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Simons warns fintech could suffer for SSM view

Unwelcoming outlook: Andrew Simons

The Government’s attempt to become a top financial technology centre could be threatened by its attitude to foreign workers and “closed-minded” view of gay marriage, an Opposition senator warned yesterday.

Andrew Simons told the Upper Chamber during the Budget debate: “If you want to build a thriving tech sector in Bermuda, you have to be a progressive place.

“For years, certain aspects of tech culture have been forward-looking and progressive. If, as a country, we are closed-minded, then right at the beginning we close off those opportunities to build those new pillars of the economy.

“It’s harder to diversify if you are not welcoming.”

The One Bermuda Alliance senator said a thriving tech centre required programmers and “if you want people who can code you have to have a very specific attitude about folks from other places”.

He added: “Bermuda does not have the density of people writing code. Bermuda alone doesn’t have that group of people to build fintech companies, to build blockchain applications.

“People are going to have to come from somewhere else. So when a government is hostile to people from other places it really frustrates those efforts to diversify into information technology.”

He said the United States was grappling with the same problem.

Mr Simons added: “Lots of programmers in Silicon Valley and Boston and elsewhere come from South Asia, come from China, come from Eastern Europe, and in the US you have a government that’s saying ‘we don’t want you, go away, we are not going to give you visas’.”

He said: “It’s very hard to have a thriving tech centre if you say nasty things about foreigners. Those two things don’t go together.”

He added much of the reaction to the repeal of gay marriage last month focused on tourism, but the implications for the island’s fintech ambitions should also be considered.

Mr Simons quoted a Stack Overflow survey in which 7 per cent of respondents from the tech community said they were gay or bisexual, while a small percentage were transsexual.

He said: “When we ask tourists to come to Bermuda we just want them to visit.

“We say we may or may not think of you as fully human, we have our own values, all of that business. Just come, spend your money and then leave, that’s the tourism model.

“If you want a thriving fintech centre, if you want software developers to come to Bermuda and build these innovative apps, you want them to stay, you want them to live here and some of those people won’t be straight and some of those folks will be married.

“The attitude that Bermuda has towards same-sex couples and the legislation in place may inhabit the growth in that industry.”

David Burt, the Premier and finance minister, said in his first Budget last month that it was a priority to develop fintech and ensure Bermuda benefited from blockchain-based technologies such as cryptocurrencies.

He pledged that a strict but not stifling legal framework and regulatory regime would be developed.

But independent senator James Jardine sounded a “degree of warning” over cryptocurrencies yesterday.

He said: “I think we need to be very, very careful there because there is a huge risk of money laundering and indeed there have been a number of fraud cases over the last number of years involving cryptocurrencies.

“While these things are all good for Bermuda, fintech in particular, with cryptocurrency we need to very careful that our regulations are properly and carefully crafted so we can protect ourselves and those who are involved in that.”