The next time you visit the Bahamas you may find that the people there are carrying a lot less cash. And that’s a good thing. It’s not that they don’t have money, but that they’re using a new type of digital currency that they’re calling “Sand Dollars.”
In a drive-by the central bank to modernize the Bahamas’ payment system and move consumers away from a historical reliance on cash, Project Sand Dollar was designed as a pilot program and rolled out on Exuma in December 2019. It has been favorably received by the public, enough so that there are now plans to expand it to the entire country.
In a press release, the bank emphasized that the digital currency is not a cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin, or a competitor to the Bahamian dollar. Rather it represents a digital version of existing paper currency—legal tender, intended to aid consumers and businesses with limited access to a physical bank. “It will never be different,” says central bank governor, John Rolle. “It can’t differ in value in any way or the other, so Sand Dollars can never be priced differently from Bahamian dollars.”
“As an archipelago,” Rolle adds. “The Bahamas is made up of many dispersed, low-density communities, for which provision of market-based financial services through physical installed infrastructure has either not been feasible or is becoming increasingly less feasible.”
Participating residents can pay retailers through digital wallet–linked QR codes (machine-scannable images that can be read using a Smartphone camera) with existing banks moving funds in digital form. The belief by the central bank is that this will cut currency printing costs, lower transaction fees and allow more Bahamians to participate in the banking system.
The new currency will have limits, though. Businesses may not have more than $1 million in their digital accounts and can’t transact more than one-eighth of their digital wealth per month. Similarly, residents are limited to $500. And though Sand Dollars are restricted to Bahamian residents, plans are in motion to include foreign exchange in the future. For the latest on the program, visit sanddollar.bs.