Bitt has launched a blockchain-based version of the Barbadian dollar, a new product that it believes will help its service appeal to underbanked users in its home country.
The announcement follows two days of local engagement, including a private launch on Monday held at local restaurant Buzo Osteria Italiana, and an international launch during a cruise on Tuesday that took place in conjunction with the Financial Cryptography and Data Security 2016 conference in Barbados.
So far, the engagements have earned Bitt coverage from the Caribbean Broadcast Corporation (CBC), as it seeks to better highlight its goal of creating a financial settlement network for the 15 nations in the CARICOM region.
Bitt CEO Gabriel Abed said that the formal unveiling moves the startup toward "phase three" of its launch plan, telling CoinDesk:
“Our goal as an organization is to build an ecosystem. We launched our exchange nine months ago. Now, we’ve launched our second phase, the digital fiat dollar. Whatever you want to call it, it’s the dollar in Barbados digitized as an IOU that can be sent and received.”
Abed said Bitt now intends to focus on developing a teller and ATM network to allow users to exchange digital dollars and bitcoin for hard currency, and for the startup to compete against remittance giants such as MoneyGram and Western Union.
Bitt will now seek to equip its mobile app to allow users to perform know-your-customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering (AML) checks as necessary to help it build a network for currency exchange, he explained.
Abed went on to suggest that there is widespread support for the idea among potential users in Barbados, including small business owners at gas stations and barber shops who want to add new services for customers.
"We have all these people who want to sign up because the solution has never existed before [in Barbados]. We don’t have e-commerce on this island, but we have 100% penetration of mobile," he said.
Launching in 2015, Bitt has so far raised $1.5m and built a team of 16 employees.
To create its digital dollar, Bitt takes advantage of the Colored Coins protocol, which allows for the creation of new assets on top of the bitcoin blockchain.
"This new layer can be used to assign a specific type of asset to a small fraction of a bitcoin," the company explains in an informational brochure.
Bitt’s version of the Barbadian dollar is therefore able to act as a digital asset, with its value honored 1:1 with the country’s government-backed currency.
Abed went on to state that transactions on this network can be observed by the government and local regulators as they are sent peer-to-peer to Bitt wallets.
In the future, Abed said, Bitt aims to upgrade its functionality via new technologies such as Liquid, Blockstream’s project that enables bitcoin funds to move between exchanges, and BitGo Instant, a tool that enables zero-confirmation transactions.
The startup says these offerings will help it appeal to users who may be turned off by bitcoin’s sometimes unpredictable market volatility and slow confirmation speeds.
Call for unity
In interview, Abed also issued a call to action that speaks to what he considers the vital need for next-generation money services options in Barbados and around the caribbean.
Most notably, he blasted the in-fighting among developers that he sees as a barrier to bitcoin-enabled financial services that provide real assistance to those in need.
"I need the bitcoin community," Abed said. "[Screw] Bitcoin Classic. [Screw] Bitcoin Core. This is our last fighting chance to have a global system before the government [restricts access to] bitcoin. [We need to] look at the ecosystem and realize this is possible."
He further warned that the perceived limitations of the bitcoin blockchain are putting his business at risk as it seeks to help lower the costs of remittances for real-world users.
"It’s time to push," he said. "Yesterday was more of a formality. Bitt is here, we’re in your face and it's a free-to-use financial solution."
Abed’s comments, while impassioned, sought to portray the larger goal of financial inclusion as an issue that has been lost in the prolonged conversation surrounding how the bitcoin blockchain can scale to accommodate new users.
"Bitcoin's cool, blockchain is great, but we’re applying the tech in an ecosystem where that’s never been done before."
Barbadian dollar image via Shutterstock