By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A digital Bahamian dollar will likely be “extremely critical” for future access to financial services on the Family Islands, the Exuma Chamber of Commerce’s president argued yesterday.
Pedro Rolle, whose island has been selected to host the first test of an electronic currency, told Tribune Business that Exuma - with its mix of local and foreign businesses, and winter residents - was the “ideal-sized business community” for such an experiment.
Expressing appreciation that Exuma would be “on the cutting edge” of financial technology (Fintech) developments, Mr Rolle told Tribune Business that it was vital the island’s economy not be “held back or hampered” by a lack of ready access to financial services as a result of commercial banks eliminating their physical branch presence.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” he added of the digital Bahamian dollar trial, “because unlike Long Island, which has seen almost the complete disappearance of its physical bank presence, we still have two international banks in Royal Bank of Canada and Scotiabank.
“We have a wide cross-section of people who use banking services, including local residents and have such a large number of visitors, whether winter residents or guests. More and more we’re also seeing businesses in Nassau expand their services to Exuma. It’s a wonderful opportunity to see how this works and what the impact will be.”
The Central Bank has already shown its intent to develop a digital Bahamian currency by selecting NZIA Ltd, a joint venture between IBM and a Singapore-based software company specialising in blockchain solutions, from among 30 bidders to be the preferred technology solutions provider for the project.
The digital Bahamian dollar, whose creation has been given the name Project Sand Dollar, will be rolled-out beyond the test communities after 2020.
It is a key element in the Central Bank’s drive to modernise The Bahamas’ payment system, move consumers away from an historical reliance on cash to electronic payments, and improve access to financial services - especially in remote Family Island communities.
“This could be critical, extremely critical for all Family Islands,” Mr Rolle told Tribune Business. “I think it’s an exciting venture, a wonderful thing, and will be extremely beneficial for Exuma and places like Long Island which are less fortunate.
“For Exuma this will continue to open the door, where financial services are made quicker and more inexpensive. Exuma will be on the cutting edge in having a say in how this is properly facilitated.”
He added that Exuma was a “mid-sized” economy in the Bahamian context, obviously not a New Providence but far bigger than the likes of Acklins and Crooked Island. “There’s evidence that we continue to grow, and we don’t want to be in a position where we’re held back or hampered because we don’t have financial services readily available to you to do the transactions you want to do on a local basis,” Mr Rolle said.
Turning to Exuma’s current financial services environment, he said RBC’s efforts to drive customers to online banking and digital services had to-date not achieved the desired result as its branch was “still congested” by long lines.
Mr Rolle added that it will take time “for the mindset to change”, especially among elderly residents, who wanted someone to talk to when performing transactions. Decisions were also still being referred to Nassau and other locations, resulting in delays and inefficiencies.