Invest TCI is facilitating the development of the Financial services sector to build a diversified economy and ensure employment opportunities for the next generation. It is crucial Turks and Caicos Islanders understand and embrace this emerging landscape and begin to take steps to ensure their inclusion. The first step is access to information and having a better understanding of the sector. Invest TCI will be publishing a series of ten articles on the potential for financial services in the TCI. As we embark on this ambitious program to develop the Financial Services industry and in turn the country, Turks & Caicos Islanders need to be able to access these opportunities.

 

“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor”.

This is one of countless motivational quotes that are shared daily over the internet. In most cases, there’s often so much content in the form of posts and memes that we often scroll right past them nonchalantly, without ever taking the time to reflect on its meaning. However, it is this quote from Franklin D. Roosevelt that fittingly sets the backdrop of this week’s article and more importantly our mental outlook entering 2021.

In a year that has been challenging and uncertain, the silver linings have been few, far and in between. Nonetheless, assessing from a global economic standpoint in comparison to other nations, TCI demonstrated its persevering character as a society in 2020. This was also reflected in the drive to develop and grow TCI’s FS sector. InvestTCI has continued to sow the seeds to build the foundation for this emerging sector. Phase 1 has been completed, consisting of a full Marketing & Communications Plan that establishes a distinguishable brand that is cohesive with our reputation as a world class destination. This brand is one of a young nation on an upward developmental trajectory that possess the image, capability and integrity to offer these two distinct but complementary services at a high level.

Today’s article will discuss Financial technology, otherwise coined as Fintech and the disruptive innovation it is causing in the traditional FS space.  The article will define what Fintech is and how it has been fused into our everyday living. It will then look at where TCI fits into this sector, which in 2018 raised over $128 billion in startup capital.

Fintech…explained

Fintech is the term used to describe the matrimony between Finance and Technology. It is the use of technology to improve the delivery and design of financial services, its operations and processes and over the last 15 years, we have gradually witnessed it encompass our everyday lives. To paint a clearer picture, our mobile banking apps are examples of fintech as our financial transactions are carried out through an app as opposed to physically going to a bank branch. Purchasing items on Amazon is an example of utilising fintech as the payment platform within the site allows you to complete your entire transaction without having to liaise between your bank and Amazon. Uber and Airbnb are further examples of companies that uses fintech to deliver its product/service offer in the easiest way for its customers. PayPal, GoFundMe and Klarna are all fintech companies that have achieved immense success over the last decade. Any financial transaction that occurs through a technology medium such as the internet or a smartphone is an example of fintech. Peer to Peer (P2P) lending which makes it easier to access finance, is another innovation derived from Fintech.

However, it is the banking sector that has been most affected with many foreshadowing that Fintech will ultimately be its modern, resourceful replacement. For banks, its competitive advantage is now based on the ability to provide an easy, smooth and hassle-free banking experience. There are many banks offering “branchless” banking, meaning all their services are only online. Examples such as Chime and NerdWallet are evidence of this “tech revolution” taking place within the banking. Along with the recent rise of digital currencies such as bitcoin (whether as a legitimate currency or as an investment opportunity), Fintech is poised to leave its mark in all areas of financial services as well as our personal lives. Recognising and understanding this will not only assist in establishing the policies, legislations, framework and infrastructure that will enable us to tap into this emerging sector but also safeguard our ability to maintain a revenue surplus, in the event our tourism product is compromised as was the case in 2020.

TCI: A Hub for innovation?

So how does TCI and its FS sector fit into this global industry and what connection can be made between our small island nation and Fintech? The answer goes back to our status as an IFC and a tax neutral jurisdiction. However, Fintech firms aren’t your traditional financial services institutions with a “brick and mortar” presence within the jurisdiction, therefore the way they are structured must also be tailored to suffice regulatory and legal obligations. For investment banks and wealth management firms, using a mobile banking app expands the scope of prospective investors that are now able to create new accounts, make deposits, and conduct transfers from their devices. Jurisdictions, Corporations and individuals alike are seeing that fintech in banking incorporates two key components: all the benefits of operating from an international financial centre (IFC) reinforced by smooth, tech platforms. Many IFC’s have since realized this and have already begun to adopt to cater to this segment. TCI is also well positioned to capitalize on this and by using one of our regional neighbors as a case study, we too can enact this.

Bermuda

The Digital Asset Business Act 2018 sets out a regulatory framework for digital asset businesses operating in or from within Bermuda. Through its licensing requirement, businesses are subjected to the supervisory jurisdiction of the Bermuda Monetary Authority (BMA) and to Bermuda’s anti-money laundering and anti-terrorist financing regime.

Both ‘digital assets’ and ‘digital asset businesses are defined in the Act, with the latter defined as providing any or all the following services to the general public:

(a) issuing, selling or redeeming virtual coins, tokens or any other form of digital asset;

(b) operating as a payment service provider business utilising digital assets which includes the provision of services for the transfer of funds;

(c) operating as an electronic exchange;

(d) providing custodial wallet services; or

(e) operating as a digital asset services vendor.

Two classes of licensing are available: a full digital asset business license (Class F) or a ‘sandbox’ license (Class M). The ‘sandbox’ license is a flexible option with the purpose to promote innovation and encourage new start-ups to be established in Bermuda. Annual fees range between $15,000 to $150,000 BM dollars depending on the size and nature of the business.

Greater Exposure equals Economic Advancement

-So, what does TCI stand to gain through Fintech? Below lists some of the benefits that can be derived:

-Developing this sector provides an easier, tangible transfer of knowledge for TC youths that otherwise wouldn’t be available.

– Dramatically enhances the overall customer banking experience.

-Eliminates the need for queuing for most transactions, which helps to mitigate the health risk posed due to Co-Vid 19

-The ability to establish dialogue and communication with companies registered in or operating from within TCI offers a gateway to provide solutions, expertise, and processes to facilitate TCI’s digitization objective.

-Residents who do not hold a bank account, can send and receive money immediately via mobile phones using e-wallets and money transmitters.

-Utilising peer to peer lending (P2P) provides modern access to financing for TCI entrepreneurs and business owners

 

Conclusion

In comparison to the traditional FS sector, in which many of our neighbors have developed over decades, fintech represents an evolved space within the sector that TCI can capture.  It can be used to address our financial and technological shortcomings, forge a path to strengthen our overall strategic and economic position and add an additional revenue stream for TCIG. Presently, no Caribbean IFC has yet to emerge as the “jurisdiction of Fintech”.  In conclusion, our limitations are only confined to what we decide it to be. With that said, we certainly know technology has and will continue to dictate the way we live. We are also aware of the qualities and characteristics we possess as an International Financial Centre (IFC). What we must pursue going forward is to learn how to use this to advance our economy, execute on our strategic objectives and ultimately build a positive, intellectual environment that future generations can embrace.

Benjamin Durham

Invest TCI Business Analyst

 

Benjamin is a Turks & Caicos Islander who has recently returned home after studying and working in London for the past 11 years. He holds an undergraduate degree in Economics and an LLM in financial law. He is currently employed by Invest TCI as its Business Analyst, and to also assist in promoting and marketing the TCI financial services industry.