This week Barbados will the host of a global fintech conference called Fintech Islands from October 5 to 7 welcoming 300 delegates from across the world and attracting sponsorship from prominent global players like Visa, MasterCard and Delta Capital Group. The government must be given credit for being the enabler by placing emphasis on the emerging fintech sector. Some of the initiatives the Mottley government has spearheaded include:
- Rollout of the Regulatory sandbox in late 2019 which BU commenters will recall generated raucous discussion.
- Enactment of the National Payments Bill in February 2019 here. The new National Payments system is currently being implemented.
- Not to forget the supporting Credit Reporting Bill in parliament in December 2021 that had been in abeyance for years.
The government has also moved quickly towards digitisation by executing the IDB Public Sector Digitisation Project which is being rolled out across all ministries at the back end, at the “front end” the rolling of the new National ID card which will have an accompanying optional Digital ID. The government must however do a better job communicating with the public about the New National ID card.
A government’s job is to create the environment, legislative and otherwise to encourage private sector to drive economic activity. There is consensus our over-reliance on fickle tourism as a SIDs makes the economy more vulnerable to exogenous shocks. The 2007 global financial meltdown and recent experience arising from the pandemic is a sorry reminder. In 2016 late Prime Minister warned of the need for policymakers to introduce radical measures to add new earning sectors to the economy, instead the Central Bank was repurposed to be government’s ATM and as they say the rest is history after incurring 23 downgrades.
We live in a world that has transformed to digital cum services era, building new sectors to drive economic activity is not only about building physical factories. Rolling out fit for purpose regulation and other initiatives to improve business facilitation is the new alternative.
Barbados has built a reputation as an offshore financial hub, however, since the mid 2000s as Arthur mentioned in the above video, Barbados lost a lot of business to Cayman and has never fully recovered. It was one of the problems which plagued the Stuart government and as Arthur pointed out – from 2016 the country lost $259 million in foreign exchange and tax revenue which the then government sought to replace by imposing heavy domestic taxes on a shrinking economy and taxbase.
One of the things the Mottley government seems to be trying to do is to reconfigure the business sector from which Barbados can offer modern services to replace the old tax haven model. The OECD has shown they have no problem shifting the rules of engagement ‘during the game’. It must be helpful that Barbados also added to its brand in the fintech space by being first to market with the Barbados Welcome Stamp program which allowed high net worth professionals many from the fintech world to work remotely during the pandemic.
Quietly the Ghanaian fintech company Zeepay has setup in Barbados with plans to launch in Guyana next. Some have been asking are we there yet? This is a rhetorical question.