Opportunities continue to emerge for Bahamians in digital spaces because of COVID-19, Managing Director of Wealth Solutions at Leno Corporate Services Limited Brian Jones contends, though he simultaneously lamented that many of the country’s public sector processes continue to be heavily reliant on paper.
Jones, whose commentary was part of International Investment’s special report on The Bahamas, said “innovation will rule” in The Bahamas in the financial services sector and, as COVID-19 has forced, in the country’s retail sector.
Jones foreshadowed that the country’s Digital Assets and Registered Exchanges Bill will likely be passed into law before the end of the year, and contends that the pandemic has forced the hands of many Bahamians to pivot their businesses into the digital space.
“… The true widespread adoption of digital wallets came thanks to an unintended consequence of COVID-19 that forced shopkeepers to turn open signs to closed in an effort to contain the spread of the disease, causing more people to rely on the online life,” said Jones.
“Many learned the ease of ordering what they wanted online or via a mobile app, sitting back awaiting home delivery. Fast forward to the immediate future, storeowners and business people who want to attract foot traffic will need to find ways to appeal to a public that will choose between fighting to find parking, traipsing through aisles hoping to find the exact product in the color and size they want, while trying to maintain social distancing, or stretching out, watching a made-for-Amazon-Prime movie and waiting for what they want to be delivered to them.
“COVID-19 has not slain bricks and mortar, but it has awakened the sleeping giant of online competition and digital payment in places like The Bahamas, which is in the infancy stages of rolling out digital currencies and regulating virtual currencies and assets. The Bahamian Sand Dollar was launched just in time to mitigate against the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in a country made up of many islands.”
Jones added that as more transactions in The Bahamas move online, data analytics will become king and “design thinking” will become “urgent”.
As the country innovates, Jones contends it is still haplessly stuck in the paper and manual transaction age, using title searches as an example of the continued frustrations surrounding certain processes.
“We conduct so many transactions manually, including title searches,” he said.
“Legal practitioners pore through old deeds and thick registers that could double as weights, search stamped pages of time-worn record books that need to be digitalized and then promptly placed in a historical museum as fascinating artifacts.”
Jones insists that as some of these processes are digitized, those whose job was once to burden themselves by the process, could be made to carry out more important functions.
“As people spin out of a certain skill, like stamping a deed to show it is recorded then registering it in the record book, they can be moved into a more important and valuable job, helping to vet input data for fully digitalized public registry for quality control purposes, or learning how to read property appraisals accurately and know what to question should something seem amiss for enhanced risk management,” Jones said.
“Human capital is wasted daily on tasks automation can do when it would be better utilized on responsibilities for which there is neither time nor talent available to handle, leaving the most important work undone. As we move forward with the necessary digital transformations, any failure to truly advance our human capital resources could very well be our undoing.”
According to Jones, once The Bahamas achieves mass adoption within the digital economy, things like a fully digitalized regional junior stock exchange and crowdfunding platforms will become a reality.
“Technology also facilitates solutions that let us re-tool, innovate, avoid waste and scale up much faster even in more conventional industries, such as agriculture and fisheries, than was possible just a few years ago,” he said.