The United States is just now getting its first Bitcoin exchanges via Bitcoin merchant leader Coinbase. The Winklevoss twins' will have their "fully-compliant" Gemini project up in New York later this year. Due to onerous state and federal regulations and costs for any financial services enterprise, the U.S. has been several steps behind the rest of the world when it comes to making a Bitcoin marketplace. Now, the tiny island nation of Trinidad and Tobago is about to quickly catch-up with the Western giant in the Bitcoin economic system.
Bitt looks to be the Caribbean leader in Bitcoin services
After two years of negotiations, travel and paperwork, Bitt co-founders Gabriel Abed and Oliver Gale say they are ready to release the first Bitcoin exchange on the island March 30th. Currently over 60% of the area is "unbanked", creating a potential market boom for the digital currency. Their plan is to have digital currencies stand side by side with traditional currencies throughout the Caribbean in the not-too-distant future.
“We serve the international market but are focused and centered on the Caribbean offering the core services of mobile digital wallets, international remittances and e-commerce merchant solutions utilizing new software called Bitcoin and (it's) blockchain,” says Oliver Gale, the company’s CFO.
Bitcoin services company Bitt is based in Hastings, Barbados, and offers financial exchange systems that are completely built, designed and managed in the Caribbean. According to Gale and Abed, this is to be the first of many Bitt innovations in the region, as exorbitant remittances charges aren't exclusive to just Trinindad and Tobago.
Gabriel Abed graduated from the University of Ontario with a B.A. in Network Security, and he was introduced to digital currencies in early 2010 during his undergrad studies. He has stayed true to his education in his professional life, leading software development innovations in the Caribbean as part of a team of dedicated developers. Oliver Gale earned his degree in accounting and management from the University of Bristol. After learning about Bitcoin in 2012, he immediately immersed himself in the field, combining his knowledge of traditional finance to create new synergistic economic opportunities.
As for how Bitt will help Trinidad and Tobago residents, users will be able to sign up to log on to bitt.com after creating an online account. No need to download software, just follow the website's instructions, and immediately start accepting Bitcoin from anyone around the world into your new account.
A recent ECLAC (Economic Commission of Latin America and the Caribbean) report reveals that the Caribbean needs to lower remittance services costs for users. This is where Bitcoin's abilities shine, as people have little need to rely on old standards, like Western Union, to send money at several times the price of a Bitcoin transaction. Financial monopolies always hurt the consumer, and Western Union fees are a prime example.
Bitt has been working with ECLAC and local regulators on developing a framework for regulation of the system. The final negotiations took place during a meeting held at ECLAC’s sub-regional headquarters in Port-of-Spain on March 12. ECLAC plans to review national policies in anticipation of the use of digital currencies like Bitcoin as they look to make Bitcoin use more convenient throughout the region.
"Riding a Technology Wave with Finance that is Cutting Costs"
According to Gale and Abed, a lack of e-commerce-supporting legislation, inadequate technical capability, and problems integrating with some area banks show there are issues ahead to be addressed, but they don't see any long-term problems that can't be overcome. The current national legislation is fairly new and is primarily focused on government systems receiving electronic payments, not on digital currency adoption.
On the bright side, mobile phone usage in the region is widespread, and the short message service (SMS) messages on phones make the ability to perform digital transactions fairly easy. This should allow for acceptance and use of digital currencies within a relatively short space of time, similar to the M-Pesa program in Kenya, where digital money transfers are over 40% of the national GDP.
“We are riding a technology wave with finance that is cutting costs, making it faster, making it cheaper, making it possible for people outside of the banking systems to control their money using their mobile phones,” said Abed. “Our company will provide a regulated environment for these global services in a compliant way.”
Abed and Gale believe that the majority of the region will be accessing Bitcoin’s fully automated and transferable management ledger by early 2016.
What Caribbean island should gain direct Bitcoin access next? Share above and comment below.
Images provided by Trinidad Guardian and Wikimedia Commons