Business

Airfox, the Startup with a Mission to Reach the Unbanked

The blockchain-based startup offers an app, a token and a challenger bank to extend access to financial services in emerging markets⁠—starting with Brazil.

08.07.2019 | by Reve Fisher
Photo by Airfox on Medium
Photo by Airfox on Medium

Airfox, a blockchain-based FinTech startup in Boston, Massachusetts, is on a mission to increase access to financial services for the four billion members in the world’s unbanked and underbanked population.

“Unlocking access to capital for the unbanked and underbanked will enable the mass population to access the resources they need to fuel entrepreneurship and economic growth,” Christine To, vice president of business operations at AirFox, told Invest in Blockchain. “If one person benefits, the odds are high that an entire community or family will also benefit. This then becomes a chain effect for positive socioeconomic impact to break the vicious cycle of poverty.”

The company has launched its efforts in Brazil, where Airfox’s CEO and co-founder Victor Santos grew up in poverty. According to Christine, Brazil has the world’s highest telecommunications rates, and over 40 percent of the population is unbanked.

Originally, the Airfox app allowed those without bank accounts or credit cards to make purchases through the platform, such as utility bills, public transport, and online and offline goods and services. According to a Medium post from November 2018, Airfox users could deposit cash into their accounts at over 250,000 locations throughout the country.

The company also developed a decentralised peer-to-peer lending platform powered through the AirToken, an ERC20 token developed on the Ethereum blockchain. Users can also apply for microloans for emergencies or small business expenses without needing a bank account, financial history or traditional credit card—their trustworthiness is determined by using the Airfox app regularly.

“Using blockchain and other emerging technologies, Airfox plans to open up new opportunities for the underserved who do not currently have reliable, egalitarian, non-exploitative access to capital and financial services,” said the CEO and co-founder in a Medium post. “We believe new institutional demand and mainstream adoption for blockchain applications will come.”

In June 2019, the startup partnered with Via Varejo to officially convert its Airfox digital wallet into a challenge bank, banQi.

“With banQi, we’re aiming to provide free and simple financial services for everyday use,” the company wrote on Medium. “We evolved the Airfox app into a new and more Brazilian-friendly brand. banQi represents what it means to break down financial barriers in Brazil, enabling us to satisfy the financial needs of our target audience in the C, D, and E social classes.”

Through the company’s partnership with Via Varejo, banQi clients can visit the almost 1,000 Casas Bahia stores to receive in-person assistance with their account.

After partnering with Mastercard Brazil, users now have access to digital and physical prepaid cards, allowing those without a formal bank or financial history to have access to a card. The cash-back Mastercard also gives back users one percent of everything they buy. To help clients build savings, banQi users will also earn cash back on money stored in their banQi accounts.

By autumn 2019, the Airfox Mastercard feature will also allow users to withdraw cash directly from most ATMs in Brazil.

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