Think of cryptocurrency, and some associations may appear? arcane tech jargon, lucky buyers becoming millionaires overnight, or massive losses due to sudden swings in the Bitcoin market. Few people think of the Caribbean and the wider diaspora. And yet, the region is witnessing a rise in the crypto space, providing Caribbean consumers with opportunities to enter the financial market at an unprecedented level.
According to Kaspersky Lab, crypto refers to “any form of currency that exists digitally or virtually and uses cryptography to secure transactions. Cryptocurrencies do not have a central issuing or regulatory authority, but instead use a decentralized system to record transactions and issue new units. After the launch of the first cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, in 2008, the concept gained popularity as the Great Recession exposed the underlying fragility of the global banking system.
Lawyer and crypto consultant, Adella Toulon-Foerster.
Photo: Courtesy of Adella Toulon-Foerster
The decentralized nature of digital currency is what first attracted Dominican Republic native Adella Toulon-Foerster to the industry. “I was in the business before crypto became crypto,” laughs the lawyer and crypto consultant, who founded a digital gold exchange as early as 2001. “We came up with the idea of an exchange in which a user could have fractional ownership. I believe this was the real start of the crypto revolution. People can actually have ownership of their own assets without having to ask for permission. I knew this could be a game changer for the unbanked, the underbanked and the poor.
President and CEO of the Caribbean Blockchain Alliance, Stefen Deleveux.
Photo: Diana Sinclair
A major opportunity lies in remittances, says Caribbean Blockchain Alliance President and CEO Stefen Deleveux. “Remittances are such a part of our reality because so many people in the US and UK have to send money to their families in the Caribbean, and they have to use a banking system that takes so much money. money in expenses”, explains Deleveux. “But with cryptocurrency, my money goes directly from me to the person I’m sending to. The absence of middlemen takes a lot of the cost, complexity, hurdles, and restrictions out of the equation. »
Ingrid Riley, founder of Silicon Caribe.
Photo: Craig Harley
At its core, cryptocurrency is “trying to upend and disrupt the global financial system and put power in the hands of everyone rather than a few,” says Ingrid Riley, founder of the tech news site of the Caribbean, Silicon Caribe. As a former investigative reporter and journalist, she advises those looking to enter the space to be proactive and educate themselves. “Be curious, frequent Twitter spaces, listen and ask questions,” says Riley. “I sign up for newsletters, I read The Milk Road, I watch Coin Bureau. Today someone just told me about WhiteboardCrypto.
I read these bigger websites and media brands, but I also look at communities like Crypto Caribbean, micro-communities based in Trinidad and the Bahamas, see who’s doing what, and ask questions.
In a space often dominated by men, Riley also wants to encourage more women to explore the sector. “Women in the region represent approximately 53% of every nation in the Caribbean. We have a lot of buying power, knowledge. She encourages women to “put aside their imposter syndrome and their fears. Whether they want to learn in women’s circles or on their own, get involved, get trained.
The road to follow
Yet in the Caribbean, consumers face difficult hurdles when engaging in these decentralized digital spaces. Most people still rely on the banking system to manage their money. And the region’s internet infrastructure also needs to be strengthened to access and secure cryptocurrency exchanges. Although many Caribbean countries have strong internet systems, they often rely on outside agents like the United States and the European Union to facilitate them. This makes the Caribbean countries dependent on the American system.
By building a more decentralized digital financial infrastructure, Caribbean countries can ideally become more financially independent and deal more freely with other nations in the region. Decentralized financial exchanges could also help Caribbean communities become less dependent on Western (and often unfavorable) financial systems and forge deeper ties with other nations in Africa, Asia and South America that remain. linked to the Caribbean by colonial histories. “I hope we can use these technologies to reposition the Caribbean away from tourism and the usual industries, so that we can position ourselves more powerfully in the global digital economy,” says Riley.
Beyond these utopian promises, investing in cryptocurrency carries major risks. The lack of centralized authority also means a lack of regulation and protection against fraud. For example, the rise of crypto has spawned popular “exit scams,” where bad actors promote an exciting new cryptocurrency, only for early investors to flee with the funds. Deleveux warns new investors. “A lot of people get involved in the hype. The most important thing is to avoid this by all possible means. Don’t buy it as an investment if you don’t understand it.
Toulon-Foerster, however, remains hopeful. “It’s up to people who truly believe in the fundamental utility of crypto to continue to scale down and actually create these solutions for users who need the technology.” For her, that means protecting people’s investments with a more secure and accessible technology infrastructure, especially for low-income and underbanked people.
Entities like the Caribbean Blockchain Alliance hold educational events and workshops in the Caribbean and have pushed for the adoption of fintech, blockchain and cryptocurrency in the Caribbean. These events can be a great way for people looking to learn more to do so in an encouraging and stimulating environment without fear of scams or misinformation. Silicon Caribe is a great outlet for industry news and education. Because, as Riley points out, “it is crucial that Caribbean people understand what is coming”.