Caribbean Digital Financial Services (DFS), DRM & IoT

Peter Nicholls delivers his opening address on behalf of the UN ECLAC at the DFS workshop. Others; Selby Wilson (CTU; partially visible), Cleveland Thomas (ITU), Hon. Darcy Boyce (Barbados)

Post tropical storm Bret, the non-profit SEWATT partnered with local Subway franchise holders to utilize their merchant payment network across several branches, to facilitate donations which were ultimately distributed to beneficiaries as sandwiches. Reliable mechanisms for donations post disaster is recognized as a key element of disaster relief. and national Disaster Risk Management (DRM)  The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) recently published a report entitled “Strengthening cooperation between telecommunications operators and national disaster offices in Caribbean countries” citing the potential benefit of Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) enabling donations via short codes post disaster.

  

This issue crosses over into other work which ECLAC has been involved in, in partnering with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (TATT) to jointly host the 2nd annual Caribbean Digital Financial Services (DFS) workshop over the period 27th – 28th April 2017.

DFS at its very core is about payments and value transfers via mobile and electronic channels. Several sub-areas are encompassed under this banner, including, but not limited to; mobile money, digital currency,  blockchain, regulation, digital ID, digital credit and donations.  It is recognized as an enabler for financial inclusion, banking the under banked, economic empowerment, economic development, strengthening participation in the digital economy and FinTech. It is an area at the intersection of financial and telecommunications regulation.

The agenda can be found at the link above which includes links to key speeches and presentations (videos coming soon).  This workshop follows on from the 2016 intervention where several key issues to Caribbean DFS were uncovered including:

A channel hosting the videos of presentations and panel discussions for the 2016 workshop has been created by UN ECLAC.

Senator The Hon. Darcy Boyce (Barbados) in his opening remarks outlined some areas of key concern for regulators in consideration of financial innovation and DFS, while continuing from the 2016 workshop, the audience was again presented with an examination of mobile money within the Caribbean. This time the emphasis was moved from Haiti to Jamaica where Dr. Maurice McNaughton (UWI) laid out the process by which interactions between the regulator and potential services providers eventually yielded mobile financial services products being brought to market which could facilitate, amongst other types of transactions, Government to Person (G2P) payments.

Within a panel focused on consumer protect in mobile financial services, Dr Kevin Butler of the University of Florida, provided insights into his research into application security (or lack thereof) within a sample of mobile payments apps from several providers. The audience also learnt of concepts which can be utilized to create an enabling regulatory environment for financial innovation, such as sandboxing as presented by Nikola Tchouparov, who has served within two distinct entities which were part of the two cohorts of the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority regulatory sandbox.  Additionally, some of the essential points derived from the opening and closing panels where this author directly participated are listed below:

  

DFS Session 1:   Mini-case exploration: Encouraging participation in the digital economy

Panelists: Hon. Melford Nicholas (Antigua & Barbuda), Jason Julien (FCB), Robert De Gannes (Entrepreneur), Glynis Alexander Tam (InfoLink) ; Moderator Shiva Bissessar (Pinaka Technology Solutions)

There is an immediate market available to Caribbean entrepreneurs as comprised of 60M strong diaspora desirous of Caribbean goods which includes cultural goods digital or otherwise.  A better response is required to the needs of our entrepreneurs in having access to this market via the ability to receive payments.  We must leverage technology and innovation to provide for our entrepreneurs while taking into consideration international standards for compliance and controls
  
DFS Session 9:  Next Steps
Panelists: Hon. Darcy Boyce (Barbados), Vashti Maharaj (AG Office, GoRTT), Shiva Bissessar (Pinaka Technology Solutions); Moderator;  Kwesi Prescod

The proposal for a think tank initiative to provide further research into identifying problems and examining potential solutions (from multiple perspectives) such as how tech/innovation can assist the correspondent bank / de-risking problem, Caribbean intra-regional settlement (and FX challenges) and payment system deficiencies, must be examined further to identify potential sources for funding to make it a reality.

Next Steps

The efforts of the UN ECLAC in performing DFS research (digital currency in Caribbean report & prospects for blockchain in de-risking paper) and the efforts of the ITU in bringing enlightenment on DFS issues to Caribbean audiences needs to be applauded.

It is hoped that other actors can now match these efforts and play an active role in the research and development of DFS locally and regionally while identifying and utilizing Caribbean expertise, rather than ‘parachuting in’ foreign expertise, as we are often prone to do. Actors which can potentially play a role here includes:

  • Financial regulators (CBTT, TTSEC, FIU)
  • The National Payments Council
  • The Economic Development Advisory Board
  • The Chamber of Commerce

These parties should review their mandates in accordance with the benefits of DFS and create efforts to ensure Trinidad and Tobago is not left out of the opportunities afforded by FinTech and DFS, while simultaneously addressing risks.

Internet of Things (IoT)

Immediately preceding this workshop, these parties were also involved in the hosting of the Internet of Things (IoT) Smarter Living in the Caribbean forum over the period 24th – 26th April 2017.  Below are some of the key points from this event.

Session 8:  IoT Security + Privacy: policy, legislation, regulation and infrastructure

Panelists: Trevor Forrest (Government ICT adviser, Jamaica), Vashti Maharajh (AG Office, GoRTT), Julian Wilkins (CANTO), Bruno Ramos (ITU; remote conf.); Moderator Shiva Bissessar (Pinaka Technology Solutions)

An importation conclusion was formed by the panel which cited that IoT presented a unique challenge given the unique characteristics of having no user interface and lack of user agreement.  This demands re-examination of the policy and regulatory environment and the surrounding legislative context, with respect to user data privacy and societal security.

Light moment shared while discussing the unique challenges which IoT poses to user security and privacy in IoT session 8

IoT Session 9:  IoT Privacy and Information Security: Caribbean requirements and challenges

Panelists: Hon. Catherine Hughes (Guyana), Trevor Forrest (Government ICT adviser, Jamaica), Dr. Kevin Butler (University of Florida), Shiva Bissessar (Pinaka Technology Solutions); Moderator Nigel Cassimire CTU)

Government need to facilitate the development of opportunities which can foster the growth of an ecosystem of cyber security professionals capable of ising to the challenge of IoT cyber security.

 

Definitely one of the more memorable moments from IoT forum was the participation of several youth ICT innovators and entrepreneurs who showed off their wares in the area of IoT; in particular the audience appreciated the contributions from Cottage IT via Theo Boomsma and one of his proteges Julie Sundar, both hailing from Suriname.

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