I've had a beer and I'm trying to relax... But I need to rant.
I always smash into the same issues wherever I travel to the "global south" countries.
For background, I've been a journalist, researcher and now film maker in developing countries for 6+ years.
I've lived in Mexico, Tunisia, the Ivory Coast, and Trinidad and Tobago.
I've done in-country research projects or documentaries in Senegal and West Africa, El Salvador, Cuba and Cape Verde.
They ALWAYS have very similar, unfair and yet easily fixed basic financial problems. It's borderline evil that we have created financial systems that make it very hard for the worse off to improve their lot.
The worst part? These systems are flourishing.
These are generalizations of course—so take this with a handful of salt—but my GOD it's so frustrating.
- Banks charge extortionate amounts to withdraw cash. (In Peru there's been a $3 fee at the 8 ATMs I've tried so far.)
- ATMs impose limits so you can only withdraw up to $60 meaning you have to withdraw several times and pay more fees.
- There is never enough change at tills so sales get rejected.
- People of course prefer harder currencies dollars but you're charged through the nose if you pay in dollars.
- Plus, if you accept more currencies (Sal island on Cape Verde accepts 4 currencies) then you have even worse problems at the till with change.
- Visa and mastercard charge upwards of 5% . So why bother with card?
- It's a day to day, hand to mouth existence - so people don't even CONSIDER saving. Saving is literally a foreign concept.
- It's near impossible to open a bank account because of strict or absurd KYC requirements (how can i prove my DoB if i don't have a birth certificate?)
- Regardedly high levels of inflation that everyone just deals with. In Cuba, inflation is a running joke. "Why didn't you do your homework?"
"Why are you late?"
- ATM penetration is low. Right now I'm in a very popular tourist town and the nearest ATM is 20 miles away.
- It's very hard or expensive to send money to the nearest city, let alone to relatives abroad. Don't get me started on predatory companies like Western Union and MoneyGram.
Yes, there are growing numbers of mobile-centric financial solutions like mobile money (think M-Pesa, Yape, Wave) but they're working within the splintered fiat system.
Come on... There has to be a better way. There needs to be a new system that's outside of incumbents and their insidious incentives.
I have hope that Bitcoin will fix a great deal of these issues, but F*CK me it's so depressing and frustrating to see it time and again. It breaks my heart every time I hear a local complain about the banks, the fees, the ATM queues, the Western Union issue, or the fact that I can't buy a bottle of water because the till doesn't have change.
Yes, I know, Bitcoin is hope. Sorry.
But arrggh, give me strength!