By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A Bahamian digital payments provider yesterday said it expects to increase the collective value of transactions it processes by 67 percent this year to $100m as it unveiled a “world first”.
Jeffrey Beckles, Island Pay’s managing director, told Tribune Business that its partnership with Mastercard had created the “world’s first central bank digital currency” credit/debit card that will launch this Spring alongside the Sand Dollar’s roll-out.
The digital provider, which last year processed $60m worth of payments including unemployment benefits on behalf of the government and National Insurance Board (NIB), said the card will allow Bahamian consumers to use the Bahamian digital currency and traditional notes interchangeably.
Mr Beckles said the card’s roll-out will give Bahamians greater “flexibility and convenience” when engaging in transactions both at home and abroad, and voiced confidence that both consumer and merchant will see a reduction in transaction fees as a result.
Island Pay, which already has 20,000 digital wallet holder customers, is providing the technology platform while Mastercard is lending its brand, credibility and worldwide presence to boost Bahamian consumer confidence in using the card.
“We have been diligently working on this for the past 18 months,” Mr Beckles said, describing the card’s development as “a giant step” that shows The Bahamas is serious about establishing its presence in the digital payments space.
“I think consumers will have greater flexibility in using the Sand Dollar, and merchants will have increased opportunities as the Sand Dollar will be the dollar that Bahamians use to trade. We had to figure out how to take this digital currency and make it more versatile. We see this as a giant step in the global advancement of a Central Bank digital currency.”
Mr Beckles said Bahamians will be able to use Sand Dollars, the Central Bank-backed digital currency, to conduct online transactions with the likes of Amazon, Wal-Mart and Target. “It will be accepted around the world wherever Mastercard is accepted,” he added of the card, “and that’s a pretty broad range for Bahamians to shop.
“This is a pretty big step in global recognition that The Bahamas is taking a bold step to become part of the global digital community. If you’re going to do business, whether a consumer or merchant, this will help create the platform needed to achieve that objective.”
The Island Pay chief said he was “very confident” that consumers and merchants will “be paying a lot less than they are now” in transaction and settlement fees as a result of its Mastercard tie-up and digital currency, adding: “We’re very confident that it’s going to be felt and experienced in a real positive way.”
Island Pay and Mastercard, in a joint statement, said the Bahamas Sand Dollar prepaid card gives people the option to instantly convert the digital currency to traditional Bahamian dollars and pay for goods and services anywhere Mastercard is accepted.
John Rolle, the Central Bank’s governor, said in a statement: “We welcome this approach to combining digital currency use with access to foreign currency and other payment outlets. The Central Bank of The Bahamas will continue to encourage fintech developments that tie into the Sand Dollar infrastructure, while allowing us to satisfy best global practices for regulation of the space.”
Richard Douglas, co-founder of Island Pay, added: “By working closely with the Central Bank of The Bahamas and Mastercard, we are able to issue a pre-paid card unlike any other in the world. We are now able to bring immediate, critical benefits to our customers at a time when they are looking to find new, innovative ways to pay.
“The Bahamas is leading innovation in Central Bank digital currencies, and we’re thrilled to be able to play an important role in helping to democratise access to currency, especially in areas that are currently underserved.”