Short of the creation of bitcoin itself, there are few success stories about the commercial implementation of blockchain technology more powerful than the story of Coins.ph.

Downtown Makati, Manila, National Capitol Region, at dawn.

Servicing thousands of transactions and customers per day, Coins.ph is based in Manila, Philippines, and currently employs over a hundred people. With four million account holders, the popular blockchain tech company has one of the biggest shares of cryptocurrency users per population of any nation on the planet. In a country where over 25% of the population lives on less than $2 a day, and derives a significant portion of its income from overseas workers, lowering remittance and other fees by cutting out costly financial middlemen can offer a significant improvement upon the quality of life for the average Filipino.

Coins.ph has had an ongoing partnership with 7-Eleven retailers across the Philippines since 2015, where bill payment / phone data service kiosks are quite commonplace and frequented by those looking for a digital solution to problems that might otherwise require hours of standing in line. Customers have the option to use such kiosks at 7-Eleven to load their Coins.ph accounts with a digital form of the Philippine national currency, the peso (PHP). “Digital pesos” can then be converted by app users into the form of bitcoin or Ethereum, as well as used to buy data loads (for any Philippines-based cell phone service provider), pay utility or tuition bills, fund “digital gift certificates,” or even purchase products and services from an ever-growing list of retailers.

Example of a 7-Eleven Cliqq machine.

Digital pesos can also easily be transferred from wallet-to-wallet, for a minimal fee, or no fee at all. Similarly, bitcoin and Ethereum can also be withdrawn from Coins.ph wallets to any other bitcoin or Ethereum address, even those outside the Coins.ph network. Bitcoin and Ethereum can also be deposited directly to a Coins.ph multisignature address and converted to digital pesos for a small fee. Similarly, digital pesos created from bitcoin and Ethereum can be used for a huge array of currently-available platform services, including cash-out services at local banks and financial product specialists (pera pedalta), such as BDO and Cebuana.

Cliqq machine showing Coins.ph as an “E-Money” option.

An Exclusive Interview with Colin Goltra, Head of Cryptocurrencies at Coins.ph

Coin Clarity: Tell us the story of Coins.ph. How did the project come to be?

Colin Goltra: Our company was founded in 2014 by two very experienced technology and finance professionals [Ron Hose and Runar Petursson] who were both living in the Philippines. Fundamentally, they saw that there was a clear disconnect with people using modern mobile apps, yet antiquated financial infrastructure. When you look at how many Filipinos lack access to basic banking and financial infrastructure, are forced to pay hefty cross-border or remittance fees, are forced to wait in line to pay cash to make very basic payment types, etc. — it was pretty clear there was room for a new solution. In particular, a big part of that solution was to leverage the Bitcoin Blockchain, which essentially allowed our users to access public financial infrastructure in place of much more costly private alternatives.

Rice harvest season in the province of Pangasinan, Luzon.

CC: How did Coins.ph manage to grow so quickly in such a brief period of time?

CG: Something that I think has made our company successful is the fact that we identified an actual problem, then decided that the blockchain was the best solution, rather than the other way around. 2014 is an eternity ago in blockchain time and there are quite a few companies from that era that have died out because, among other things, they decided on the tool (blockchain, bitcoin, cryptocurrencies) before setting out to find a problem.

CC: I’d have to say that separates you from about 80-90% of blockchain-based businesses out there already. How did you first hear about bitcoin, personally?

CG: I started my career in investment banking, then moved on to Strategy in Samsung’s Emerging Technology group in Silicon Valley. I fell down the bitcoin rabbit hole in 2013 and spent the first couple years of my crypto-enthusiasm reading everything I could, attending those early 2013/14/15 San Francisco bitcoin meetups, when the scene was much, much smaller. I tried a few times to incorporate my passion for bitcoin and blockchain technologies into my day job, but large corporates are not always super conducive to working on the bleeding edge (it was a much more difficult sell in 2014/2015 than it is today).

CC: Lol, true.

