South African “neo bank” launches crypto payments gateway

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  • Be Mobile Africa is a technology-focused digital-only or branchless bank that operates in multiple territories
  • The payment gateway will allow South Africans to make payments using crypto
  • The cryptocurrencies available for payments include Bitcoin (BTC), Ether (ETH), USD coin (USDC) and Tether (USDT)

South African digital-only bank, Be Mobile Africa launched a crypto payments gateway that will allow broader crypto transacting for South Africans. The mobile-only bank, sometimes referred to as a “neo bank”, is confident the payment gateway will change the lives of many. The gateway will allow merchants to accept crypto payments and immediately convert the crypto or digital assets into fiat currency. It will also allow South African users to convert fiat currency into cryptocurrencies for value preservation.

Be mobile Africa

Be Mobile Africa is a technology-focused digital-only or branchless bank that operates in multiple territories. The bank offers millions the opportunity to gain access to banking services where infrastructure such as bank branches is non-existent or inconvenient. The neo bank targets customers it says “old banks” often ignore due to various factors. Be Mobile offers a full suite of banking services, including holding foreign currency accounts. The bank serves individuals, businesses and institutions among its clientele. Be Mobile’s primary focus is offering banking services to financially excluded people.

The neo bank leverages heavily on technology like many other neo-banks that have sprouted up around the world over the last two decades. So you will not find Be Mobile branches but instead, transact wholly through mobile apps. The bank offers peer-to-peer payments, remittances, VISA cards, wire transfers and eCommerce payments through the apps. Be Mobile is new to the South African market, having commenced operations in September 2022.

Be Mobile crypto payments gateway

With an already exciting set of services offered to customers, Be Mobile has added a crypto payments gateway that, in the words of CEO Cedric Jeanott, is a “game-changer”. Firstly the payment gateway will allow South Africans to make payments using crypto. Secondly, the gateway also allows businesses and merchants to accept cryptocurrency payments. The cryptocurrencies available for payments include Bitcoin (BTC), Ether (ETH), USD coin (USDC) and Tether (USDT).

Incoming payments can automatically be converted into South African Rand or other fiat. Users can also elect to keep incoming crypto payments as crypto, with Be Mobile acting as a custodian for them.  So this offers multi-currency banking on a new level, with the option to bank in fiat or crypto entirely up to the user. Given the shakiness of the South African rand and the crypto winter, this is incredible value being offered to South Africans.

Be Mobile also focuses on cross-border transfers, which are very popular in Africa and perhaps equally costly for users. Commerce is also being done more and more across the African continent, and payments are a headache in that arena as well. Be Mobile stepped into this space by offering free transfers between Be Mobile users and low-fee transfers to non-Be Mobile users. Be mobile is present in 30 African countries and 100 other countries globally.

The South African Rand dilemma

South African Rand ZAR USD 5 year chart

The South African has not experienced the best of times for a decade. The value of the South African Rand versus the US Dollar and other major currencies is hovering just above its 10-year low. A low that the currency experienced as the covid-19 pandemic gripped the world. The dilemma here is that while the South African economy imports many things, the economy is fully Rand-based. Savings and investments denominated in the South African Rand have lost considerable value. So the opportunity to save money in alternative currencies such as the Euro, US Dollar and cryptocurrencies presents an opportunity to preserve value.

SA opens up to crypto after regulations

There’s been a lot of positive news coming out of South Africa related to web 3 and cryptocurrency, thanks to the regulation of cryptocurrency in the country. While it had been anticipated with many preparing moves in earnest came after the country moved to recognise cryptocurrencies as digital assets. Since then, we’ve seen moves from recognised names such as Pick n Pay and Nedbank towards the widespread adoption of web3 technology and crypto.

We saw another South African-based company launch a crypto debit card that allows users to transact with crypto through a debit card just like they would fiat currencies. Using Bitcoin’s lightning network, the card offers real-time payments. Be Mobile offers somewhat similar functionality but through a native bank account.

While news on the rest of the continent moves at a snail’s pace, South African companies are moving in leaps and bounds towards crypto adoption. The danger here, for the rest of Africa, is giving companies in Africa’s largest economy first mover advantage and a considerable head start in the web3 world. While caution is never a bad thing, the slow pace and sometimes objection to the regulation of the next wave of money may prove costly to the rest of the continent to benefit South African-based innovators.

The South African crypto race is on

Be Mobile’s crypto payments gateway comes as multiple South African traditional banks are discussing the idea of crypto bank accounts or wallets. South Africa, even before regulation, showed a healthy appetite for cryptocurrency, especially when compared to peers on the African continent.

Big banks also have the disadvantage of the past returning to haunt them in this race, particularly FNB. The bank moved to unilaterally close cryptocurrency-related accounts in 2019, saying it would do so in 2020. Like other traditional banks, the bank cited the risks involved with cryptocurrency as being too complex to manage.

The move, which crypto enthusiasts did not receive well, still lives fresh in their memories two years on, and it will take some heavy lifting to win their favour as crypto gains wide adoption in South Africa.

The biggest advantage that Be Mobile enjoys in this race is that they offer simplified banking to a financially excluded populace. People who have been failed by traditional channels otherwise are looking for a way to participate in the new frontier despite their exclusion.


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Kudzai G Changunda
Kudzai G Changunda
Finance guy with a considerable interest in the adoption of web 3.0 technologies in the financial landscape. Both technology and regulation focused but, of course, people first.