Blockchain technology provides enormous opportunities for our region

Leveraging Blockchain technology can lead to economic transformation in the region. This was the assessment made by Timothy Antoine, Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB).

While speaking at a Bitt seminar entitled, ‘Central Bank Meets Blockchain’ at the Hilton Resort, he highlighted, “I do believe that Blockchain technology inclusive of Financial technology (FinTech) provides enormous opportunities for our region for economic transformation. Sure there are risks, but none of us lives in a risk-free world, so we need to identify those risks and manage them and that is what the conversation is about.

“I want to hail the pioneering efforts of Bitt in the area of FinTech and the initiative to organise this very timely conference. The fact that this conference is sold out speaks volumes to the public’s interest and the curiosity on this issue.

“My simple hope is that we broaden the conversation, strengthen our collaboration as we deepen our understanding of financial technology, in particular Blockchain and its powerful promise for our region... In advancing this conversation, we are confronting the tension of judging too soon and deciding too late.

Of course that is a perennial leadership challenge, however, given the economic conditions of this region at this time is a challenge, we need to change. The ECCB accepts this challenge, cognisant that our Bank can and must influence the adoption speed of FinTech innovation in the region and our disposition as a bank is to support and encourage innovation while keeping the financial system safe.”

The ECCB Governor indicated, “Several Central Banks have begun to experiment with Blockchain technology, for example in Canada and Singapore... To leverage Blockchain for economic growth and transformation in our region, the ECCB will support the development and deployment of all applications, but we are particularly interested at this time in the opportunities of issuing a digital currency, payment and transfers and KYC utilities. At present, the ECCB Central Bank is engaged in active discussions with Bitt for a pilot in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union… Like all technology adopted by the ECCB, this Blockchain platform will be subject to rigorous testing to determine its sustainability for broad-based implementation.”

He acknowledged, “One of the challenges with the adoption of FinTech, specifically Blockchain in the region, is regulatory support. Despite its benefits, FinTech poses considerable challenges to regulators. The rapid entrance of FinTech start-ups is expanding the amount of service providers that need oversight by financial sector regulators. Furthermore, existing financial institutions are increasingly partnering with FinTech… The Central Bank and other regulators have to figure out what exactly is that business and where it should be regulated. You don’t want to overregulate, but you don’t want to have such a light touch because we have the responsibility to protect the safety and soundness of the financial system.

“However, I am quite concerned that in 2017, a significant portion of payments in our region are paper based, on average 70 per cent – that is way too high.

“It is high time that the region uses smartphones smartly. If the penetration rate is over 100 per cent, then surely we need to make smarter decisions with our smartphones. We use foreign exchange to purchase them, it is time that we use them to make foreign exchange, by using them to sell services.” (NB)

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