The Bahamas' Central Banker Explains Why Its ‘Sand Dollar' Led the Way
Bloomberg Markets|June - July 2021
THE BAHAMAS BECAME a global leader in e-money last year when it launched one of the world’s first central bank digital currencies— the “sand dollar”—beating China’s “digital renminbi” to the market by six months.
JIM WYSS

Unlike cryptocurrencies, which are designed to be anonymous and free of ties to monetary authorities, CBDCs are digital fiat—the sand dollar is an extension of the Bahamian dollar. Traded online and over mobile phones, it aims to dramatically accelerate digital transactions in the Bahamas by breaking down barriers between disparate payment platforms. A government-backed common currency will permit rival mobile wallets, which often use proprietary tokens, to transact more easily with competitors.

The man behind the digital push is John Rolle, 54, who has served as the country’s central bank governor since 2016. Born on Andros Island, Rolle began working in various roles at the bank as early as 1990, but went abroad to pursue graduate studies in economics at American University in Washington and Carleton University in Ottawa. In addition to his central banking experience, he spent three years as a senior adviser to the International Monetary Fund’s executive director for Canada, Ireland, and the Caribbean and three years at the Bahamian Ministry of Finance. Rolle spoke with Bloomberg Markets in early May about his country’s experience with the sand dollar. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

JIM WYSS: How did the sand dollar project begin? JOHN ROLLE: We were in a long process of modernizing our payment systems and identified the need for new payment service providers. We needed a payment platform where you could have all of these providers connect and communicate.

In an island geography it’s very hard to provide financial services through a physical channel. The cost considerations have meant that banks in some cases refused to service some of our rural “family islands.” Those communities can eventually piggyback off this [digital] infrastructure to communicate and interact with traditional financial-service providers. That’s not something that we will see on Day 1, but that infrastructure is there, and the regulatory structure is there. It will be possible for financial institutions to confidently provide services through these digital channels, and we now have the safety of a settlement mechanism, the sand dollar.

JW: Did hurricanes and other natural disasters play a role in developing the sand dollar?

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