Abed tells of the new way of buying and selling
A new form of currency has emerged over the last few years. And one local official believes that as more people become technologically savvy, digital currencies could stand side by side with the traditional in the not too distant future.
Chief executive officer of bitt.com, Gabriel Abed, told Barbados TODAY that his bitcoin and digital exchange company, which provides a software platform for the buying and selling of cryptocurrencies and digital commodities with traditional banking integration, was positioning to take advantage of digital currency in the not too distant future.
In fact, Abed said, digital currency was already becoming a way of life and he had already seen a great interest in that form of trade, adding that Barbadians were in a position to take advantage of this new trend.
“I don’t see digital currency fully replacing fiat currencies. I see it being a side cart to fiat currencies, allowing and enabling transactions that meet our modern times. This currency that we use today wasn’t built for an Internet era, but we live in one and we need a solution for that; one that doesn’t go through the slow expensive process that we face today.
“So I do see bitcoin taking up a lot more traction the same way I saw it three or two years ago. It continues to grow rapidly every year. Yes, I see bitcoin growing rapidly and becoming a daily used item within storefront products and service users. Do I see it replacing fiat? Possibly one day,” Abed said.
The mathematics fanatic said that as the math-based currency become more pervasive, he was ensuring the people of the Caribbean were able to partake. It was four years ago, while at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, that Abed thought about opening up virtual currency to the local market, and about two years later he embarked on that journey.
“The concept came about in looking at ways in which we could allow people to accept payments with little or no repercussions from banking fees or red tape that they would have to go through; and we came around to the concept of new digital banking system that could go outside of the bank,” he explained.
Abed was at the time pursuing a Bachelor’s in IT with major in network security.
“A part of that course was cryptography and mathematical concepts; and cryptography was the discussion among our peers . . . . I needed to get paid for a service I had done while abroad at university and I opted to take bitcoin as my first transaction. It was seamless, it was easy and painless. I didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission to receive the bitcoin and I realize that if I could do this as a Barbadian, then other Barbadians could do it as well,” he said.
“When I eventually finished my degree and came back to Barbados I started a software development firm in 2010. By 2011 I had started building my digital banking system. Fast-forward to a couple years later and my team and I now have a product that is ready for market, and we are headquartered here in Barbados . . . and by the second quarter of 2015 we hope to blanket the main regions of the Caribbean,” added Abed.
Bitt.com currently has a team of eight people.
Abed explained that a cryptographic currency or digital currency is a technology protocol developed to allow a transfer of funds or wealth from one individual to another over the Internet using mathematics to verify and allow the transaction to go through. And while cash may be involved at several points within the bitcoin transaction, he reiterated that the value of the Barbados dollar would not be affected.
He explained that bitcoins were divisible to eight decimal places and worked just like traditional currencies with denomination, but in the form of a metric system. Bitcoin is one of the most frequently used and well known cryptocurrencies around the world. And while there is no legislation or regulation of the digital currency market, Abed said industry players were making sure they operated “within the law” while lobbying for regulations.
He said players in the industry were trying to “work with governments to classify bitcoin the way it should be”.
“We have been doing it right from the beginning with compliance to trade sanctions, and we make sure that we do our background checks on every customer. So we know who our customers are. We make sure we are AML-compliant [anti-money laundering]. We have a compliance officer and we ensure that every user is checked.
“We use a third party that will check every user thoroughly from their proof of identity and proof of address, and verify their phone number,” he explained. “We don’t want it hindered. Hindering something like this would be shooting ourselves in the foot. So we are trying to champion the legislations right now to actually speak towards digital currencies because right now there is not a word about it,” he stated.
Abed believes digital currency is one way of helping to “start one of Barbados’ and the Caribbean’s first e-commerce booms”. He said when he started his journey there were a lot of misconceptions and lack of knowledge, and people were very skeptical.
“There was a lot of taunting and the general stuff that comes with anything new or innovative. It was told many times this is a Ponzi scheme or it is a hoax, the government is going to ban it, and so on.
“But as time moved forward, and the faith of the community, and its hard work by its developers and those who want to see it happen, year by year we kept building traction upon traction –– more and more adopters and more and more merchants accepting it, more governments becoming green-lighted towards it. And this has been the easiest year I have had so far, where people who were naysayers are now coming aboard saying, ‘You did that well with that bitcoin calling’, or ‘You saw something that most people didn’t see’.”
Stressing that it was a decentralized system and not controlled by any one man or one company, Abed said bitcoin was for everyone just like cash is. In fact, he said, over the past five years or so people had used bitcoins to purchase airline tickets, vehicles and real estate, and pay for hotel rooms, among other goods and services.
“Everything you can pay for in cash I can pay for in bitcoin,” he said, adding that it could be treated like a commodity, stocks, currency or trustless asset. By the end of this year bitt.com is expected to go live, and, to get started, people can simply sign up to log on to bitt.com and follow the instructions and immediately start accepting bitcoin from anyone around the world.