By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A Bahamian-headquartered investment bank's top executive yesterday predicted digital assets will eventually become "a dominant part of our business" as it unveiled its tie-up with a technology provider.
Michael Anderson, president and chief executive of RF Holdings, the former RoyalFidelity Merchant Bank & Trust, told Tribune Business that its partnership with Bitt, a regional financial technology player, will initially focus on making digital currencies such as the Bahamian Sand Dollar available to its clients as a payment means to settle transactions.
Revealing that the investment bank, which also has a presence in Barbados and the Cayman Islands, is investing $500,000 per annum in upgrading its technology systems to meet the digital era's demands, Mr Anderson said the Sand Dollar and other regional digital currencies offer the potential to facilitate cross-border trade in a more efficient way and at much less cost.
"They'll be helping us, even with the Sand Dollar, to interface the Sand Dollar with our systems," he told this newspaper of the partnership with Bitt. "We're just looking at digital currencies and seeing how best to make them available to clients, and potential clients, to improve the payment process.
"Sometimes, for smaller payments, it can be protracted and expensive to make them through the bank, so if it can be made a lot easier by giving them access to digital currencies to make payments...." Mr Anderson said he was thinking especially of smaller payments in the hundreds of dollars, such as pension and mutual fund contributions that have to be made across borders and require currency conversions.
In such cases, where payments also have to be routed through a variety of correspondent banks, the RF Holdings chief suggested it would "be a lot easier and cheaper to do it through digital currency than through the banks".
"The cost of these transactions are prohibitive for small amounts sent, such as $100 to $200," Mr Anderson said. "I think we can make it a lot easier for people to do those transactions, and it doesn't cost as much. Cost is a huge deterrent for people making these investments as it is so high relative to the amount invested."
RF Holdings, in becoming the latest financial institution to embrace the digital age, said its partnership aimed to use Bitt's digital technology infrastructure to build a platform that will allow its regional client base to use digital currencies such as ‘mMoney’ in Barbados, and the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank’s ‘DCash’ as well as the Sand Dollar, for payment and settlement transactions.
"The immediate target for the platform is facilitating transactions based on available digital currencies in The Bahamas and Barbados. The platform’s services will eventually be offered to the rest of the Caribbean," RF Holdings added.
"As more digital currencies are made available through the new digital infrastructure, the benefits of cross-border digital currency exchange for the Caribbean region expands far beyond the conveniences it will provide for RF clients.
"The longer term goal of the platform is to facilitate general online payments, making mobile and online goods and services more accessible, and more affordable in the Caribbean region by allowing individuals and businesses to efficiently transact directly with each other."
Mr Anderson yesterday confirmed that RF Holdings planned to expand beyond just a digital currency platform, adding: "I think as we look more broadly in the region we will look to get into digital assets and digital securities. Everything takes longer than you think."
Predicting that the Sand Dollar will be "made available in the first six months of this year", he said: "In time it will become a dominant part of our business but it will take a few years for people to get used to using digital currency.
"People currently see it as a fallback means of payment, but they will increasingly see it as the primary means of payment. It might take a few years. Part of the problem is that digital currencies are seen as the secondary means of payment, but in time it will become more of a normal process and way for people to do things. There's a transition process for people to get used to it."
Bitt provides digital currency management systems (DCMS) to central banks, commercial banks and credit unions, merchants and consumers, to enable them to participate in fully digital transactions amid the post-COVID-19 economy.
Brian Popelka, its chief executive, said: “Since our 2016 launch of the synthetic digital currency in Barbados, Bitt has been working towards the creation of an intra-regional cross-border settlement solution to unlock trade, investment and remittance flows within the Caribbean.
"We are thrilled to be working with RF Holdings to leverage Bitt Digital Currency Management Systems in creating a solution that will boost RF’s product offering and usher in a transformational way of conducting business within the region.”
Marla Dukharan, the Caribbean economist, sits on the Boards of both RF Holdings and Bitt. Mr Anderson added in a statement: "Digital currencies have been gaining popularity internationally and we’ve seen an increased interest for the same in the Caribbean.
"At RF we believe in embracing new technologies and trends to serve our clients in the most effective ways. We look forward to creating in collaboration with Bitt a convenient solution for our clients who previously couldn’t access our investment vehicles to easily do business with us.”