CG: Yeah, I had colleagues who would jokingly taunt me about bitcoin being a Ponzi scheme… Sort of a cliché… Anyway, towards the end of 2015, I basically decided that I knew what space I wanted to jump into and get my hands dirty with, especially since that’s what I spent most of my non-day job time focused on anyway. I contracted a really cool Blockchain-IoT [Internet of Things] startup, learned a bit of software engineering, kept reading, talking to people in the space smarter than me, etc…

Barangay Laoag, Aguilar.

CC: What is your estimated total membership, as of now?

CG: We have more than 4 million users in total. That base is largely in the Philippines, though we do have an operation in Thailand as well, which we are hoping to grow and make similarly successful.

CC: So at a minimum, you have at least 3% of your country’s population signed up as Coins.ph users. More than 3% of the Philippines has a wallet with Coins.ph. I’d say that’s quite a resounding success.

CG: Yeah, I mean, I think we have a flexible product that solves a lot of different day-to-day financial problems for people, so growth has been pretty nice in that regard.

Manila, as seen from Mandaluyong, is one of the three biggest metropolises on the planet.

CC: From what I’ve heard, your mobile phone “data load” service is quite a smash. What other features are widely popular among your user base?

CG: In the same vein, we have a ton of super successful bill payment-type services that our users love. Basically, the experience before some of these services was that people had to wait in line and pay cash to complete that payment. Not only are we facilitating the payment, we’re also giving a rebate so they save some money, and we are keeping them out of a long line that they’d have to wait in to pay cash. One of the defining characteristics of being cash-based is you just lose hours upon hours of your life for no good reason…

Traffic in Pasay, Manila during rush hour.

CC: I noticed that you recently integrated Ethereum (ETH) into your wallet. Have many people started to deposit ETH into their accounts yet?

CG: Yeah, Ethereum has been an exciting launch for us. Basically, the way people used to get ETH in the Philippines was to buy BTC on Coins.ph, send it elsewhere, then exchange it for ETH, so we’re excited to be a one-stop-shop for that experience.

CC: How about the potential for inclusion of other coins in the future?

CG: In terms of new coins, for our wallet platform (Coins.ph), the name of the game is interoperability. So, having BTC has been a huge positive for us, because users love using BTC as a gateway into the crypto ecosystem, and there’s a huge list of partners that become instantly interoperable because they are BTC-based. Similarly, we knew ETH was something that users really wanted, and we also believed that supporting ETH would unlock an entire new universe of partners. Going forward, we’re always on the lookout to figure out what other platforms can unlock functionality for us.

Mt. Aryat, Pampanga.

CC: In addition to data load, bill payment and other pre-existing services, do you have any other features in the pipeline?

CG: A few months ago, we also announced the launch of our trading platform, CX (Coins Exchange). On CX, we have publicly declared our plan to list BTC/PHP, ETH/PHP, LTC/PHP, XRP/PHP, and BCH/PHP pairs. So, while we don’t have wallet support for Litecoin [LTC] / Ripple [XRP] / Bitcoin Cash [BCH], we will at least have a way for Filipinos to access those markets. It has direct integration with your Coins.ph wallet, so you will simply use your Coins.ph account to login to CX and fund your account.

CC: That sounds like it could be extremely useful. Well, hey man, congratulations on your successes. Your company has truly found a way to employ BTC for what it was meant by Satoshi Nakamoto: cutting out overcharging middlemen and helping to equalize the financial playing field for a general population. Not only can you find room to grow and thrive as a highly-successful business, providing jobs for Filipinos and others around the globe along the way, but you are helping millions of people in process. Indeed, according to the counter on your website, it says Coins.ph has saved Filipinos more than 820 years of standing in line since 2014, which is awesome, by true definition of the word.

CG: Thanks man, that means a lot to us.

To open a Coins.ph account from your desktop computer, click here. To download an Android version of the Coins.ph app from the Google Play store, click here. To download an iOS version of the app, click here. For answers to other questions about Coins.ph, we encourage you to visit the FAQ section of their homepage.