My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica

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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Digicel MyCash is Sagicor SWYPE powered by MasterCard on their 4G LTE Network


We at Sagicor, along with our partners, Digicel Group (through its subsidiary Prism Services Jamaica) and Mastercard, are delighted to be providing this innovative and unprecedented level of customer convenience to our Jamaican consumers, both here at home and in the USA; MyCash is not only revolutionary in how it works, but the beauty of this product is that it is suitable for everyone”

President and CEO of Sagicor Group Jamaica , Christopher Zacca, commenting on the launch of Digicel MyCash.

The long awaited coming of Mobile money from Digicel has finally happened.

Their Digicel Money Prepaid MasterCard is to be called MyCash, was officially launched on Monday August 27 2018 as reported in the article “Sagicor Bank Joins Digicel Group, Mastercard For Official Launch Of MyCash”, published Monday August 27, 2018, The Jamaica Gleaner.

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The Digicel Money Prepaid MasterCard and app paired with the card for subscribers, will be powered by Master card and have local support from Sagicor through its subsidiary Prism Services Jamaica . It'll allow subscribers to utilize the product in multiple countries via ATMs, technically making it the first Mobile Money product launched in Jamaica that can be used abroad.

Digicel will become the third local mobile money provider alongside Quisk from NCB and GK MPay from GraceKennedy. Both GK MPay and Quisk are mainly being used to purchase phone credit as I'd pointed out in my Geezam blog article entitled “How to get Jamaicans to use Quisk, GK MPay for more than just Phone Credit”.

This is a long time coming for Digicel, who have been hinting at plans to launch a Mobile money platform for some time as reported in my blog article entitled “Why Digicel's purchase of Paymaster means Mobile Money is launching in 2016”.

In that article, I had projected a launch of the product in 2016, possibly as a push into bill payment in partnership with Paymaster.

Curiously, Sagicor had already launched their own product powered by Master card called SWYPE as I'd pointed out in my blog article entitled “How Sagicor Bank's SWYPE challenges QUISK, GK MPay for Mobile Money Dominance”.

Now they've partnered with some different players, with Sagicor a newcomer to the Mobile Money platform with SWYPE.

So what exactly is MyCash?

Digicel launches MyCash - Powered by MasterCard

Digicel is by no means a new player to Mobile money.

They already have a successful services in operation in Haiti called Tcho Tcho Mobile powered by Scotia Bank. Back then in 2014, then CEO Denis O' Brien had hinted at a similar service for Jamaica as noted in my blog article entitled “Digicel's Mobile Money Service in 2014 - Haiti Tcho Tcho with ScotiaBank heralds Cashless Society by 2015”.

MasterCard is also making their presence felt in Jamaica, with a partnership with Alliance Group of Companies to power their Alliance Prepaid MasterCard that may empower children with their own card as predicted in my blog article entitled “How Alliance Prepaid MasterCard makes Electronic Transactions for Children and Moneygram e-commerce possible”.

MasterCard is quite keen on getting into Jamaica as their rival VISa is already visible all over the island, to quote Territory Manager for the Caribbean at MasterCard, Marcelo Tangioni: “We are glad to offer the power of our network, the strength of our brand and our technology expertise to help bringing this project to life”.

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Digicel initially planned to launch its Jamaican card in April 2017. But regulatory issues with the BOJ (Bank of Jamaica) means that they had to reign in their plans that have been circulating since 2014.

However, BOJ Senior Deputy Governor John Robinson confirmed on Thursday August 16th 2018 that the central bank has given approval for Sagicor Bank, in partnership with Digicel, to offer an electronic retail payment service card.

Now they are finally ready and they sound very organized, especially as they are partnering with Sagicor and MasterCard and already have a mobile money app as reported in the article “Sagicor Partners With Digicel To Roll Out Mobile Money App”, Published Friday August 17, 2018, by Avia Collinder, The Jamaica Gleaner.

So is MyCash a rebranding of SWYPE?

