Summary of ECLAC Caribbean DFS outputs (2014-2017) 

Report on ITU/ECLAC/TATT 2016 workshop; Exploring Innovation in Transactions & Financing in Caribbean

 

 

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), subregional headquarters for the Caribbean, is pleased to transmit for your attention, (LC/CAR/2017/11) entitled “REPORT OF THE SEMINAR ON SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT- EXPLORING INNOVATION IN TRANSACTIONS AND FINANCING IN THE CARIBBEAN” from the meeting convened in Port of Spain, 1-3 June 2016.

 

Below is a listing of the various DFS outputs produced by ECLAC from 2014 – 2017

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ECLAC Publications and Resources in “Digital Financial Services”

2014

2015

 

Digital currency and mobile money solutions are components of new industry classifications referred to as Financial Technology (FinTech) and Digital Financial Services (DFS).

2016

 

 

 

 

 

Instagram media by beascycle - UN Economic Commission for Latin America and Caribbean #digitalcurrency study finally publishedThis report examines the usage of digital currency technology in the Caribbean subregion with a view to drawing attention to the opportunities and risks associated with this new phenomenon. It discusses the broader context of an emerging activity at the global level and considers how this technology could address subregional deficiencies in the electronic payment infrastructure.The report also discusses mobile money solutions, and the relationship of that technology to digital currency.

 

The workshop is co-organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in partnership with the Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (TATT) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (UNECLAC).

 

Its primary purpose is to provide Caribbean stakeholders from various sectors with interactive sessions along the theme of utilizing technology innovations towards the goal of improving financial transactions and financing arrangements.

 

 

Report of the seminar on science, technology and innovation for sustainable development – Exploring innovation in transactions and financing in the Caribbean (LC/CAR/2017/11) 

 

 

Event video recording

2017

 

Caribbean countries have been seriously impacted by the trend toward “de-risking” in the global financial system, and this is damaging to their economic security and the ability of Caribbean businesses to innovate. De-risking is the name given to the tendency of banking institutions to turn away from working relationships and lines of business for which the cost of regulatory compliance—and the risk of non-compliance— is deemed to be too high in comparison to the returns.

 

This is a phenomenon that is affecting developing economies around the world, but the small and vulnerable economies of the Caribbean have been hardest hit.

 

 

 

The primary purpose and objective of this workshop is to continue providing Caribbean stakeholders from various sectors with interactive sessions along the theme of utilizing technology innovations towards the goal of improving financial transactions and financing arrangements.

 

 

Programme & Presentations available from link above

 

 

Event video recording 

 

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.

Exploring digital currency and E-payment in the Caribbean

*This post was initially carried by the Trinidad Express, Sept 29th

**While reference is made within this piece to a study and report, the opinions expressed are my own.

 

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Figure 1: UN ECLAC 1st EGM: (Left to Right) ECLAC’s Deputy Director (Ag.) and Associate Information Management Officer. Dillon Alleyne and Robert Williams, respectively & consultant, Shiva Bissessar (courtesy UN ECLAC)

In November 2014 The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) commenced a study entitled “Opportunities and risks associated with the advent of digital currency in the Caribbean”, where yours truly was selected as the consultant to perform the required research and write the final report.  The study sought to introduce the Caribbean to the phenomenon of digital currency and explore the opportunities and risks which arise from application of this innovation within the Caribbean.  The work was performed in the context of continued regional deficiencies in electronic payment infrastructure (e-commerce and mobile money) and the appearance of service providers seeking to provide solutions in response to these deficiencies including digital currency service providers.

The study brought together key stakeholders within the Caribbean involved in activities toward the development of better electronic payment infrastructure. These stakeholders included:

  • E-commerce providers & software developers desirous of more responsive payment infrastructure
  • Mobile wallet & digital currency service providers seeking entry in the Caribbean
  • Central Bank Policy and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) senior representatives
  • Government senior legal representative
  • Finance academia representative

These parties were identified and invited to participate in two Expert Group Meetings (EGM).  The 1st EGM was essential towards data collection of the views and positions of the aforementioned while the 2nd EGM was used to review a final draft of thereport.  The summaries of these meetings remain the only public output of this study to date.

The study also served to conduct a formal survey of some of the region’s Central Banks as to their awareness on digital currency and mobile money in the evolving landscape of electronic payments. The study was intended to provide Caribbean authorities with enough information for them to begin the process of performing a balanced evaluation of opportunities and risks associated with digital currency in the Caribbean.

Key Takeaways

*As the study remains unpublished, there are limits as to what can be discussed, however some aspects as made public in the EGM reports are referenced.

The study uncovered evidence of longstanding deficiencies in electronic payment systems within the Caribbean which has forced e-commerce vendors to rely on workaround methods to receive payments.  The deficiencies manifest as prohibitive charges and burdensome requirements placed on vendors to acquire local merchant accounts with the ability to receive credit card payment.  This has forced certain vendors to take a path of least resistance and resort to external payment providers such as Paypal, rather than contend with the expensive red tape laden scenario as posed by local banks.

