transfers, etc. We would never have thought we would be able to transact USD 35,000 worth of Bitcoins in Ghana with minimal marketing. The response from the community has been simply amazing.”
Beam sees an opportunity for Bitcoin remittances not only in Ghana. The company already has plans to expand into Nigeria. Nigeria has an even smaller Bitcoin adoption than Ghana, but hopefully a company like Beam can create demand and help educate people about the new technology.
Ghana Joining the African Bitcoin Club
Africa is talked about a lot by Bitcoiners as a place with a lot of potential for the virtual currency. Bitcoin could be a great alternative to the slower and expensive financial systems on the continent. Kenya, South Africa, and Botswana all have rapidly developing Bitcoin communities. Bitcoin’s robust, cheaper, and border-agnostic aspects are very attractive to the financially fragmented content. Technological barriers certainly exist, but more and more companies are popping up to solve this problem.