Island’s first digital bank could quickly grow into multibillion-dollar operation – chairman
Bermuda’s new digital bank is set to open between January and March, with the backing of former premier Sir John Swan and family.
Chance Barnett, the chairman and chief strategy officer of Jewel Bank, told The Royal Gazette that the company pushed back its intended September 2022 opening date because it still required a few “sign-offs” from the Bermuda Monetary Authority.
He said once those were complete, Bermuda’s first new bank in more than 20 years would officially go live, with the potential to “grow into a multibillion-dollar bank fairly quickly”.
Mr Barnett said: “We are working through those last, I wouldn’t say concerns; they are just like checks and sign-offs on our systems, on risk controls.
“And so we need to provide [the BMA] a couple more things and get them to sign off and go through this process and I'm imagining that puts us somewhere in Q1, meaning sometime between January and March.”
Jewel Bank — which was reported to have launched a USD stablecoin last week — gained a banking licence and full digital asset business licence from the BMA in June.
David Burt, the Premier, said then that all of the island’s licensed fintech companies were “banked by overseas banks due to the lack of banking access in Bermuda” and that Jewel would “fix this problem”.
Mr Barnett, who previously launched a now closed US company called Crowdfunder — not to be confused with the British crowdfunding platform of the same name — said 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.
“We could bank more traditional companies, we are not excluded from it, but it’s not our focus,” he said, adding that Jewel was already in the process of signing up and vetting clients.
At this stage, he estimated that Bermuda-based fintech firms made up 12 to 15 per cent of the bank’s client base.
He said: “Our initial clients, which are existing businesses in the digital asset space, range from fairly early stage where they'll have, say, anywhere from $200,000 to several million that they'll deposit and they use it more as a treasury management operational account to do payroll and the like, and receive payments.
“We also have very large clients that are other digital firms that have much bigger treasuries in the range of tens to hundreds of millions and we have many clients like that.
“So we have the potential to grow into a multibillion-dollar bank fairly quickly, based on a mix of all of those.”
Mr Barnett said Jewel had a correspondent bank in the United States — to allow customers to have access to the US dollar and payment transfer systems such as Fedwire — but a non-disclosure agreement prevented him from saying publicly which one.
Asked why the bank wanted it to be private, he said: “I don’t think I have a great answer or I can’t speak for them. I wouldn’t want to speak for whatever their reasons are.”
He added that Jewel was developing relationships over time with “not only multiple US banks, but multiple European banks and otherwise, for access to additional currencies as well”.
Jewel has a full banking licence and a digital asset business licence, both issued by the Bermuda Monetary Authority, meaning it can offer traditional or crypto banking services and have international clients in non-sanctioned countries.
Chairman and founder Chance Barnett explained the bank would offer retail banking products on island but that wasn’t its main focus.
“We will have a physical space in Bermuda, as required by law, under the Banks and Deposits Companies Act 1998.
“[But] the majority of our clients will be using Jewel’s services through what's called an API and that's just a fancy term for the ability to programme in the functions of Jewel Bank into their software or their website … that's our primary service delivery … them programmatically moving money for themselves or for their clients. So a lot of what Jewel provides is underlying payments and services to companies through that API.”
The company has 18 employees, six in Bermuda, with an office at 26 Victoria Street. Mr Barnett said: “We have roles that we're looking to continue to hire, specifically in risk and compliance and operations in Bermuda, and we’ve surprisingly found some technical talent which we didn't expect, which was great.”
Mr Barnett said Jewel wanted to bring the “safety and the soundness of a bank and how it holds money” to the crypto space.
Bank customers in Bermuda have limited protection for their funds – the bank insurance deposit scheme is limited to Bermuda dollar deposits and gives compensation up to a maximum of $25,000 in total for each insured depositor at a bank if it fails.
Mr Barnett said as a founder of Jewel, he invested in the company, along with outside institutional investors, which were “funds and family offices”.
“We … have a board of directors that are also investors,“ he said.
“Alison Swan, the Swan family, are investors and they are also on our board. Alison represents the family on our board,” said Mr Barnett.
“Those are a few but we have a pretty broad set of investors. We don’t give out the full list of all of our investors.”
Mr Barnett said Jewel would provide the register of members and register of directors and officers to the Gazette but it was not shared by press time, despite e-mails to him, his assistant, and Jewel’s law firm, Walkers.
Mr Barnett told how he was introduced to Bermuda more than four years ago by Stan Stalnaker, who launched the early digital currency Ven, and Philip Byrne, formerly of UBS Wealth Management.
“They mentioned Bermuda and I came down to take a look and I was lucky enough to meet with Premier Burt,” he said, describing how they discussed the politician’s fintech vision for Bermuda.
Los Angeles-based Mr Barnett, who was advising a US digital bank at the time, said the idea for an island bank catering to the fintech firms based here was the Premier’s suggestion.
"He said, 'you know, I have a missing piece of the whole puzzle here, which is I need a bank to provide services as infrastructure for the growth of this space’ and that's really what got me on to the idea and the opportunity.“
Since then, he said, Bermuda had developed a “really impressive list” of small fintech companies and attracted the attention of “very, very large international global companies”.
He added: “I can’t say who but it will probably be in the news soon; a large public US company — very, very large fintech — is setting up in Bermuda.
“That's not sort of happening, that's now something I hear probably a couple times a month, that there's a really significant player.”