Ray Youssef and Artur Schaback are co-founders of PAXFUL, a peer-to-peer finance platform which began operations in 2015 and already across the continent. To give back to the communities where they operate, Paxful established an NGO, ‘Built with Bitcoin Foundation’ to help people have access to education and water. In this interview with Samuel Abulude, they spoke about Nigeria being their biggest market and empowering young Africans across the continent through what Paxful have to offer.
Can you share a bit of what Paxful is all about?
Paxful is a peer-to-peer finance platform for people to make payments, transactions, and send money by buying and selling cryptocurrencies as a means of exchange. It was founded in 2015 by me and Artur Schaback. Our mission is to help everyone have equal access to finance no matter who or where they are. Presently, seven million people make use of the platform to buy and sell Bitcoin (BTC), Ethereum (ETH) and Tether (USDT) with almost 400 different payment methods. As a youth-centred organization, we came to Nigeria by ourselves to share our knowledge on how young Nigerians can benefit from our services which are unique and different. We just came back from Abuja and established Pax Naija, an educational hub. It’s a win-win situation for everyone that engages our services.
Do you work with the banks in Nigeria to deliver your services?
We have been meeting with the banks and have had very fruitful policy meetings with several banks here. They are all very interested in what we’re doing. However, they can’t work with us currently in a direct capacity because of the regulation of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). But we are all looking forward to the future when the ban is lifted and innovation, friendly regulation is passed. So, to that effect, we are talking with them, we are discussing various ways we can work together when the ban is lifted.
And it’s not just crypto currency that they’re concerned with. Even the government structures are changing, such that they won’t have perhaps the same exact position they had before. So, they’re beginning to innovate. We see the importance of building and making the right partnerships. And here we are, Paxful is physically on ground in Nigeria. You’re not going to see any other CEOs on the ground here, except me and my team.
That is why we love Nigeria. We recognize that this is the place to be, we are not just saying that to impress you. What has happened here in Nigeria, every chance I get to see the Bitcoin COP (Cryptocurrency Overview by Market Watch giving the latest cryptocurrency news, prices, and market data), I tell everyone, ‘Stop what you’re doing. Look at what’s happening in Nigeria, it is one of the landmark financial events of the past 100 years, and this is what we can build on.
It is important to note that we set up a non-profit organization, ‘Built with Bitcoin Foundation’ to help people have access to education and water. Presently, the foundation has built six schools: two in Rwanda, two in Kenya, and two in Nigeria. We have also done multiple water projects and cultivated dozens of farms. The Built with Bitcoin Foundation is funded by Paxful and the cryptocurrency community. We hope to reach every community in Nigeria and empower the youths and other African countries. Paxful has a 20-year plan, and we are just in our sixth year seeing great potentials for growth and collaboration with other like minds.
The CBN just introduced its own digital currency, e-Naira, will this have an impact on your operation and others?
I believe that it all comes down to education. People have to understand why this is better than what came before? Why is this better than cryptocurrency? What are the merits and demerits? Many people are still trying to figure out what Bitcoin is good for. And to that effect, we would love to lend our educational support to the government here and educate people at our Pax Naija center in Abuja and here in Lagos when the Lagos centre is launched. So, we’re also doing a campus tour here as well. We’ve spoken to universities here and are looking to continue the campus tour in December. We are going to support the government and the people any way we can on education.
Did the Ban on Cryptocurrency affect Paxful’s Operations?
Well, the ban did not directly affect us, it increased our volumes by double digit percentage points. But, our operation is peer to peer meaning we don’t have any bank accounts ourselves. It’s our users that have the bank accounts, they transact in the field. Just like Uber doesn’t own any cars, right? It’s their users that own the cars. So, it doesn’t really stop our operations. When they put those restrictions down, peer to peer grows. But again, we would like to work with the government directly on issuing some regulations that bring clarity to the scene because of our users. We were here talking to our users, and they were telling us some unpleasant stories. That shouldn’t have to happen. These are honest people in this business, people trying to help other businesspeople use their money. And they just want to be clear, they have to pay a small tax on transactions.
They’re fine with that, too. They just don’t want to be in breach of the law. All this traffic that is happening which is a fully KYC service. With KYC we’re fully compliant. We’re here on behalf of our users in the country to keep them safe. To make sure that their bank accounts continue to operate to make sure that they’re there. And that’s why we’re going for Licensing and Regulation all over the world. That’s why we brought our Chief Compliance Officer. We showed them that we are here. So, we’re hoping this will be the start of something very good and fruitful, I remain optimistic.