High-level interest boosts island’s tech drive
Attracting interest and support from another country's Consulate General and some of its most innovative businesses is significant for Bermuda's status in the fintech and technology space.
That's the view of Steven Rees Davies, joint global head of technology and innovation at Appleby, who was a speaker at the Canadian Technology Summit in Bermuda this week.
He made the observation shortly after Emily Cook, head of the innovation programme at the Consulate General of Canada in New York, spoke at the summit.
She said that through visits to Bermuda, the consulate develops ties with the island at all levels, and helps expose Canadian companies to what Bermuda has to offer.
“Bermuda has made strides in opening up and creating a regulatory environment for business that is so unique in the world that it wasn't so difficult to find Canadian companies that were interested in exploring opportunities here,” she said.
The five blockchain companies attending the summit were WorkWolf, KnOx, Mantle Technology, Global Digital Assets, and Bidali. They were brought together by Penrose Partners, a Canada-based emerging technology consulting firm. The summit was jointly hosted by Penrose Partners and the Canadian Consulate.
Ms King said: “It's good to see the growth of this business programme year on year and it becoming more specific and create true business opportunities.”
Mr Rees Davies, of Appleby, said: “It's very important to have other foreign government's consulars interested in coming to Bermuda to continue to develop relations with Bermuda, with businesses from their countries in the technology space.
“This is an example of where you have got private enterprise partners and you have got the Canadian Consulate working together to bring Canadian technology companies or entrepreneurs to Bermuda to see what it is we are doing here.”
He said it was one thing for Bermuda to develop new laws and regulations, but then there is the challenge of selling that to the rest of the world.
“There are multiple channels of doing that; diplomatic, relations with consulates and foreign governments — and Premier Burt is doing a fantastic job in showcasing us everywhere he goes,” he said.
“There is private enterprise, which is companies and businesses in Bermuda who are adopting technology and looking to integrate what we are doing here with business elsewhere.
“Then there are the likes of myself, and other advisers in the industry, lawyers, accountants, fiduciary service companies who are looking to grow and develop this space, so that we have continued business, continue to grow and develop the economy, employ more people and deliver what we are trying to do here in Bermuda.
“So this is critical as to how we should be moving forward. It is a good testament to what we have done so far as a country [that] we are able to attract a foreign government with private business to see what we are doing. Usually we have to go elsewhere to showcase it.”
Mr Rees Davies was part of a panel that discussed regulation and governance.
Also on the panel was Aqsa Zubair, fintech specialist at the Bermuda Monetary Authority. She spoke about how the BMA has been working with other regulators around the world, including being part of the Global Digital Finance Regulatory round table, and the Global Financial Innovation Network, which is a group of about six regulators from around the world.
Another participant in the discussion was Eric Kryski, co-founder of Bidali, which among other things allows online merchants to accept cryptocurrencies as payment.
He said: “Being regulatory compliant is the only way to gain trust.”
Mr Kryski said banking in the space has been a challenge. Bidali is with a bank in Calgary that he believes is the only openly cryptofriendly bank in Canada.
He had just returned from the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland, where he learnt about what was happening in the crypto space there and elsewhere in the world. He said it was also “really interesting to see what has been happening here in Bermuda”.
Among things that make Bermuda attractive as a jurisdiction to him are its proximity to the US and Canada, its parity with the dollar, close ties to Canada, and its fairly central location.
He said: “Also of interest to us as a payments business is putting forward more efficient payment rules. This is a really interesting testing ground because with today's technology we can actually roll that stuff out this year. We are seeing real evolution in fintech.”
He said a lack of regulatory clarity is inhibiting growth in Canada, and this was creating an opportunity for other countries, like Bermuda, to have companies come and set up “because they are able to be more aggressive and move things along quicker”.
When panel moderator Oren Bouzaglo, co-founder of Penrose Partners, asked for thoughts on where the digital technology is heading, Ms Zubair said last year had been a big one for the BMA, which saw it issue its first Class F and Class M digital asset business licenses.
“We have a lot more insight on how the market works and how it is working across borders. We are finding our approach to regulatory supervision and licencing. We are one of the jurisdiction in the world that has regulations in this space,” she said, adding that the BMA would look at how it can influence global benchmarks and take on more of a leadership position globally.
While Mr Kryski said regulators have moved quite quickly and he expects “we will start to see stable coin payments and settlement become a real thing outside the crypto space this year”.
Speaking to The Royal Gazette after the panel discussion, Mr Rees Davies noted how the BMA is a member of a variety of associations around the world where regulators convene to talk about issues in the fintech space.
“They [the BMA] are able to showcase the reputation of Bermuda's regulatory environment — which gives other regulators confidence in businesses that are coming from Bermuda. For me, it is us pushing it to the next level.”
Opening the summit, Kerem Kolcuoglu, co-founder of Penrose Partners, said: “Bermuda is a great place that is inviting innovation and setting a better example for all the jurisdictions looking to adopt this new technology.
He said Penrose wants to facilitate “true partnerships and relationships.”
Among sponsors of the summit was the Bermuda Business Development Agency, Appleby, CCS Group, Goslings, Continental Management Limited, Hitch, and the Hamilton Princess and Beach Club, where the summit was staged.