Welcome to the first-ever MasterCard Fintech Summit held in The Bahamas.
To the team from Mastercard who organised today’s event, as well as the many government and business leaders who have joined us today, thank you for facilitating this important regional discussion.
For those who travelled to our shores to attend today’s summit, I wish you a very warm Bahamian welcome. As you learn about regional Fintech trends, I encourage you to use this opportunity to experience our hospitality, culture, and cuisine. If it is your first time visiting The Bahamas, I hope this trip will inspire you to return to our shores in the near future.
Tourism is our number one industry, and we are very proud of the progress we have made in building this sector from a seasonal industry in the 1950s to the region-leading, year-round industry we have today.
We are equally proud of the second pillar of our economy: our financial services industry, which has also grown and evolved tremendously over the years. Today, thanks to our world-leading legislative framework, local expertise, and commitment to innovation, we have built the optimal environment for wealth generation and management.
Our ability to adapt our regulatory framework to the most stringent global standards, while building a competitive financial services product that appeals to clients from around the globe, makes us the ideal jurisdiction for emerging Fintech opportunities.
In fact, the very survival of our financial services industry hinges on our ability to innovate and adapt to emerging trends. The integration of Fintech is the next step in our continued evolution as a leading financial services jurisdiction.
This year, as we mark the 50th anniversary of our independence, we are charting the course for the way forward. We believe digital technologies can play a large role in the new Bahamian economy that is emerging.
Every country’s digital journey is unique, influenced by factors such as geography, access to financing, and human development. However, no matter the path taken, the final destination remains the same. We all find ourselves competing in a rapidly changing world that demands we get with the times or risk finding ourselves on the outside looking in.
We are all working toward the digital transformation of businesses, societies, and governments. For our part, the government of The Bahamas has seen tremendous success with the launch of the MyGateway platform, which provides centralised online access to over 200 government services. This platform is a central component of a wider government push to expand access to public services while improving transparency, strengthening auditing and control mechanisms, and enhancing security.
If a government cannot embrace digitisation within its own systems, how can it truly welcome the digital innovation that marks our modern era, government cannot rightly be said to have embraced digital innovations if its own systems are not a part of the wider digital ecosystem. Our digital transformation agenda will make The Bahamas more competitive on the global stage.
Digital and financial inclusion have critical roles to play in the new economy. And that is as true for our financial systems as it is for our governmental systems.
Regionally, the loss of correspondent banking relationships has created millions of unbanked people throughout Latin America and the Caribbean who are in need of solutions.
We have faced our own challenges in The Bahamas as local banks have pulled out of less populated islands, leaving residents without a single financial institution to rely on.
Many people are forced to travel by boat or plane to perform basic financial transactions. This reality, though regrettable, represents an opportunity to advance the uptake of financial technology and, in turn, promote greater financial inclusion across our archipelago.
In 2020, we launched the world’s first Central Bank Digital Currency, the Sand Dollar, as our homegrown solution for digital inclusion. We are now working with our Central Bank in conjunction with private sector partners to promote widespread adoption.
We were later joined by Jamaica and the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union who both launched their own Central Bank Digital Currencies. As we work toward greater usage of these currencies, there remain millions of unbanked people across the Caribbean and Latin America who require urgent solutions.
While each country in our region faces unique obstacles in the fight for greater financial inclusion, across the board lower-income, young, and less-educated citizens are the most likely to be financially excluded.
As policymakers and industry leaders, we must take into account these vulnerable populations, if our efforts to promote Fintech as a force for democracy are to succeed.
Some Caribbean nations, like The Bahamas, are well-positioned to serve as strategic industry hubs for digital assets enterprises doing business throughout the Americas. We already have decades of experience as financial services centres, and we can rely on our expertise in international compliance and the regulation of financial systems to provide a well-regulated, business-friendly space for start-ups and existing digital asset enterprises seeking to expand.
The key to long-term success in the Fintech and digital assets space, however, is the development of an effective regulatory framework.
In The Bahamas, our Digital Assets and Registered Exchanges (DARE) Act is hailed as one of the most rigorous and effective frameworks in the world.
The DARE framework reflects global best practices with an added touch of Bahamian innovation, positioning us a world leader in the regulation of digital assets. The legislation is comprehensive and provides clarity and oversight without stifling innovation. It is also highly responsive. We knew we needed an approach that was highly adaptive to keep pace with industry changes.
Recognising the importance of staying ahead of the curve, we intend to pass a series of amendments to the DARE Act this year with the Digital Assets Registration and Exchanges Bill, 2023.
The revamped regime aims to encompass lessons learned globally since the introduction of DARE and to situate The Bahamas at the forefront of the rapidly evolving digital asset regulatory space, with an even stronger, more comprehensive regulatory framework.
When put to the test by the unprecedented situation with FTX, our regulations ensured that immediate and effective action was taken to appoint joint liquidators and secure assets, which are now under the control of the Bahamian regulator.
The lessons we learned in the wake of FTX will only strengthen our DARE framework in the long term and propel our digital assets sector forward. New amendments to the legislation include – among other things – measures to clarify the regulation of stablecoins, more robust investor and consumer protection mechanisms, and the regulation of staking for digital asset-related mining in The Bahamas.
We are innovating, not only in response to our own experiences and insights, but in anticipation of the direction that the industry is headed.
As the Fintech sector evolves, we will continue to promote robust discussions with industry leaders as we prepare for the promising future ahead of us.
The Bahamas will be hosting our “Digital, Decentralised, Disruptive”, D3 Conference from October 10th to 12th. Our focus will be on deploying safe, responsible and ethical Fintech solutions; as well as the need to join forces to foster global digital innovation and introduce Web3 and digital assets into mainstream adoption. I invite you all to join us for what promises to be an exciting forum.
It is my pleasure to officially open the Mastercard Fintech Summit 2023.
Before us, we have the opportunity to build more empowered and inclusive societies powered by Fintech ingenuity and digital transformation agendas. Let’s make the most of this meeting of minds as we advance the conversations that will ultimately pave the way for a Fintech-driven future in The Bahamas and the Caribbean.
I look forward to seeing the ideas sown today flourish in the seasons to come.