The study also uncovered instances of vendors seeking to provide mobile money and digital currency solutions, including remittance solutions, within certain Caribbean territories.  However, given the innovativeness of the solutions these vendors were seeking to provide, their regulatory uncertainty and the largely risk averse commercial banking sector, such vendors have had difficulty in acquiring bank accounts to provide their services.  Indeed, it is worth noting that a low return of completed survey instruments was experienced within the study, in seeking feedback from regional Central Banks.

If we were to compare the approach towards digital currency within the Caribbean against that of a first world capital of finance e.g. London, we would find that a predominantly unacquainted and conservative approach dominates the Caribbean mindset, with many in authority focusing on the weaknesses of digital currency. Contrast this with the approach taken by the UK’s HMRC in March 2015 where intentions towards standardisation in consumer protection and AML regulation of digital currency were announced while also allocating £10M towards further research.  The contrast is illustrated below.

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Figure 2: The Caribbean seems to be stuck focusing weaknesses of digital currency while global finance capitals are improving on weaknesses and exploiting opportunities. (Bissessar, 2014 & 2015)

 

Hence, if the full benefits of digital currency are to be achieved within the Caribbean we cannot continue to rely on traditional actors as noted in the 2nd EGM meeting notes (item #47).

“In discussion on the conclusion of the study, the consultant expressed the view that the current target audience for the study may need to be shifted away from central bankers. He noted that central bankers have demonstrated a reticence to officially comment on the process, as suggested by their lack of response to the survey instrument. He expressed the view that central banks as regulators tend towards deference on the concerns of international finance bodies, which invariably raises the level of risk aversion. This institutional environment does not augur well for the encouragement of technological innovation in the region. He suggested that perhaps if the focus of the study’s discussion shifted towards academics and the technology and innovation sector, more traction could be gained toward regional engagement with issues surrounding digital currencies, and the momentum could be built upon to encourage a more active role on the part of regulators. He also noted that it was not the role of the study to sell regulators on the benefits of these technologies, but rather to bring legitimacy to the debate around digital currencies and to encourage local and regional authorities to treat with the issue objectively, rather than with a sole focus on risk.”

 

Relevance of this Caribbean study 

In February 2015 the Commonwealth held the Virtual Currency Round Table which was attended remotely by Mr. Robert Williams of ECLAC who articulated the objective evaluation of both opportunities and risks of digital currency which the ECLAC study was achieving within the Caribbean region.  Also participating in this meeting was Jamaica’s Director of Legal Reform within the Ministry of Justice, Mr. Maurice Bailey who also actively participated in, and commended the efforts of, the study within the 2nd ECLAC EGM in April 2015.  Subsequently, the Commonwealth Working Group on Virtual Currencies (CWGVC) released conclusions from their meeting in Aug 2015  as shown below:

 

CONCLUSIONS

The Group agreed that:

  • Virtual currencies have a potential to benefit Member States and to drive development;
  • The use of virtual currencies has benefits and risks;
  • Awareness, education and funding for training for law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, regulatory authorities and the financial sector are needed;
  • Member States should consider developing and improving the capacity of law enforcement especially in the areas of digital forensics and analytics;
  • Member States should consider the applicability of their existing legal frameworks to virtual currencies and where appropriate they should consider adapting them or enacting new legislation to regulate virtual currencies;
  • Legal frameworks should address risks and vulnerabilities, be technologically neutral and avoid stifling innovation;
  • Member States are encouraged to implement the FATF Guidance for a Risk Based Approach to Virtual Currencies (June 2015);
  • The Commonwealth Secretariat should create a digital repository of best practice and model regulations as part of an online community to assist Member States in developing policy; and
  • Relevant technical terms should be clearly defined in the guidance to be made available to Member States.

OUTCOMES

The Group resolved upon the following outcomes (the ‘Outcomes’):

  • to complete a report on the prevalence and impact of virtual currencies within one (1) month;
  • to convene again in early 2016 to consider draft technical guidance for member states on virtual currencies; and
  • to continue to raise awareness and develop capacity building on virtual currencies within the Commonwealth

 

Various aspects cited within the CWGVC conclusions are treated with in the ECLAC study including:

  • Discussion of some possible distinct benefits to the Caribbean
  • Discussion of anonymity (relevant to law enforcement, prosecutors, digital forensics etc.)
  • Discussion of treatment options re: policy and regulatory development, FATF guidelines

Hence, this ECLAC study can contribute to the overall best practice, awareness and capacity building efforts as mandated within the CWGVC conclusions.  The Caribbean therefore has the opportunity to be recognized as being early and taking a forward thinking and balanced approach towards getting ahead of the game with respect to this emerging financial innovation.