Accelerating the development of fintech
BY KEVIN RICHARDS
Over many decades, Bermuda has matured to an advanced economy driven by global businesses in insurance, asset management and trusts. Over the last 50 years the local Bermudian appetite for start-ups was circumscribed by the huge opportunities provided by international business growth and the prosperity that it afforded. Today’s local and global landscape has drastically changed and jurisdictional competition is fierce.
In 2018, Bermuda established world-class regulations governing digital asset business to help diversify the economy and embarked on a business development campaign around the world that was spearheaded by the Premier, the Minister of National Security and the Bermuda Monetary Authority (BMA), along with the support and expertise from Bermuda’s leading law firms. The campaign was successful as over 70% of all new business set-up in the Bermuda Business Development Agency (BDA) pipeline came from the fintech industry in 2019. However, the global fintech industry remains in its infancy and concerns around AML/KYC requirements continue. Furthermore, international regulations continue to be inconsistent, adding to market uncertainty
Then COVID struck and our ability to continue business development efforts were abruptly suspended. At the same time, our government had to divert resources from forward looking initiatives to saving lives and protecting a suddenly anaemic economic outlook. This switch from offence to defence saw technology leaders get drafted by government to deploy solutions to manage the process of COVID test booking, tracking and tracing across the Island.
On a personal level, I felt the need to pivot from leading technology and economic diversification at the Bermuda Business Development Agency (BDA), to the more personal focus of maintaining the viability of our family office, so I formally joined Bermuda Asset Management (BAM) as Managing Director in June 2020. We took a hard look at what was possible and were surprised to find that the pandemic, in an unanticipated way, accelerated the rate of adoption of digital tools to keep business connectivity alive to transact locally and around the world. I was able to leverage my BDA network and provide support to clients who could not physically come to Bermuda. Clients were specifically looking for economic substance, a qualified and IoD-certified Director – and someone they could trust to keep their business operations moving forward.
The ‘Great Resignation’ of the last two years is based on a reprioritisation of what people felt was important and reflective of the way people want to live their post-COVID lives. Adoption of virtual offices skyrocketed and while human beings still craved physical contact and in-person connectivity, we were able to adapt by using technology to do business. During the last two years, I have had the opportunity to see the industry develop, not as a Bermuda representative looking to attract business to the country but as a member of that industry, working with CEOs and technologists, to build viable businesses that will flourish and scale from Bermuda. I started
a new company where we work with organisations who believe in the Bermuda story and understand the benefits of a worldclass regulatory framework from which to operate and scale.
The challenges we all have faced during COVID forced the industry to mature at a much more rapid pace. This gave many – who would have taken much longer to adopt changes – the space and opportunity to do their own research and tinker with digital assets, resulting in a rapid increase in the adoption of fintech, DeFi and digital asset solutions from institutional businesses and sophisticated individuals.
Our clients are building digital payment solutions for the healthcare industry, tokenising air miles and providing data aggregation tools to enable seamless private aircraft booking services, creating new insurtech products for musicians andartists based on the mutual model, advising decentralised autonomous organisations (DAOs) to bring transparency and trust to the carbon credit market, rebuilding and reimagining the cloud and providing world-class artificial intelligence (AI) and data science solutions, in Bermuda and around the world. I have had the pleasure of working with a number of fintech start-ups and have seen the rapid growth and development that has taken place. As the Celo Foundation Ambassador in Bermuda and grant recipient of the Algorand Foundation,
we are leveraging the regulatory framework built in 2018, providing fintech and DeFi job opportunities for the financial services talent base that exists in Bermuda and leveraging the favourable business environment. Support provided by the Government of Bermuda allowed companies to build new products and solutions in the BMA’s regulatory sandbox environment and under their regulatory testing regime.
FinClusive, who provide Compliance as a Service (CaaS), were recently awarded their test license under the Digital Asset Business Act (DABA) and we are excited to deploy solutions that address the most critical challenges the industry faces today, such as compliance and fraud risk. FinClusive is building a comprehensive anti-money laundering/financial crimes compliance (AML/FCC) in both Celo and Algorand blockchain ecosystems. This integrated CaaS application includes Know Your Customer (KYC)/Know Your Business (KYB) background, due diligence and assignment of digital compliance credentials (digital IDs credentialed and backed by underlying
KYC/KYB information) to participants, coverage against global document watchlist and sanctions verifications, plus transaction monitoring and analytics for both FIAT and crypto payments. They are advancing financial access for underserved communities and democratising access via a full stack of comprehensive compliance solutions that are standardised across all network participants.
FinClusive’s CaaS platform is a common global approach to AML/FCC applications, which is key for regulators, clients and those working on transactions (AML and anti-fraud controls). These controls, along with FinClusive’s issuance of unique compliance-backed identity credentials (FinCIDs) and Legal Entity Identifiers (LEIs), enable efficiencies in both the onboarding of new clients and ongoing validation and verification across the network – creating both cost and process efficiencies while ensuring application of global FCC standards across the network.
Bermuda has made a conscious effort to provide support for start-ups to incubate and accelerate. The Innofund Innovation Incubator (I3) was launched in 2021 and has seen three cohorts successfully graduate their incubator programme. The incubator is affiliated with the Ryerson DMZ, an incubator based in Toronto, Canada and has attracted both local and international talent in the last year. I3 programme managers, Penrose Partners, have been instrumental in Bermuda’s recent tech evolution, attracting start-ups as well as investors to our Island. They hosted the third annual International Tech Summit where international speakers and attendees travelled to Bermuda for one of the first in-person conferences the country has hosted since the lockdown began. At the same time, we have seen examples of Bermuda Government fintech leaders like Dr Gina Tucker, former education officer of the Fintech Business Unit, deploy innovative tools in the local ecosystem by building a technology platform called Educoach, that reduces the cost for coaching teachers and provides easier access for teachers to receive coaching and training outside of the classroom.
Bermudians are now building businesses and working with global partners to bring ‘Innovation Island’ into being. Together with local and international stakeholders, the Bermuda Innovation & Technology Association (BITA) has been launched, with the goal of advocating on behalf of innovation and technology companies in Bermuda. Additionally, a niche industry group called Bermuda Next was formed by former BDA technology advisors to be a think tank for fully licensed companies under the Digital Asset Business Act (DABA). The existence of these organisations is a strong indicator that the industry is here to stay and that stakeholders within the sector are galvanised to contribute and ensure that Bermuda continues to innovate, iterate, invest and grow its fintech ecosystem.
Kevin Richards, Managing Director, Bermuda Asset Management, Ltd. (BAM) and BAM Tech Advisors.
Kevin has a passion for sustainability and fintech and is the Founding Partner of the Island SDG Impact Fund and Chairman of the E-Commerce Advisory Board (ECAB). With over 15 years’ experience in financial services, he brings a wealth of international experience to renewable energy and fintech companies looking to scale their businesses globally. He is a certified Director and member of the Institute of Directors (IoD), a CoFounder of the Bermuda Innovation & Technology Association (BITA) and member of the Irish Angels investment group.
Kevin is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame Undergraduate and Master’s programmes, with a double major in English and Political Science and an MBA focused on sustainability and entrepreneurship