[FinTech] Barbados launches Regulatory Sandbox

In Barbados, the Financial Services Commission  and the Central Bank have jointly created an important regulation: the Regulatory Sandbox Framework for the Financial Services Sector.

Sandbox Benefits

The no-fluff definition of a regulatory sandbox? A temporary observatory where regulators try to figure out whether a new financial product/service is fish or foul.

Let’s flesh that out a bit.

Where an entity wishes to introduce an innovative financial product or service in Barbados, it may not be immediately clear which regulatory requirements should be complied with. Why? Financial services are regulated by two separate entities: the Central Bank and the FSC. Broadly speaking, the Central Bank regulates banking-type institutions whereas the FSC regulates all other financial service providers (think: insurance companies, credit unions, pension funds etc).

Applying to and being accepted in the Sandbox allows the applicants some well needed regulatory breathing space. In this period, applicants do not need to comply with and be licensed under the regimes of either the FSC or the Central Bank.

Regulatory Review Panel

For the duration of the applicant company’s time in the Sandbox, governance oversight will be provided by the Regulatory Review Panel (RRP). The RRP will be comprised of no less than 3 persons (there is no upper limit on the number of appointees to the RRP). The Director of Finance and Economic Affairs, the Central Bank and the FSC will be responsible for the appointments to the RRP.

The RRP, among many other governance functions, will determine whether the applicant’s product or service should be regulated pursuant to the FSC’s regime or the Central Bank’s. Alternately, the RRP may conclude that the particular product/service being considered is so novel that entirely new legislation is required.

Key Beneficiaries

In practical terms, the kinds of financial products or services most likely to  benefit from sandboxing would be new technology-centric financial service providers a.k.a. FinTech companies. Most FinTech startups tend to focus on disrupting traditional models of operating and will typically employ a combination of novel processes, unconventional business models and innovative products. In doing so, FinTechs will – almost by definition – defy the existing regulatory frameworks which were conceived with the brick-and-mortar realm in mind.

FinTech companies are the primary targets of the Regulatory Sandbox
FinTech companies are the primary targets of the Regulatory Sandbox – Internationalbanker.com photo

More Information

The Sandbox was launched at the end of October 2018 and the main documentation can be found on the websites of both the FSC and the Central Bank.

ECTEL proposes net neutrality language in draft regulations to complement revised Electronic Communications bill

The Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL) is the regional, multi-state telecoms regulator for the Eastern Caribbean.  Recently, ECTEL put forward a slew of recommendations on various regulatory instruments to be enacted in the Eastern Caribbean. The regulations would go hand-in-hand with the proposed revisions to the Electronic Communications bill.

The proposed regulations cover: infrastructure sharing; submarine cables; market assessment; retail pricing regulation; and consumer protection

From an end-user perspective, the Consumer Protection regulations are clearly the most notable. Within those regulations are provisions which, interestingly, tackle net neutrality, protection of consumer data as well as privacy. 

In my estimation, the inclusion of net neutrality is the most impressive aspect of this proposed regulation. In a global context, only Brazil, Chile, the Netherlands and the United States have already expressly put in place substantive net neutrality legislation.

If passed, the Eastern Caribbean would, therefore, join an exclusive club of forward looking nations who have already explicitly enshrined net neutrality in legislative enactments. Pretty heady stuff.

On review, the Electronic Communications bill itself merely defines net neutrality and includes it as an object of the act. Curiously, the bill itself does not enshrine the right per se. Rather, the heavy lifting is left for the proposed consumer protection regulation. This is concerning for two reasons: 

  1. by placing it in the consumer protection regulation, it presumes that net neutrality is primarily about protecting end-users. Indeed, the language used, confirms that this seems to be the aim. This is problematic since it only covers half of the parties who are potentially negatively impacted by interferences with the delivery of content over the internet’s infrastructure. The reality is, it is also digital service providers who’s ability to deliver content over the internet who lose when an ISP decides to intervene.
  2. if it is a substantive right then surely the appropriate place to secure it is in substantive legislation which, at the very least, would require the rigour of two houses of parliament to interfere with in future. With mere subsidiary statutory instruments, it is much easier to amend without rigorous scrutiny. Therefore, it stands to reason that it could easily be amended in future. 

To be sure, I have, in the past, argued that the most effective manner for a country’s legislature to handle changes in technology is to have subsidiary legislation bear the brunt of the particular legislative innovation. Therefore my view here may appear contradictory. However, net neutrality isn’t a fad concept or technology that requires a state to grapple with its shelf life as a consideration in determining the legislative rigour necessary to usher it into society. In 37 years netizens will still argue back and forth about protection of net neutrality as a fundamental internet-related right. It is an enduring principle and its rightful protection mechanism, therefore, is in substantive legislation.

The consultation period for the proposed legislation initially expired on March 11, 2016 but has since been extended to May 12, 2016, so there is time to review and make any comments.

Link: Full Proposed Regulations. (pdf)

Link: Proposed revised Electronic Communications Bill for the Eastern Caribbean (pdf)

Link: Announcement on the ECTEL website.