With an American background, it was quite a challenge coming down to Africa to propagate the crypto gospel. Apart from his indecision on who has the best Jollof between Nigeria and Ghana, Chris shared with Technext bits and pieces of his entrepreneurial journey in Africa, in this interview.
Chris Maurice got into the blockchain space in 2013 while scavenging through the web. He did a great deal of reading on crypto and bitcoin for about a year and a half.
He remarks that: “By 2015 I was fully in the rabbit hole.”
What originally interested Chris was the borderless finance aspect. He had done some international business previously. And, he knew that making payments to many parts of the world is terrible, extremely inconvenient and difficult. So, he saw blockchain technology as a solution to that mammoth problem.
Bringing Yellow Card to Africa
He put paid to the question of Yellow Card’s future in Africa when Chris Maurice met a Nigerian man at Wells Fargo in the United States. He was trying to send $200 to his family in Nigeria and the bank charged him $90 for the transaction.
“And I thought that sounded absolutely insane. I talked to the guy. Have you heard of bitcoin? It’s free, it is fun and it is great stuff.” Maurice said.
When Chris got home, he started thinking about this guy’s family. Thinking about what his mom in Lagos could do with $200 bitcoin. He identified the problem – you could get bitcoin over to her, but can she pay rent or buy food with that?
Chris Maurice started gaining interest. He did research and learned everything about Nigeria and Africa broadly as he could.
“During all that research I stayed in Lagos for a while, loved it and that was also when I realised the world doesn’t need another remittance company. The continent needs to actually be able to transact with crypto.”
After this, Chris crafted Yellow Card’s vision, which is to make blockchain technology accessible to anyone.
“No matter your currency, we want you to have access to the financial service, wherever you are on the continent. This technology has so much potential to change the world and how people do business with the money around the world.” – Chris Maurice.
Chris believes that there are too many issues entrepreneurs face in Africa. Apart from significantly less access to funding, there are inherent issues with doing business on the continent.
“The currencies are facing serious inflation. And, in some countries, banking is really archaic. South Africa doesn’t even have electricity right now. You’re dealing with all these inherent infrastructural issues on the continent and then you combine that with factors like lack of funding, you’re gonna get fed up.”
He however observes that these difficulties are what generate the pool of opportunities because there are so many problems to solve. To overcome the challenges, Chris Maurice and Yellow Card focused on the product and feedback from customers.
“We started out during the COVID-19 lockdown era. Being stuck inside, people became more comfortable with digital solutions, especially in Nigeria. I think when I got to Lagos before Covid, cash was so popular. Now, people are significantly more comfortable with digital solutions across the world. And yeah we built something that people needed and when they needed it most.”
Regulation in Africa
The most controversial issue in the African blockchain space is regulation. There is an unending discourse among innovators and regulators owing to the state of regulation in many African countries and the effect on many businesses.
But, Chris Maurice thinks that regulation is not necessarily a bad thing.
“The problem with the lack of regulation is that nobody knows what to do. Regulation is important because it helps to define and make it very clear. In the case that there is a suspected criminal case in crypto, these are the procedures that should be followed. That’s opposed to the police just harassing our client. And so it’s good to have regulation because we will know what we need to do. Banks will feel more comfortable working with us. I know people think regulation is bad because I’m gonna comply with it, but the thing is in the absence of regulation there are so many other problems you have to deal with.” – Chris Maurice.
He however says not all regulation is good.
“There is good regulation and there is bad regulation and I think with the crypto industry we see it as our responsibility and I hope that other stakeholders in the industry see it as theirs too. We hope that the central banks work with the govt and the ministries of finance on shaping that regulation to ensure that it keeps people safe but also promotes innovation because without innovation there’s no job.”
Chris advises African authorities to look at a legal framework for crypto. He says the absence of a legal framework, it leaves a sort of regulatory authority vacuum and central banks are trying to solve this but they don’t always do the best job.
“I think the job of governments across the continent is to actually lay out a legal framework within their country for crypto. That’s the most important thing. And again the goal of that regulation should be keeping people safe, preventing money laundering but most importantly promoting innovation.” – Chris Maurice.
He compares blockchain technology to the internet. It is an innovation you can’t get rid of, so you have to live with it.
He believes that any form of elimination will only drive people to the black market. For instance, Chris says that the CBN crypto ban slowed down Yellow Card’s hiring process in Nigeria.
“I know the SEC in Nigeria is putting out a regulatory guideline and I think it will be one way in bringing in jobs and innovation. Our hiring slowed down pretty significantly since last year because of the CBN ban. It’s like since we can’t do our business here, then we can’t create jobs. I think this is a great time for Nigeria to look at undoing that and work with crypto players.”
Chris Maurice concludes by urging African authorities to embrace blockchain technology now because it offers a significant opportunity for the continent in the future.
“What’s really amazing about this tech is the timing. This is really the first technology that gives Africa a chance to be a part of the first wave and be a leader. Most other technologies came into the continent late.”
Chris believes that there is still so much potential, job growth and socioeconomic opportunities. “All the money is gonna stay elsewhere if your regulation doesn’t make sense.”
We hope that African leaders and regulators listen to Chris.
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