‘We are ready to engage Nigerian government to regulate cryptocurrency market’
Ray Youssef is the Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder of Paxful, a peer-to-peer finance platform. He visited Nigeria recently to promote safety and reliability of cryptocurrency in creating wealth for Nigerians among other issues. GLORIA NWAFOR reports.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) recently placed a ban on cryptocurrency transaction; how do you intend to play around this restriction?
We do not intend to go around anything; we want to engage everyone, including the regulators. We want to sit with them and show them what this is all about. When Nigerians are motivated, they can move things very fast, such that they will start wondering what this is all about. Their concern is to know whether it is safe, with the spate of money laundering and terrorism. The regulators of the world, including those in America, are asking the same question. Paxful is everywhere; we only need to engage the regulators and assure them that it is safe and can increase wealth for everyone. We also need to show them how it can make things easier for them to pay their taxes.
There is so much skepticism about cryptocurrency. What is your firm putting in place to protect people’s interest?
Skepticism is healthy because a lot of people have been scammed in other places more than in the African countries. There are scammers outside the continent who are preying on Africans; so, skepticism is healthy. Some people will come up and tell you that bitcoin is going to blow up and that you should not just put your life’s savings there; that is a scam. What we have done is to create a platform where you can exchange any form of money and bitcoin is just a tool to make things easy. It is a technology powered by people. In using this system, you can access money anywhere in the world. You are not going to get rich quick; it is about building your own business. If you put your mind to it and work hard, you will make it. Wherever there is a high profit, there is also a high risk.
The number one thing I will say is that people should try to educate themselves. If your money is not in a building, then it is in your computer or phone and the only thing that can give people access is your password and one password is not enough. When you open a bitcoin wallet and your email address is the same as your password, you are going to lose your money because 99 per cent of all African websites have been hacked by some hackers in Russia, America and other places. Anywhere in the world, you need to have your password and email address, so that you can use two-factor authentication. This means you have to get a message on your phone as well as a basis and if you do not do that, you should not be in the game. It is a good thing to have your money on your system or phone because no one can control you but at the same time, the responsibility is on you to protect your money.
To me, bitcoin is about free money transfer and not all these speculations about scammers. It is about you using your money naturally without any limit. Why should the bank ask me questions, on how I want to use my money? If you want to send money to anywhere in the world, you should be able to do it anytime. Why should our money system have some limits? Why should we accept that kind of limitation and inefficiency in our financial system?
In what way is Paxful connected to the global cryptocurrency market?
Paxful started very small but we think big. My co-founder and I started some years back in New York City but we believe bitcoin is going to help, and we are sticking through our vision. Bitcoin is not just about technology and money; we believe it is about helping people and that is why I am here in Nigeria. Our vision for the future is to impact people on how they can make money and be wealthy. We help them to build businesses by allowing them to use their money the way they want it. That is their human right; the fact that people don’t have equal access to finance is a crime. Financial access should be a fundamental human right. People in the West will continue to imagine why it is so hard for people in Africa to send money easily. Imagine where an American couldn’t send money from New York to New Jersey, which would be a nightmare.
My vision for the world is a place where people that deserve to have wealth are hardworking people. Look at what Nigerian youths have done in the last five years; they are leading the global cryptocurrency industry, and think of what the next five years will bring. Our goal is to educate the people by showing them that there is something that can actually help you in your everyday life. I foresee a pan-African movement arising in the next five years, countries working together and being able to transact freely. I see a situation where a young college graduate without hope of getting any job has three side hustles, all made possible by cryptocurrency.
How prepared is Paxful, as a cryptocurrency trading company, to partner the Nigerian government to regulate the market?
We are ready. I love to meet the Nigerian government officials and to engage them on this. We want to bring the government and the regulators to the table and discuss the way forward.
How can the platform boost job creation?
Yes, Paxful users here in Nigeria have got their own version of Western Union and PayPal by helping people to send money. People can build their own businesses; own foreign exchange and money transfer businesses with the use of bitcoin. You can at firs start small and then grow. My advice to the youths is to forget everything and learn about cryptocurrency. You don’t need much money to start; play around with a little amount and see how it works. Let your entrepreneurial skills come up.
An entrepreneur does not think of other things, but ideas. Look for problems. Do you have any problem sending or receiving money? Solve that problem for yourself with every tool you have. If crypto makes sense, great! And once you solve the problem for yourself, then think about trying it as a business. If it works and people are willing to pay a value for it, then you can scale it up. You scale up a business process that makes sense and keep fine-tuning the process. What happens when you fast-forward a year or two: you become successful.
How true is it to say adopting cryptocurrency will strengthen Naira against the US dollar and other currencies?
Yes. It is the only thing that has the potential to do that. I want to make it clear to people that we are living in an era of currency worth. Before the bad guys put gun on your head, they will first attack your money supply. If they really don’t like you, they will make your money worthless! They can destroy the value of your currency or exchange rate in a single day by buying a huge portion of it and crashing it at a single sale. This is the gun currently held to the heads of leaders across the world, not just Nigeria. The question is, ‘do we have a shield against this’? That is the trillion dollars question. How do we use cryptocurrency to change the game?
What do you expect from the Nigerian government?
I am always very optimistic. I intend to meet the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, to share my vision, listen to him and understand Nigerian government’s concern. We would show him the data and let him see what is happening across the world. When we come together, we can look at regulation that is innovation-friendly because Nigeria can do better.
How is your organisation positioning itself for growth?
At Paxful, we don’t spend money on Facebook or Instagram. We focus on the basic fundamentals like response to instant support. People want to do business with institutions they can trust, where they can go and talk to someone if they forget their passwords. Is there someone I can talk to? Yes! We give 24/7 instant support.
What is the role of the organisation called, ‘Built With Bitcoin Foundation’?
The Built With Bitcoin Foundation started as a social good initiative from Paxful. It is now an independent non-profit organisation dedicated to creating opportunities by providing potable water, quality education, healthy food and as well creating healthy environment via sustainable farming. Paxful focuses on building schools because of its role in the community. The first of the four schools were completed in December 2017 in Rwanda; the second, also in Rwanda in 2018, while the third was built in 2020 in Kenya. The fourth school, a nursery school, located in Ankara Nandu Village, Kaduna State, is the first in Nigeria. It serves a community of 6,000 people.