A few months ago, I authored an article for IFC Review positing that Barbados possessed many of the main ingredients necessary to become a global fintech hub of the future as part of its post-COVID-19 economic diversification strategy. Since I penned that article, the need for Caribbean small island developing States to diversify their economies has never been greater. Happily, an upcoming private sector-led event called Fintech Islands is taking a critical step towards strategically positioning Barbados, and the Caribbean by extension, as a key player in the burgeoning global fintech space.
To appreciate the importance of this event, context is key. After three long years, the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be approaching its tail-end. However, as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) outlined in its July 2022 World Economic Outlook Update, several shocks have hit an already pandemic-weakened global economy and made the outlook for the rest of 2022 “gloomy and more uncertain”. Moreover, tourism, the lifeblood of most Caribbean economies, faces the headwinds of a recessionary UK economy battling high inflation and a depreciating pound. These developments could adversely impact both winter arrivals and expenditure from one of the region’s major tourism source markets.
Building resilience to help combat these headwinds requires diversification into higher value-added sectors offering opportunities for earning greater foreign exchange, generating meaningful and high-quality jobs and improving overall welfare for Caribbean citizens. Barbados’ quest to position itself as a global fintech hub forms part of such a strategy.
Governments cannot by themselves create a fintech hub. What all of the world’s most successful fintech hubs boast is an ecosystem encompassing policy makers, regulatory authorities, firms, entrepreneurs and financial service providers. In this vein, three enterprising diaspora-based Barbadians – Allison Hunte, Peter Stoute-King and Curt Persaud – formulated the vision of hosting a world-class fintech event in the Caribbean drawing influential speakers and attendees from across the world. Their team was rounded out by senior advisors William ‘Billy’ Griffith and Andrew Morris. They further partnered with an A-list of partners to put together what promises to be a truly revolutionary event in the Caribbean fintech space to be held on October 5-7, 2022.
Fintech Islands will be the first high calibre global fintech event to be held in Barbados. The mélange of over 100 distinguished speakers provides fertile ground for the world’s most prescient fintech minds to exchange their ideas, experiences and expertise and proffer solutions on how fintech could address some of the development challenges of our times – financial exclusion, poverty, climate change, gender inequality and the like.
Named among Times’ 100 Most Influential people of 2022, Prime Minister of Barbados, the Hon. Mia Amor Mottley, will be a special guest and deliver welcome remarks at this inaugural event. While testifying before the United States (US) House of Representatives’ Financial Services Committee this September, Prime Minister Mottley had made an impassioned plea about the ways in which the de-risking practices by large US banks were harming small States’ ability to engage in cross-border trade and their investment attraction. She had highlighted, for example, the plight of the unbanked and what the lack of access to banking services has meant for these persons at the micro level. It is increasingly recognized, through global examples like Kenya’s M-Pesa for example, the ways in which fintech could provide solutions to tackle financial exclusion and to promote philanthropy and financing for development.
To be sure, though Barbados cannot become a fintech hub overnight, the many rich and insightful discussions over the next few days could be catalytic for the Caribbean fintech industry for the following reasons.
First, as policy makers and regulators will be among the esteemed speakers and attendees, there surely will be the opportunity to learn from other countries and share best practices.
Second, the event, through its diverse panels, will bring attendees up to speed on all the exciting things happening in the region’s fintech space, promoting fintech innovation and adoption and showcasing the region as an attractive place for fintech start-ups and investment. Indeed, some of the sessions feature fintech entrepreneurs who have decided to base their operations here in the Caribbean and who will be sharing their experiences and reasons for investing in the region.
Third, the event affords young fintech entrepreneurs, content creators, industry analysts and those with a general interest in the field a space to meet, network and learn from thought leaders in this landscape.
Fourth, the event will demonstrate that Barbados and the Caribbean can be a choice location for hosting a world-class fintech event. Similar to Money20/20, CoinDesk Consensus, and the Singapore FinTech Festival, a successful Fintech Islands here in Barbados could potentially prove to be a ‘must-attend’ event on the calendars of the fintech landscape’s who’s who in the near future.
Learn more about Fintech Islands here.
Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is an international trade consultant and founder of the Caribbean Trade Law Blog: http://www.caribbeantradelaw.com.