Crypto unicorn Bitso is expanding into Colombia

Latin America exchange Bitso sees “tremendous potential” for crypto adoption in Colombia, according to its new country manager Emilio Pardo. 

Bitso, a Gibraltar-registered unicorn valued at $2.2 billion, already has a strong presence in Mexico, Argentina and Brazil. Now, it’s working to launch its platform in Colombia and gain a seat at the table as regulators define the country’s digital asset policy. The South American country ranked 11th on Chainalysis’ 2021 global crypto adoption index.

Pardo, who joined Bitso after serving as Mastercard’s head of business development for the Andes region, says he was drawn to working with the cryptocurrency exchange because of its approach with financial regulators.

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“Regulation in Colombia, I think, sooner or later it’s going to come,” Pardo said. “And we are the first one raising our hand saying, ‘We want to be regulated. We want to have the rules of the game clear.’” Moreover, Bitso also wants to play a role in helping regulators navigate the crypto ecosystem. 

But despite the strong interest in crypto usage here, Colombia has not yet formed any specific regulations around using digital assets. However, its tax authority recently announced it would take action to crack down on those who do not correctly declare crypto assets.

One of the most important factors shaping Colombia’s future crypto policy is a sandbox supervised by Colombia’s financial regulator, the Superintendencia Financiera de Colombia (SFC). The project is allowing crypto firms like Bitso to demonstrate what types of services it can offer to banks and financial institutions.

Under this sandbox, Bitso has been working on a pilot program with the country’s oldest bank, Banco de Bogotá. The partnership, which went live for certain customers and employees last month, focuses on offering cash-in and cash-out operations. It is scheduled to run until January 2023. Up to 5,000 customers can take part in the project, Pardo said, with the bank ultimately responsible for choosing how many people will be able to participate.

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Since Bitso is taking the approach of working with Colombian regulators before officially launching a product in the market, its trading platform is not widely available here yet. However, Pardo said the company has a goal of making its services available to all Colombians before the end of the year. It plans to hire more people in Colombia to fill out its small team of about 10-15 people, placing priority on roles relating to compliance and public policy.

Bitso isn’t the only exchange courting Colombia’s financial institutions and regulators as crypto finds its footing in the country. Notably, Banco de Bogotá also just started a trial with exchange after receiving necessary approvals. Meanwhile, Gemini launched a similar pilot project with Bancolombia on Dec. 14. 

According to Pardo, a clear winner among the competition hasn’t emerged yet. However, Bitso hopes to snag the top spot when that happens.  

“We are probably the early adopters in the Colombian market,” Pardo said. “With our vision, hopefully we will achieve the number one position sooner [rather] than later.”



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