Overstock announced a strategic investment in Bitt, a Caribbean-based fintech company whose goal is to persuade Caribbean island nations to adopt digital national currencies. The investment was announced at a media conference in Barbados hosted by Avatar Capital, which invested in Bitt, and attended by representatives from both Bitt and Overstock. Politicians and dignitaries from various Caribbean nations attended.
“A major impediment to economic advancement around the world is the fact that the vast majority of humans are unbanked,” said Overstock CEO Patrick M. Byrne. “Yet mobile penetration in some countries exceeds 100 percent. Bitt has a vision for the Caribbean of frictionless mobile cash, beginning with central banks transparently issuing digital fiat which is then exchanged on a blockchain (all under proper regulatory oversight, as with our t0 offering to Wall Street). We respect and endorse that vision, and share a common desire to see online consensual exchange flourish globally. As they say around these parts, ‘One love.’”
Reuters notes that Overstock, the first U.S. company with annual sales of at least $1 billion to accept Bitcoin as a mode of payment, has been one of the earliest advocates of digital currencies. In June, Bitcoin Magazine reported that Overstock had become the first company to offer qualified buyers the option of purchasing corporate bonds that will trade using Bitcoin’s blockchain protocol.
In October Overstock completed a production beta test of its t0 software by successfully using the Bitcoin blockchain to record evidence of compliance with applicable regulations. T0 partnered with a number of banks, including the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), which Relbanks ranked as the largest bank in the world, to test its technology. That technology could eventually be used to sidestep traditional stock exchanges such as NYSE and NASDAQ and issue corporate stock directly over the Internet.
Bitt, Inc., founded in 2013, is based in Hastings, Barbados, is a digital asset exchange, which owns and operates a trading platform for Bitcoin and other fiat currencies. The company focuses on providing access to cryptocurrencies in emerging markets. Bitt’s platform allows traders worldwide to deposit their currency or digital assets and trade with those funds. The company’s software suite includes a digital asset exchange, a mobile money wallet, a remittance platform, and merchant payment processing tools.
Overstock.com is investing $4 million in Bitt initially. The Bitt announcement reveals that Overstock plans staggered investments for a total of $16 million USD, placing the company’s valuation at $50 million. Bitt intends to use new funding to build a financial ecosystem in the Caribbean to solve the issues that people in the region experience daily, including high frictional fees from banks and money services operations that make sending money in and out of the region difficult and costly.
In February, Bitt launched a digitized Barbados dollar on the Bitcoin blockchain. The value of Bitt’s digital Barbados dollar is pegged to the real currency unit issued by the central bank.
“One of our digital Barbados dollars is equivalent to one dollar issued by the Central Bank of Barbados. What we do is allow people to do more with their money,” said Bitt co-founder and CEO Gabriel Abed. Now Bitt intends to digitize all of the fiat currencies used in the Caribbean region and place them on the blockchain so they can be easily traded between the islands, bringing modern solutions to a region historically limited by inefficient exchange and settlement systems.
Christopher Sinckler, Barbados minister of finance, confirmed that the initiative has the full support of the government and referred to the project as an important milestone for the Caribbean region.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the future,” he said.
“Regional small businesses find it financially prohibitive to offer online payment options to consumers, and this places a drag on entrepreneurism in the Caribbean,” said Abed. “Our aim is to use cryptography and digital ledger technology to turn our regional citizens into global citizens, giving them the ability to send or receive money directly via their phones, in seconds, from all corners of the globe.”
Oliver Gale, Bitt CFO and co-founder, added that Bitt is bringing modern financial solutions to a previously backward region without efficient settlement systems. “Bitt’s financial technology revolution will bring to consumers a faster, better, cheaper and more traceable way of banking ‒ and we now have a new, multi-billion dollar backed investor to help make this vision a reality,” Gale said.
It seems likely that support from the Barbados government and other governments in the Caribbean region, as well as Overstock’s investment and support, could turn Bitt’s project into a high profile initiative whose impact could extend beyond the region.