On September 7, 2021, El Salvador became the first country in the world to legalize Bitcoin as a parallel currency to the U.S. Dollar, which has been legal tender in the Central American country since 2001.
Legalization of the cryptocurrency coincided with the launch of Chivo, a digital wallet for transactions in both dollars and bitcoins. The launch also included the installation of 200 ATMs that allow for bitcoin/dollar conversions.
Federación de Asociaciones Cooperativas de Ahorro y Crédito de El Salvador, R.L. (FEDECACES), which is World Council’s direct member credit union association in El Salvador, says all credit unions will accept bitcoin as soon as they have installed the appropriate technology that allows members to interact through Chivo and QR code scanners.
The federal government is offering a $30 incentive to download and install the Chivo app, which offers both personal use and business versions, anticipating it will attract 2.5 million users across the country (about 39% of the population).
However, actual usage of Chivo has been limited and several problems have been reported since the launch, which include difficulties with:
- withdrawing funds from ATMs.
- data verification.
- receiving payment of the $30 incentive.
Credit unions are also unsure about whether their members will feel comfortable using the cryptocurrency. Polls show 70% of Salvadorians have concerns about Bitcoin and 90% say they lack sufficient knowledge about cryptocurrencies in general.
There are also concerns about Chivo’s privacy policies on user data. As a result of the troubled rollout, FEDECACES has communicated to its members that they remain committed to safeguarding their financial resources and keeping them informed of all developments, so that the use of this new payment mechanism is simple and completely transparent within their credit unions.
FEDACACES has also provided information about credit union responsibilities where Bitcoin is concerned and outlined processes on how to handle it.
- By law, credit unions are not responsible for fluctuations in the exchange rate of the cryptocurrency at the time of conversion, nor are they responsible for the cyber or fraud risks associated with it.
- Upon receipt of bitcoins, credit unions will immediately convert them to dollars for all accounting and operational processes.
- Credit unions will not maintain any balances or accounts in Bitcoin, nor will they participate in any investments in Bitcoin.
- All member services will be registered in dollars, just as they have been historically.
- AML/CFT policies and controls are maintained in strict accordance with the stipulations of the Bitcoin Law.
El Salvador will provide an interesting case study for credit union associations across the world wondering whether their country will be the next one to adopt the cryptocurrency as legal tender. World Council will also be keeping a close eye on the impacts of Bitcoin on Salvadorian credit unions and will provide updates as this grand experiment moves forward.