By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
THE Government is examining whether blockchain technology can be employed to ease the financial services industry's Know Your Customer (KYC) processes.
K P Turnquest, Deputy Prime Minister, told the International Business and Finance Summit (IBFS) that the Minnis administration was exploring "a digital record blockchain" where overseas clients have their KYC information authenticated digitally in their home country.
Once this happens, Bahamas-based providers can then log-in and receive all the necessary customer due diligence information within seconds, reducing a process that "can take six-eight months to just 15 minutes".
Mr Turnquest said: "One of the things we are looking at is blockchain technology, and seeing how we can leverage that in the financial services industry, in particular, to make the whole process of on-boarding clients easy.
"For instance, we are looking at the possibility of setting up a digital record blockchain such that persons can do their Know Your Customer (KYC) documentation in their own countries; get it authenticated digitally and, when they come to the Bahamas, it is just a matter of giving somebody a key in which they can log in and receive authenticated verification of all of the KYC and all of the due diligence requirements in seconds. A process that can take six to eight months can be done in 15 minutes."
Mr Turnquest said the Government has put together a 'Task Force' to determine what is needed to make this a reality. "We have had discussions with several providers of this kind of technology, and we continue to make this a priority so we can get this kind of technology in place in the shortest period of time possible," he said.
"The more efficient and responsive we are, the better our chances in this very competitive global world we are now faced with given all of its complexities and challenges. We want to be market leaders; we do not want to be followers."
Brent Symonette, minister of financial services, trade and Industry and Immigration, told the Summit that the Government plans "to bring transparency" to the foreign direct investment approval process by codifying this in the Foreign Investment Bill.
He added: "Before the end of the summer, you will see a re-branding of the Ministry of Financial Services promotional brand in line with that of BFSB's (Bahamas Financial Services Board) brand. We want to ensure that we articulate and convey a clear and cohesive message to the international community that is substantive and visually attractive.
"We must be innovative in our services and product offering, while also putting in the framework for policy, and innovation that will foster flexibility for the creation of new products and services, as well as investment in new areas of financial services.
"Financial services is integral to the sustainability of the Bahamian economy, and while we are committed to protecting and growing this sector, we are also seeking to stimulate growth in non-traditional sectors of economic activity which will better enable us to adapt in these times of uncertainty."
Mr Symonette added that the investment threshold for permanent residency consideration will be increased to $750,000 with effect from July 1.
"We have also revised our policy on permanent residency on the purchase of a residence," he said. "With effect from July 1, 2018, the threshold will be increased to $750,000 instead of the $500,000 threshold that has been in place for numerous years.
"In the coming months, we will be examining other avenues for permanent residency, but we will not be considering 'citizenship by investment' at this time."
Mr Symonette said the Government is currently working on the software to facilitate automatic tax information exchange, having signed the Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters and the Multilateral Competent Authority Agreement for compliance with the OECD's Common Reporting Standard (CRS).
"We expect this to be ready before the end of summer," said Mr Symonette. "The Bahamas will begin exchanges with our partners in September of this year, on a non-reciprocal basis."
He added: "My Ministry has facilitated, and continues to facilitate, various Immigration reforms, namely the government and industry have made adjustments to the Immigration application process as it relates to short term work permits for persons entering the Bahamas for the purpose of business, like Board meetings, training or conferences etc for a period of less than 21 days. This will become operational soon.
"Additionally, presently, the Department of Labour facilitates a relaxation of the labour certification process in obvious cases for certain professional classes in the financial services sector. This practice is now being reviewed to ensure certainty in the process for the benefit of the officers at the Department of Labour and Immigration Department."