Unbanked vs Cashless: The Hidden Forces Behind Global Cryptocurrency Adoption

  • Countries that have high rates of unbanked populations also have higher rates of cryptocurrency adoption due to high cash payments and Bitcoin ATMs. If the projection of installed Bitcoin ATMs continues, these unbanked countries could see exponential growth in adoption.
  • The most surprising and significant driver for the high adoption rates in highly unbanked nations is the high number of Bitcoin ATMs and the alternative financial solution that blockchain offers.
  • Cashless countries like Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and New Zealand have a record-low percentage of cash payments and nearly 100% of their populations are connected to a bank account. These countries have no installed Bitcoin ATMs and have lower cryptocurrency ownership percentages than developing nations.

Thousands of Bitcoin ATMs have been installed across the globe to help push cryptocurrency adoption in the right direction and right now the United States is leading the race with 32,591 machines installed throughout the country.

However, there are some surprising contrasts in the adoption rate between countries where Bitcoin ATMs have been installed and where there is a complete absence of these machines.

Some countries have been much faster to accept and implement the cryptocurrency phenomenon than others due to the need for another financial solution.

Today, we would like to share a comparison and a cross-reference of meaningful data to explore the adoption rate of cryptocurrency between unbanked countries and cashless countries.

The tables below show the number of Bitcoin ATMs, cash payments, population unbanked, cryptocurrency ownership, cryptocurrency ownership percentage, and the total population between 14 countries with drastically different adoption rates.

It all boils down to how the population is connected to cash payments and bank accounts.

The first table is a representation of the number of Bitcoin ATMs in Romania, Hungary, Mexico, Bulgaria, Peru, South Africa, and Brazil.

Table 1 – High rate of cash payment and population unbanked

CountryBitcoin ATMsCash PaymentsPopulation UnbankedCrypto OwnershipCrypto Ownership %Population
South Africa219%31%6,194,52910.00%61,930,000
Source: Coinatmradar, Triple-a, Merchant Machine, Pymnts

We can clearly see that countries with the highest rates of unbanked populations also have higher rates of cryptocurrency adoption and if the projection of installed ATMs continues we might see exponential growth in adoption.

For example, Mexico has a population where a staggering 60% of the people don’t have access to a bank account, and yet it has the second-highest score on our list with 46 Bitcoin ATMs.

Another surprising fact is that 3.4% of the Mexican population owns cryptocurrency which nearly triples the adoption rate of more developed nations such as Norway and Denmark.

Similarly, South Africa has a 31% of its population unbanked, although 21 Bitcoin ATMs have been installed so far, and 10% of its population owns some form of cryptocurrency.

We can draw many conclusions based on these findings but the most significant driver for the high adoption rates in highly unbanked nations is the number of Bitcoin ATMs that have been installed.

In many cases, cryptocurrency is proving to be a viable option where Bitcoin ATMs have been installed.

The ATMs are used to trade cryptocurrency for cash, or from cash to cryptocurrency, something that would previously have been impossible for someone without access to traditional banking or credit cards.

In contrast, nordic countries like Sweden, Denmark, and Finland have a record-low percentage of cash payments (1%), and nearly 100% of their populations are connected to the traditional banking system.

Table 2 – Low rate of cash payment and population unbanked

CountryBitcoin ATMsCash PaymentsPopulation UnbankedCrypto OwnershipCrypto Ownership %Population
New Zealand02%1%66,4231.3%5,300,000
Hong Kong1474%0%182,2322.3%7,760,000
Source: Coinatmradar, Triple-a, Merchant Machine, Pymnts

The most interesting thing about this finding is the correlation between the countries that are highly unbanked and the high number of Bitcoin ATMs installed.

This is clearly visible in the four Nordic countries where only Finland has installed Bitcoin ATMs so far.

Even so, the cryptocurrency ownership percentage in Finland is only 1.4% which likely has to do with that there is no need for the Finnish population to use cryptocurrency.

The other countries, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and New Zealand where cash payments range from between 1% to 2% and the unbanked population from 0% to 1% have absolutely zero installed Bitcoin ATMs.

These countries also have a much lower adoption rate.

Hong Kong is considered to be a financial hub and testing ground for Chinese policymakers and therefore the high number of installed Bitcoin ATMs.

The high rate of cash payments and Bitcoin ATMs in developing countries shows a growth of alternative financing solutions such as Bitcoin which provides a fast, secure, and efficient way to transact outside the traditional banking system.

It’s safe to say that more Bitcoin ATMs are likely going to be installed in highly unbanked countries as the positive trend toward cryptocurrencies continues.

It’s also worth mentioning that Bitcoin ATMs alone are not what is driving adoption in these unbanked regions of the world, however, the correlation clearly exists and it’s rather interesting.

The countries in our first table don’t have the highest number of installed Bitcoin ATMs in the world but they are at the high end of the list and will probably continue to install more ATMs unless a more convenient form of digital payment system is introduced.

The study shows that cash and Bitcoin ATMs are the two main factors driving the adoption of cryptocurrencies right now and it’s obvious which parts of the world are in the driver’s seat.

Only time will tell whether the trend of these ATMs and the adoption of cryptocurrency will continue in countries where cash is currently king.

Until then, we can not look past the obvious which is that right now, unbanked countries are beating cashless countries in the race to full cryptocurrency adoption.

Understanding the root causes of unbanked populations

The data we have provided touches on the high rate of unbanked populations in certain regions of the world and it is important to add further explanations to the reasons for the situation.

Many unbanked nations lack financial services due to economical or social factors.

For example, in developing countries, the cost of opening a bank account and also maintaining it can be pretty high which puts up barriers for the population

There may also be a lack of infrastructure to support widespread banking services and in some cases, cultural perspectives towards money in general and trust in financial institutions might also play a role.

Since cryptocurrency can be used as another means of payment, developing nations tend to substitute what would be the traditional way of sending money by using the blockchain.

Poverty is another aspect that is causing great problems for nations that are highly unbanked whereas many banks require bank account holders to maintain a minimum balance.

Another factor is trust, which plays a major role in cashless countries and is the backbone of why the traditional financial system works so well.

This trust is diminished in most countries with high poverty rates.

Examining other factors that impact cryptocurrency adoption rates

Other factors that also contribute to the ease of use of cryptocurrency are government policies which can have a significant impact on adoption rates.

Many of the countries where cryptocurrency is readily available through Bitcoin ATMs have much less tightened regulations against crypto as a method for transacting.

This helps unbanked populations buy, sell, and use cryptocurrency in their everyday life.

The more technology advances the easier it gets to use cryptocurrency.

For example, recent developments of more user-friendly wallets and decentralized exchanges can be a contributing factor to why cryptocurrencies are more accessible to people.

Cultural attitudes towards money, in general, also play a big role in adoption rates.

Most developing nations have poor relationships with currencies since their own national currencies tend to be unstable due to high inflation rates.

Beyond the presented data

Our data only includes Bitcoin ATMs as a dominant factor for the growth and adoption of cryptocurrency.

The data in the tables do not show all the other thousands of cryptocurrencies that are in circulation and how they affect the adoption rate.

Another factor is time.

The tables only provide a snapshot in time and the adoption rates may change as time goes on when new laws, regulations, or blessings are put in place by governments across the globe.

Updating the study at a later date would provide more evidence that the trend is still intact in the future.