Key decision makers within the Government, regulators, funding agencies, corporate and legal service providers, as well as private sector financial technology (fintech) interests, came together recently at the offices of Invest Barbados to chart the way forward for the island’s growing fintech industry. The event, which was hosted by the Barbados International Business Association (BIBA) and Invest Barbados facilitated frank but fair discourse between the industry and local authorities, particularly about the country’s recently launched regulatory sandbox regime.
“The first joint BIBA/Invest Barbados fintech stakeholder consultation was a resounding success. The meeting was a collaborative forum in which the stakeholders discussed risk, innovation and the opportunity to place Barbados at the forefront of the fintech sector in the region. We are delighted to confirm that we will be jointly hosting a series of further stakeholder meetings to drive these initiatives forward,” said Julia Hope, the President of BIBA.
Fintech has increasingly been touted as a potentially transformational development for the Caribbean. As a result, the Central Bank of Barbados and the Financial Services Commission jointly announced the introduction of a fintech regulatory sandbox, designed to be a controlled environment where businesses can test their innovative financial products and services, while being closely monitored by regulators.
One company ready to take advantage of the regulatory sandbox is Bitt Digital Inc., proponents of the mMoney Wallet and mMoney Merchant applications that offer mobile money payment services to local individuals and businesses. Speaking to this, Sade Jemmott, General Counsel of Bitt noted that “…the development of a framework to encourage responsible innovation is welcomed. Bitt has been a pioneer in this industry so it is only natural that we want to be the first sandbox participant. However, looking around the room we can clearly see that we will be the first of many. The powers that be must therefore be applauded for having the vision and foresight to grow a multi-billion dollar industry right her on the shores of Barbados.”
According to Professor Avinash Persaud, Special Envoy to the Prime Minister of Barbados for Investment and Finance and Chairman of the Financial Services Commission, “…the new Barbados Government is not just talking about the prospects of new technologies, but within a few months is embracing them… [and] …doing so in a freshly transparent and predictable way that will attract innovators and investors.”
Beyond discussing the details of the regulatory sandbox, the breakfast fintech meeting also explored blockchain technology, the development opportunities fintech presented for Barbados and initial coin offerings.
In explaining why a regional law firm was happy to offer logistical support for the event, Tara Frater, Partner at Lex Caribbean Attorneys-at-Law, noted that “… as an international financial services centre, Barbados is increasingly assaulted by threats which challenge us to reinvent our identity and value proposition to the world. Our firm recognises the value and opportunity presented by the fintech sector and are happy to partner with other change agents to catalyse the discourse and build momentum with a view to driving the national development agenda of economic growth. Fintech is international business 2.0.”
Other participants included representatives from the Barbados Fintech Working Group, the Barbados Stock Exchange, the Central Bank of Barbados, the Caribbean Development Bank, the Compete Caribbean Partnership Facility, Clarke Gittens Farmer, Chancery Chambers, Deloitte, DGM Financial Group, as well as the Barbados based blockchain technology companies, AION and Polymath.
The consensus was that the highlight of the meeting turned out to be a spirited exchange of perspectives between Professor Persaud and leading Caribbean fintech entrepreneur and co-founder of Bitt, Gabriel Abed. Underscoring the need to strike the appropriate balance between regulation and innovation, they debated the nuances of this emerging industry and the required Barbados approach, but found common ground in the fact that fintech had the potential to introduce much needed growth into Barbados’ economy and even eventually secure its economic future.
Although admittedly skeptical going into the meeting, by the end of its engagement Abed was quoted as saying “…based on what was explained and the willingness to engage the industry, it sounds like Barbados will become an even bigger home to blockchain solutions. If the regulators do in fact intend to regulate the industry based solely on consumer protection and avoiding systemic risk, that offers significant flexibility for innovation… I am ready to help market that.”