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Jewel Bank behind schedule and less talkative

Jewel's office in the Swan Building at 26 Victoria Street, Hamilton

Bermuda’s first fintech bank has yet to open more than a year after it was issued a licence by the island’s financial regulator.

Jewel Bank, founded by the Californian IT entrepreneur Chancellor Barnett, was silent yesterday on when it will launch, having initially said that it would begin operations last September.

Mr Barnett, Jewel’s chairman and chief strategy officer, revised that timeline in December, stating that it would open in the first quarter of 2023 and could quickly grow into a multibillion-dollar operation.

Last month, the chief executive, Nick Lepetsos, told The Royal Gazette that the Bermuda Monetary Authority had yet to give the final sign-off on the opening of the bank.

“As you know, we have been granted our banking and DABA [Digital Asset Business Act] licences, but until we are given final approval to launch operations, we are required to ensure that our regulatory authority has knowledge of any communication that we have with the press,” he said.

The Royal Gazette sent questions to Mr Lepetsos on July 3 and he said that he would ask the BMA to review his responses before sharing them.

The newspaper has yet to receive his responses and has been unable to reach him, Mr Barnett, Mr Barnett’s executive assistant or anyone else at Jewel, the island’s first new bank in more than 20 years, for comment.

A single employee was at Jewel’s office in the Swan Building, at 26 Victoria Street yesterday, along with a dozen or so empty desks. The employee said that he would ask the CEO to get in touch.

The bank is backed by Sir John Swan, the former premier, whose daughter Allison is a director of Jewel Financial.

Asked when Jewel would open, Ms Swan said: “Your request is best handled by Jewel Bank itself. I am sure as soon as they have a launch date you will be one of the first to know. As you can imagine, they are looking forward to getting started.”

The BMA did not respond to a request for comment.

David Burt, the Premier and finance minister, who congratulated Jewel in June last year after the BMA issued the company a full banking licence and Class F digital asset business licence, did not respond directly to questions.

However, a government spokeswoman said: “The Government continues to support the expansion of financial services in Bermuda, which is consistent with our economic goals and our place as a quality international financial centre.

“With regard to Jewel Bank, we understand that they continue to progress towards launching operations in Bermuda.

“It wouldn't be appropriate for the Ministry of Finance to comment on any specifics of a licensed company.“

Mr Barnett, one of the founders of Crowdfunder Inc, a now-closed US company, has been ebullient about Bermuda’s fintech sector.

He said in December that Jewel’s business plan was to service Bermudian and international fintech companies, providing them with the banking technology to move money for themselves or their clients.

He said that the bank, which employed six Bermudians at its Victoria Street premises, had begun the process of signing up and vetting clients and had the potential to “grow into a multibillion-dollar bank fairly quickly”.

In a post on LinkedIn several months ago, Mr Barnett wrote: “With a little luck and a lot of hard work, the choice and commitment I made years ago to set up Jewel Bank in Bermuda, when very few knew or believed, was a huge bet. Today no one asks why or what’s in Bermuda.

“With all the US turmoil in banking and digital assets sending us backwards, I’m incredibly fortunate to be working in an amazing jurisdiction far, far ahead of the pack globally, building a safe and bright future for digital assets, thanks in large part to the bold leadership of Premier David Burt MP.

“The Jewel Bank team and I are excited to launch and make an impact in and for Bermuda and to work with the tidal wave of top-tier global clients who have come to work with us. What a time, what a ride.”

When Jewel received its BMA licences, Mr Burt said that it was a milestone for Bermuda’s fintech industry.

Mr Barnett, of Santa Monica, incorporated Jewel Financial and Jewel Bancorp here last year. He is listed as the sole director of Jewel Bancorp.

Natalie Neto, a Walkers lawyer representing Jewel, told the Gazette: “Jewel Bancorp Ltd has received a Section 114B licence under the Companies Act 1981 to permit it to carry on business as a local company, notwithstanding that it is not owned and controlled by at least 60 per cent Bermudians.”

Jewel Financial owns all the shares in Jewel Bancorp. It has five directors, including Ms Swan and Robert Cooney in Bermuda.

Jewel Holdings Bermuda Ltd, incorporated here in 2018, owns all the shares in Jewel Financial.

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Published August 16, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated August 16, 2023 at 4:08 pm)

Jewel Bank behind schedule and less talkative

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