Barbados, a paradise island in the West Indies, is known for its azure beaches, tidal waves, shipwrecks, homegrown grown Barbadian hospitality and, more recently, an influx of remote workers. Now, one can add cryptocurrency innovations to that list as well. Bitt, a Barbadian fintech firm developing blockchain technology, has successfully created the eNaira central bank digital currency (CBDC) for Nigeria and is on the path to creating an electronic hryvnia for Ukraine.
In an exclusive interview with Cointelegraph, Brian Popelka, CEO of Bitt, discussed the technology behind the eNaira and the roadmap for the firm going forward.
Cointelegraph: Would you please describe the technology behind the eNaira digital currency that you created?
Brian Popelka: It's really a stablecoin minted by the Central Bank of Nigeria. Unlike any of the typical cryptocurrencies or even a stablecoin, this [...] is a digital version of the fiat currency within Nigeria. So, this is government money. It can be transacted by a user who has downloaded a wallet through the various app stores and at participating merchants. The ecosystem that we've worked with the CBN, the Central Bank of Nigeria, to deploy our technology allows the central bank to have minting and all the rights around minting.
Then, they distribute the digital version of that coin to participating financial institutions. Afterwards, those financial institutions can transact with merchants and consumers using the eNaira. So, a little bit different than Bitcoin in that it is a fiat currency. And while we certainly utilize smart contract technology, [...] we're built on a Hyperledger transaction network. So, it's a closed loop within the Nigerian government.
CT: Why did the Nigerian government select you, a crypto firm that's based in Barbados, out of all the fintech firms in the world to embark on this project?
BP: Certainly born in Barbados, we have an office out of the U.S., and we are very proud of our Caribbean roots. Because really, the idea for digital currency was hatched in a [...] developing region, where the ability to move funds around digitally can have a significant impact in the Caribbean. For example, 95% of all transactions are done physically through notes and coins — 95% of them. So, part of the mandate in the Caribbean, similar to Nigeria, was to [...] sort of do fewer transactions, using notes and coins, which, of course, helps to eliminate some costs related to the printing and management of notes and coins.
But the Central Bank of Nigeria has been on this project for a long, long time. For several years, they have done a lot of work to educate themselves on the process. But the reality is that we've been six years in the business, we have a mature product already built, we didn't have to build it to suit Nigeria — we already have a product built. And we were already deployed in the Eastern Caribbean with the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank. We were one of several, and they cut it down to a dozen. And one of the key reasons that they landed on us was, of course, we'd already had it out; [we] had the deployment, and they had a very tight timeline for being able to deploy this. So, we met about an eight-week timeline to be able to go live.
Could a global CBDC become a reality?— Cointelegraph (@Cointelegraph) October 3, 2021
A Bank for International Settlements report suggests an effective system would “need to involve both public and private actors to ensure interoperability and coexistence with the broader payment system.” https://t.co/PTOyTR06LM
CT: Interesting. So, what are some new features you plan to deploy?
BP: The Central Bank of Nigeria has a long laundry list of feature sets they're interested in providing. And we're just there to help facilitate as the service provider. I think what you'll see is a lot of stuff you would typically see in electronic transactions. So obviously, there's the point of sale. Also, wallets that will be made available for people who don't have bank accounts. Financial inclusion is a key issue that we would like to help solve. Remittances, interbank transfers and cross-border payments are ultimately part of the roadmap. Microlending or peer-to-peer lending, those types of financial instruments could always be added to the network in the future.
CT: Are there any other cryptocurrency projects you are currently working on?
BP: We are working on one in Eastern Europe [the digital hryvnia] that we're pretty excited about. It's a project that we're working with the Stellar Foundation on. We are also in a private pilot with, there's no public announcement, but we are working with the National Bank of Belize on a project. It's not a CBDC, but it's a stablecoin project. So yeah, there's plenty of work, and then, you know, the entire market is picking up steam, so we're seeing inquiries and RFPs coming from all corners of the world. We're very excited about the opportunities that are revealing themselves right in front of us.