Digicel and Sagicor - MyCash rebranding a boost to Sagicor SWYPE

Digicel and Sagicor's aim is to make MyCash a universal card that can work at any ATM as well as suit the Jamaican travelled.

So says Digicel Jamaica's spokesman, Elon Parkinson, quote: “With a shared vision of breaking down the barriers to financial inclusion, Sagicor Bank, Digicel and MasterCard have been working together to deliver a mobile money service that will meet the specific needs and requirements of our Jamaican consumers”.

To apply for a MyCash prepaid Mastercard, Jamaican customer have to do the following:

  1. Download the MyCash app
  2. Register via the MyCash App
  3. Visit any of the 16 Sagicor branches island-wide to validate their ID
  4. Collect their MyCash card
  5. Add cash to the card

MyCash has been successfully piloted over the last few months and is now available to the public. There are minimal transaction fees but MyCash is the first of its kind in the market as it boasts the following features:

  1. No sign-up fees
  2. No need for a bank account
  3. No tedious application form
  4. No credit-checks

The MyCash product, which will come to market before December 2018, will allows customers to do the following:

  1. Send and receive money locally
  2. Check account balances
  3. Shop
  4. Cash transactions at ATMs

Sounds familiar? it should, as that's the same thing that SWYPE was aiming to do as noted in my blog article entitled “How Sagicor Bank's SWYPE challenges QUISK, GK MPay for Mobile Money Dominance”.

Digicel MyCard may well be a rebranding of Sagicor's SWYPE; very little advertising has been done by Sagicor since they launched SWYPE. I suspect Sagicor is afraid they may end up going the way of CONEC Mobile, the JCCUL (Jamaica Co-operative Credit Union League).

The JCCUL, the original pioneer of Mobile Money in Jamaica, launched in 2013 and rebranded as JCUES and then CONEC, as reported in my blog article entitled “JCUES now CONEC Mobile Wallet - Why CONEC Mobile Wallet still inconvenient despite Paymaster”.

It suffered from having a cumbersome website interface and an app that did not work reliably. So it died in December 2017 due to these factors as well as a lack of proper marketing as noted in my Geezam blog article entitled “JCCUL Shutters CONEC Mobile Wallet, leaving Quisk and MPay in the Race”.

So their management may have decided to just partner with Digicel, especially as their MPOS (Mobile Point of Sale) device needs a reliable 4G LTE ready telecom infrastructure and Digicel is the best partner to have, both as a platform as well as an advertising partner!

Hopefully they will include doing e-commerce and shopping online, something that seems to be missing from other entrants into the Mobile Money space.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Why JSE and Blockstation partnership heralds GOJ Cryptocurrency by 2030


“We are also proud to be at the forefront of bringing innovation to capital markets. We are very comfortable moving forward based on the training and support provided by Blockstation, and because their trading platform incorporates familiar compliance rules to ensure a fair marketplace”

JSE Managing Director Marlene Street Forrest commenting on their latest MOU signed with Blockstation to look into cryptocurrency trading

Jamaican, the Cryptocurrency revolution is coming to Jamaica thanks to the JSE (Jamaica Stock Exchange).

They are currently in talks with Toronto-based fintech company Blockstation to do local cryptocurrency trading as reported in the article “Jamaica Stock Exchange Exploring Cryptocurrency Trading”, Published Sunday August 19, 2018, The Jamaica Gleaner. 

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There is considerable investor interest in cryptocurrencies. To this end, the JSE has signed a MOU (memorandum of understanding) to pave the way for future collaboration on such a venture.

In fact, as far back as April 2017, they had signed another MOU with Veritaseum LLC to look into the possibility of doing cryptocurrency trading as noted in the article “JSE looks to introduce blockchain technology”, published Wednesday, August 09, 2017 by Karena Bennett, The Jamaica Observer.

 So what does the Bank of Jamaica (BOJ), who regulates foreign exchange, electronic payments and mobile money, have to say about this?

