One of the biggest disappointments of this year was the exclusion of cryptocurrency exchanges and the likes from the RBZ’s Fintech Sandbox. The initiative, run by the Reserve Bank, was an opportunity for traditional financial institutions to dip their toes into experimental or emerging technologies. Now, the shunning of cryptos was a contradiction of the platform’s mandate but not too surprising judging from the whole Golix affair way back when. But there has been a glimmer of hope of sorts for cryptos according to comments made by CBZ Holdings’ chairman Marc Holtzman.
In an interview held last week, Marc Holtzman said that CBZ was looking to leverage cryptocurrencies and other emerging digital innovations. This is, of course, to proliferate or expand the services that CBZ Holdings offers its customers.
“Cryptocurrencies, or rather blockchain more broadly, fintechs, bigtechs, and techfins are all exciting innovations, which are being introduced to serve specific gaps that have been exposed by the ever evolving customer needs and wants. Our view is that these innovations have the potential to strengthen the way we do business, the way we serve our customers, as well as open up new market opportunities.”
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“Such opportunities can be pursued through collaboration and cooperation with the same fintechs, hence our deliberate drive towards an open innovation strategy in which we work with and through these fintechs in areas such as mobile money, mobile wallets, and the like,”Marc Holtzman, CBZ Chairman (via The Herald)
Holtzman went on to say that there were obvious risks with technologies like cryptos and anything “experimental” in general. However, he noted that the RBZ’s Fintech Sandbox is a way for financial institutions to test these things out before they hit the market.
“Obviously, there are risks that come with these innovations, but fortunately, in the Zimbabwean case, the regulator (the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe) has already published a Fintech Regulatory Sandbox to guide banks participation in these innovations and advanced technologies”
Now, this last part is strange, because as previously mentioned Cryptocurrency exchanges and affiliated technologies were barred from RBZ’s Fintech Sandbox. So can CBZ somehow get cryptos involved even after the central bank has barred them?
This isn’t CBZ’s first crypto rodeo
If it were any other institution making these claims then there would be cause for more doubt than optimism. However, there are two reasons why a little optimism is warranted in this case. First, CBZ has dabbled in cryptos before, if you remember early last year the Group clinched a deal with a blockchain fintech company called Apollo.
The deal was to create 3 products which were:
- A national payments platform that was supposed to rival EcoCash. As I am sure you are aware EcoCash and other mobile money are essentially tokens backed by the local currency. The proposed token was planned to be gold-backed which was to have more value than EcoCash.
- Commodities exchange, which was set to cater for those looking for alternative investment opportunities.
- And a local currency value storage coin that was going to rely on CBZ’s standing in the sector to protect customers.
The deal between CBZ and Apollo, as far as we can tell, never went beyond the memoranda of understanding that was signed between the two. However, it was a bold move by the local bank and at the very least shows that they have a long-held interest in blockchain tech and cryptos.
The second reason why we may dare to hope is that CBZ is part-owned by the Zimbabwean government. There has been little in the way of widespread innovation that has come without the govt’s blessing. This is by no means saying that the order of things is good because, in a better world, any innovation that can benefit all would be welcomed by the regulators.
However, we aren’t living in a perfect reality and if CBZ can somehow get the RBZ to loosen up about cryptos then it is a win for us all. In any case, we will have to wait and see if there is anything to this.