By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Benchmark (Bahamas) last night hailed its newly-formed three-way alliance as "a marriage made in heaven" that will help position this nation as a leader on blockchain and crypto currency.
Julian Brown, the BISX-listed firm's chief executive and president, said the company's second financial technology (Fintech) deal within a week meant it was "in the leading pack" on developing a platform to facilitate peer-to-peer trading in digital currencies and initial coin offerings (ICOs).
Benchmark (Bahamas) announced it has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Dragon Industries, the provider of crypto currency and blockchain solutions for the entertainment industry, and the DragonExchange (DGRx).
It can now put this together with the exclusive Bahamian licence for a blockchain/digital peer-to-peer financial trading and processing exchange, which it obtained last week from UK-based Charteris, Mackie, Baillie & Cummins (CMBC), "to take this new frontier forward".
Mr Brown said Benchmark hoped to rapidly convert the MoU with DragonExchange into "an operating understanding", with talks having already started and attorneys working on the necessary legal documents, ahead of an imminent meeting between the two sides in the UK.
He described Benchmark's three-way tie-up as "fantastic", as it linked CMBC as technology provider and platform architect with DragonExchange, which has already raised monies through an initial coin offering (ICO) of its DragonToken.
Describing the alliance as "unique", Mr Brown said it "speaks wonders for how this type of development will happen in the future" with Benchmark and the Bahamas providing a "well-regulated financial jurisdiction" where such crypto/blockchain activities can be based.
The company's alliance came as the Central Bank of the Bahamas, responding to a rash of companies promoting ICOs and crypto/blockchain solutions, moved to warn Bahamians of the risk involved in investing in an unregulated, still-evolving industry.
"The Central Bank of The Bahamas wishes to advise the public that no licence has been granted to crypto currency operators by the Bank or any other financial regulator to offer digital currency, or to provide such services such as cryptocurrency exchanges, crypto loans or crypto and fiat processing in or from within The Bahamas," the regulator warned.
"Persons investing in such products and services do so at their own risk." The Central Bank added that crypto/digital currencies were not legal tender in the Bahamas, are not issued or backed by it, and are not legal foreign currency either.
"The Central Bank does not regulate or supervise virtual currencies, nor has the Bank authorised any entity to operate a virtual currency platform," the Central Bank reiterated. "The public is further advised to seek professional advice with respect to matters regarding savings and investments from legitimate and licensed financial institutions."
Backing the Central Bank's warning, Mr Brown said Benchmark planned to "spearhead" efforts to work with the Central Bank and other regulators, such as the Securities Commission, to develop an appropriate regulatory/licensing regime for the sector.
Pointing out that Barbados is already facilitating ICOs, he told Tribune Business: "We'd like to do the same thing here, and look to assist the Central Bank and Securities Commission.
"We have every intention of making an application to the Central Bank's Request for Interest on creating a digital Bahamian dollar. We have the skill set, we have the platform, and are well-poised to be successful in getting that going and winning the contract if the Government decides to move aggressively in that direction."
Mr Brown described crypto currency and blockchain, together with peer-to-peer trading, as the "new financial services future, and we have to get on this rail".
"We're there with the major leaders in other financial services jurisdictions, and are happy to make sure the Bahamas participates," he added. "It's a global world. We're in the leading pack. We're leading, not following, developing a platform for blockchain, crypto and peer-to-peer, which is where the world wants to go in the financial sector."
Mr Brown said Benchmark's efforts, and the blockchain/crypto sector generally, offered "significant opportunities" for the Bahamas in the legal, administrative and regulatory sectors, as well as the issuance and launch of ICOs.
He added that Benchmark was investing between $250,000 to $500,000 in the venture.
Dragon Group's chief executive, Paul Moynan, said in statement: With Dragon's upcoming launch of our exchange we have found the right home for it in The Bahamas. The quality of the Bahamas' financial services industry is recognised worldwide, and Benchmark Advisors' offer of its CMBC developed digital peer-to-peer blockchain trading platform made The Bahamas the premier jurisdiction for us.
"This partnership will lead in to the launch of products in several vertical markets under Dragon as well as our ICO platform. Benchmark's human resources team bring a wealth of experience, and we look forward to working with them soon."