By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Chamber of Commerce’s chief executive yesterday predicted that the Bahamian digital currency will “have a monumental effect” on the transparency and safety of local financial transactions.
Jeffrey Beckles, speaking after the Central Bank introduced Project Sand Dollar to 162 businesses at a Chamber breakfast, told Tribune Business that the initiative “sets the tone” for entrepreneurs to develop multiple spin-off products in this space for the benefit of both consumers and businesses.
Calling for the Sand Dollar’s national roll-out to be accompanied by a robust education campaign, he added that the 93 percent of Bahamians who own mobile phones are already “functioning in that space” without using it to conduct financial transactions.
Besides improving the efficiency and security of The Bahamas’ payments systems, and reducing the need for businesses and consumers to handle cash, Mr Beckles said the digital Bahamian dollar also provided a platform for the development of apps and software for related purposes.
He added that it can also provide the base for eventually expanding into transactions involving foreign currencies - something that is required to target the seven million-plus stopover tourists and cruise passengers that visit The Bahamas annually.
“It will open the door quite widely,” Mr Beckles told Tribune Business. “Not only to businesses have the opportunity to enter the digital space, but businesses are going to be able to supply apps and programs in support of this digital platform.
“It provides quite a lot of entrepreneurial opportunities, especially for people in the technology space. It’s going to greatly improve our ease of doing business on the local stage, as every transaction will have same settlement. Vendors will not be waiting for payments to transfer into their account, and less cash will be handled by the consumer and business. There’s quite a bit of upside.”
Arguing that Bahamian commercial banks “need to become more creative” in supporting the digital Bahamian dollar’s roll-out, Mr Beckles added: “While the Sand Dollar involves local or domestic currency, it sets the tone for how and what we do for transactions in other currencies, particularly for foreign visitors.
“We now have seven million visitors every year. How do we tap into that market? The Sand Dollar sets the tone. It will also have a monumental effect on our ability to do business in a more transparent, safe and efficient way that bodes well for the country.
“It will help the southern Family Islands that do not have physical banking facilities, and the overall ability to do business in The Bahamas. Now people there have the ability to settle transactions without a bank. That’s huge. In the small and medium-sized enterprise community at large it’s going to be a tremendous benefit to their efficiency. And e-government, paying for government services with a digital payment card. That’s a home run.”
Emphasising that business and consumer education was key, Mr Beckles continued: “We are very sophisticated in that 93 percent of Bahamians have a cell phone, and use them for all manner of things except for business. We go for the debit card and credit card but are functioning in that space already. We just need to pull it into our everyday lives.
“It’s an evolving space where Bahamian are going to realise it’s not so different after all. Can you imagine how much simpler our lives would be every day as consumers and businesses transacting business in The Bahamas.”
The Chamber has created a Digital Transformation Committee to work with the Central Bank and digital payments solutions providers to ensure the private sector’s needs are “understood and met”, with Sand Dollar also linking to the Minnis administration’s e-government transformation project.
“I think you’ll see a quick uptake,” Mr Beckles said of the business community’s attitude to the Sand Dollar project. “The private sector has been waiting for an opportunity to embrace this technology, and has the same concerns as consumers - how to provide a more productive way to settle transactions in the most secure environment possible. The Sand Dollar platform provides it. I think you’ll see some really fantastic things come out of it.”
He added that app and algorithm developers could help businesses obtain data on their clients’ spending habits, source better supplies, improve their marketing and better understand customer needs. Similar products could also be targeted at consumers.