By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
THE Bahamas can “set the global standard” for digital currencies if it can get more businesses and consumers “on board” with its use, a Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) executive is arguing.
Phillisia Armbrister, its Bahamas-based “hub and spoke” manager, told the Grand Bahama Business Outlook that the continued roll-out of the Central Bank-backed Sand Dollar gives this nation “an opportunity to emerge as a leader in the digital currency space”.
However, she pointed out that “mass adoption” remains critical to the Sand Dollar’s success and that of digital/online transactions. Despite 96 percent of Bahamians owning a mobile phone, Ms Armbrister said that pre-COVID it was estimated that just percent were using them or other digital means to conduct their financial business.
With 40,000 Bahamas-based clients now conducting their regular banking business using RBC’s digital platform, she added: “What we are seeing is that COVID-19 caused consumers to look at how they interact with each other. More businesses and consumers are turning to digital means for day-to-day transactions.
“More clients are signing up to digital. When was the last time you used a cheque book or pass book? Instead, a phone has become the new transaction device. It is the new bank.”
Ms Armbrister acknowledged the reluctance among a sizeable number of Bahamian businesses and consumers to embrace the new technology and ways of conducting banking business, but said RBC believed it could achieve a balance between maintaining human contact while providing a faster, more convenient and safer service via its online platform.
Asserting that few customers reverted back to traditional mechanisms once they started using digital means, she added that physical currencies represented a “significant cost” to the commercial banking industry as it forced institutions to maintain branch networks, employees and other infrastructure to provide consumers with the necessary access.
Ms Armbrister, conceding that customer acceptance of the Sand Dollar and digital transaction mechanisms is key, said: “All of this is great, but at the end of the day, people need to be able to trust the idea of digital currency for it to be successful. Digital adoption will be key to creating mass use of digital currency.”
Arguing that commercial banks will need to invest in consumer education and other areas to ensure the Sand Dollar’s success, she added: “The Bahamas has an opportunity to emerge as a leader in the digital currency space and set the standard for the world to follow.”
Glennett Fowler, president and chief executive of Freeport-based Fowlco Ltd, gave an insight into how much work lies ahead for The Bahamas to embrace new technology by revealing the responses she received when asking 15 local businesses, ranging in size from small to large, about the returns they had enjoyed from investing in e-commerce platforms.
She told the Grand Bahama Business Outlook: “Fourteen out of 15 replied that less than 8 percent of their revenue was generated through their e-commerce platform. One person commented that they felt their client base was not ready for the transition to an online platform even though they are one of the biggest food distributors in the country?
“How can we manage change if we’re not ready to embrace change? How can we create adaptation when such a gap exists? Managing change in changing times is critical to our growth.”