Central Bank Digital Currency Partner: Bitt

Simon Chantry Bitt
Simon Chantry, co-founder and chief information officer, Bitt

Launching a central bank digital currency (CBDC) is no mean feat. Launching one during a pandemic is an even tougher task. In March 2021, the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) announced the live deployment of DCash, the digital equivalent of the Eastern Caribbean dollar.

Since signing with the central bank in 2019, global fintech company, Bitt, has been the ECCB’s technology partner of choice during design, testing and roll-out of the DCash currency and network infrastructure.

“The pandemic forced our teams to further innovate and efficiently rollout the necessary technology components in a fully remote manner, across four countries with dozens of stakeholders, including the central bank and their satellite branches, financial institutions in each country, and merchants – who play a key role in any digital currency ecosystem,” explains Simon Chantry, co-founder and chief information officer at Bitt.

The ECCB’s Governor, Timothy Antoine, had originally said the central bank would not outsource the development of a CBDC. However, Bitt’s technology and experience in digital currencies, shared values of empowering nations with financial technology, and a common  understanding of the unique needs of emerging economies helped to secure the collaboration.

The ECCB operates the DCash network which is based on Bitt’s end-to-end digital currency management system. Its platform underpins the digital currency itself, allowing the ECCB to mint and issue DCash. Bitt’s technology further enables every participant in the network: commercial banks, credit unions, businesses, merchants, government agencies and individuals – banked and unbanked – to use DCash for their day-to-day activities.

Bitt Digital Currency Management System is an open platform. All connections with the DCash network occur through secure application programmable interfaces (APIs), which are mediated by the ECCB. A variety of API controls are provided to meet the regulatory and reporting requirements of the central bank. In essence, the central bank can adapt the network’s access and control settings to suit its own regulatory requirements.

A careful path allowed fo a successful launch following preliminary testing, in March 2020, in Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, and Saint Lucia, to a full launch a year later. DCash was made available for public circulation on March 31, 2021.

The testing phase provided the ECCB and Bitt with invaluable insight into how DCash would integrate within the financial ecosystem, and put in motion extensive onboarding and training programs for all stakeholders involved in the pilot project.

The on-site training with merchants, prior to launch, had to go virtual. “We had to adjust our vision and go completely remote,” explains Natalie Hartman, vice-president of marketing at Bitt. “It was a challenge. The organisations we worked with have traditionally preferred face-to-face training, so we had to go against the cultural norm of being on site.”

In the end, the pandemic provided a real-life example of how to introduce a CBDC in multiple countries simultaneously. “One of the main benefits of DCash is to conduct seamless cross-border payments. So the pandemic actually worked in our favour to highlight the value of remote, and cross-institution transactions,” Chantry says.

The ECCB and Bitt are now carefully monitoring the use of DCash over the pilot horizon with plans to rollout DCash to the rest of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU) (four additional countries) by the end of the year.

The need for a CBDC in the region has arguably risen in recent weeks following volcanic eruptions. Bitt is working closely with the ECCB to speed up the timetable for introducing DCash on the island of St Vincent to distribute relief support to the population.

DCash is becoming an integral part of the Eastern Caribbean’s monetary toolset. Getting money to people affected by the eruptions will help with the recovery and rehabilitation of the affected countries,” says Brian Popelka, Bitt’s chief executive.

 

Read more about the launch of DCash

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