From eNaira to eHryvnia, a Caribbean fintech develops CBDC around the world

Barbados, a paradise island in the West Indies, is known for its azure beaches, tidal waves, shipwrecks, homegrown grown Barbadian (Bajan) hospitality, and more recently, an influx of remote workers. Now, one can add cryptocurrency innovations to that list as well. Bitt, a Bajan fintech firm developing blockchain technology, has successfully created the eNaira central bank digital currency, or CBDC, for Nigeria and is on the path to creating an electronic Hryvnia for Ukraine.

In an exclusive interview with Cointelegraph, Brian Popelka, chief executive officer of Bitt, discussed the technology behind the eNaira and the roadmap for the firm going forward. 

CT: 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 [CBN]. So it is, 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. So the ecosystem that we’ve worked with the CBN, the Central Bank of Nigeria, to deploy our technology allows the central bank to have mint 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 (BTC) in that it is a fiat currency. And, and while we certainly utilize smart contract technology […] We’re built on a hyper ledger transaction network. So it’s a closed-loop within the Nigerian government.

Related: Eastern Caribbean CBDC expands to another two territories

CT: And so why did the Nigerian government, out of all the fintech firms in the world, select you guys, a crypto firm that’s based in Barbados, to embark on this project?

BP: Yeah, so 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. And 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. You know, 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?

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.”

— Cointelegraph (@Cointelegraph) October 3, 2021

CT: Interesting. So what are some new features you guys 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. Micro-lending or peer-to-peer lending, those types of financial instruments could always be added to the network in the future.

Related: Nigeria’s central bank partners with fintech firm Bitt Inc for CBDC rollout

CT: And are there any other cryptocurrency projects you guys 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. And just so yeah, there’s plenty of work, and then, you know, the entire market is picking up steam. And so, we’re seeing inquiries and RFPs coming from all corners of the world. So we’re very excited about, you know, the opportunities that are revealing themselves right in front of us.

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