Cashless services and Carnival characters mixed and mingled on February 5 for the launch of the FinTech Association of TT at the National Museum and Art Gallery, Port of Spain.
The association is an inclusive, non-profit organisation that aims to improve the delivery of financial services in TT and the wider Caribbean and promote a cashless future.
It is led by the TT International Financial Centre (TT IFC) and CEO Omar Sultan-Khan told the gathering the museum was specially chosen as a location because the event marked history.
"Future generations will look back upon this evening’s launch as yet another milestone when we redefined ourselves as a nation and committed to leveraging the power of technology to enhance our lives."
TT IFC also chose the largest and most globally recognised festival as the perfect test case for fintech (financial technology).
"Carnival’s wide intersectionality across sectors, stakeholders, demographics and geography perfectly showcases how seamlessly fintech can be integrated into both simple and complex, but interconnected aspects of life."
He pointed out that attendees got to "pay the devil" (for doubles, drinks, virtual Carnival costumes and other items) with their WiPay bands.
"Wasn’t that very convenient? He doesn’t have to worry about any counterfeit bills – cotton or polymer."
Sultan-Khan recalled National Carnival Commission (NCC) chairman Winston "Gypsy" Peters' public statement that safety for all at Carnival remains of paramount importance.
"Imagine how much safer a cashless Carnival would be. We invite NCC to consider joining FinTech TT... so we can work together to bring some of this to reality in the near future."
While Carnival is an appropriate starting point for fintech adoption it is not the only area of life where it can be applied.
"Fintech is best known for services – like credit or debit cards, or online payments – as this is what we interface with directly daily. Most persons don’t appreciate that the majority of fintech applications actually take place in the back-end. However, while some fintech elements are being utilised, we are hoping for a comprehensive, structural shift rather than piecemeal applications here and there."
Sultan-Khan pointed out that TT IFC is one of the implementing agencies of the Finance Ministry and when the fintech roadmap was completed and presented to Finance Minister Colm Imbert in 2019, "he immediately agreed that we should embark on making TT a fintech-enabled hub, but more specifically a cashless society."
Imbert, speaking via video message, said he is very happy to be associated with the launch of the FinTech Association and its design to promote, educate and collaborate in the use of digital technology in financial services.
"Now we in the Government are really pushing in this direction."
He pointed out in the Ministry of the Attorney General they are moving swiftly to remove the use of cash payments at the Registrar General's office, Registries of Companies and soon, the Licensing Office. He said there is also a plan to implement this at Board of Inland Revenue and the Treasury.
"TT IFC, which is the brain behind all of this, is already attracting investors from overseas, talent from overseas to come and set up shop in TT. To use TT as a base to spread the use of digital technology in financial services."
The association is a collaboration between the public and the private sector and the regulatory agencies. Commercial banks will be involved and TT IFC as the sponsor will drive the process until the private sector is ready to take it over.
"I'm told TT IFC is very enthused by what they have seen in terms of the interest in TT," Imbert said.
He pointed out several banks moving away from the use of paper and encouraging or even pushing their customers towards avoiding coming into the banks by using their phones, using ATMs, using computers and online services.
"I myself use online services at several banks. I find it very convenient. I only go to a bank when I need to get cash and that is when the ATM is not working. So I myself would like to see a completely cashless and paperless financial services sector in TT. So I am very excited by all of this."
He said this is part of what Government is doing and reported recently Cabinet went digital and now have an e-Cabinet encrypted service "and no longer do people come up my step with a huge briefcase with hundreds of Cabinet notes."
"It's really a fantastic revolution in the way Government does business. I would hope this sort of revolution would find its way into the financial services sector."
TT IFC chairman Richard Young in his video message (where he was presented as a hologram) urged Imbert and Government to further incentivise the fintech sector. He said one of the mandates of the association is growing and building the financial market.
"For Port of Spain to remain the financial capital of the English Caribbean we need to embrace fintech. It becomes a way of life."
He explained FinTech Association is going to be the engine to really push and provide the impetus to bring fintech as part of the way of life in TT.
"We must embrace technology certainly in the financial services sector but in all sectors. We cannot afford for us to become digitally divided."
EY representative Maria Daniel said FinTech Association stands for country transformation but for this to take place the first focus must be awareness. She explained fintech disrupted financial services because the customer was crying out for something different.
"So if we want this for TT, if we really want transformation this group here has to do its part."
She said fintech will provide inclusion and that is important to TT at this time because people all complain about crime and think it is someone else's problem.
"But a big part of crime is the lack of inclusion. If we have fintech solutions that can (allow everybody) to raise money easier, be able to access banking facilities, then our entrepreneurship will grow. So this isn't just about sending money from you to me, this isn't just about making everyday life easier. This is about solving significant issues in our society."
She said fintech only works by adoption so it is everyone's place to start the adoption process and to call out to parties such as the Government "that we want change."