BOJ and cryptocurrency - A Quick introduction as the BOJ moves slowly

So far they've been silent, albeit thy made comment on the potential benefits of cryptocurrencies as a\far back as 2017 as noted in the article “BOJ seeking to build awareness on cryptocurrency”, published Thursday, August 17, 2017, The Jamaica Observer.

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This was a few months before the price of Bitcoin jumped to US$20,000 per coin due to trading speculation.

Since then the coin has been losing value and its speculative unstable nature has led the BOJ to change its tune and declare them as unsafe as stated in the article “BOJ warns against use of virtual currencies for economic transactions” published Monday, February 05, 2018, The Jamaica Observer.

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Apparently, they fear its potential to do unregulated transfers of large sums of money abroad.
This could potentially enable criminals as well as Americans trying to relocate illegally to avoid FATCS to launder their money into locals banks as predicted in my blog article entitled “How Americans becoming Jamaican citizens can evade IRS and FATCA Taxation”. 

For those new to cryptocurrency, a quick primer on them as well as Blockchain technology can be read at my MICO Wars article entitled “How Jamaicans can purchase Bitcoin cryptocurrency as Gracekennedy and WU supporting Ripple”. 

The BOJ silence on the issue has not dampened the local Fintech scene, who eye Cryptocurrency as the way forward.

JSE and Blockstation - Bitcoin trading and mining in the mix

Already they've done a workshop with Blockstation.

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JSE may become the first international Stock Exchange to do digital currency and token trading platform, with Blockstation performing the following services in a format that aligns with current regulatory and compliance standards:

1.      Trading
2.      Quotes
3.      Execution and settlement services

The Canadian company's main software is called Smart ECN (electronic communication network). They also offer a suite of technology products designed to meet the security, liquidity and regulatory requirements of their clients and potentially the BOJ.

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The BOJ is right to be caution, especially as it was with Mobile money, a space now dominated by Quisk and GK MPay as noted in my Geezam blog article entitled “JCCUL Shutters CONEC Mobile Wallet, leaving Quisk and MPay in the Race”.

So while the BOJ tittles its thumbs on Cryptocurrency as it did with Mobile Money, JSE is innovating to meet rising demand for digital asset investing and thus make the world a better place.

JSE and Cryptocurrency – GraceKennedy may use cryptocurrency for GK MPay

Still, this has not stopped local company GraceKennedy from looking into using the underlying Technology in cryptocurrency to power their Western Union Remittance Network.

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They may potentially be using it to power their Mobile Money platform, GK MPay as predicted in my Geezam blog article entitled “GraceKennedy’s Innovation Lab planning to launch a GK MPay cryptocurrency”.

Head trader at brokerage house, Sagicor Investments Jamaica Limited, Kirk Brown, is excited but cautious, as investors money is on the line, quote: “It is very important for investors to be able to invest in digital assets through their traditional financial institutions....It's exciting to be at the cutting edge where digital currency demand meets safe reliable access”.

JSE and Cryptocurrency - Trading and Mining with GOJ crypto-based Mobile Money

JSE is now in the race, as they realize that Blockchain, which is use to verify each transactions between bitcoin wallets and thereby build trust in the system, means that transaction can be done securely.

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Thus it should be possible in principle to use Blockchain technology in cryptocurrency to mediate large transactions of cash to purchase traditional stocks and bonds on struck markets abroad, but at significantly lower costs.

Also, the JSE can also engage in cryptocurrency trading and even in Cryptocurrency mining, where they could set up their own servers or even buy computing power on established bitcoin miners to mine bitcoin on behalf of investors.

The GOJ and Cryptocurrency - Mobile Money Cryptocurrency Network by 2030

Ultimately, the Government of Jamaica may even replace our current paper-based fiat currency system with cryptocurrency.

This is the move being made by the Bahamas Government to replace their fiat currency with a national Cryptocurrency as noted in my Geezam blog article entitled “The Bahamas Blockchain will be a Digital Paradise for FinTech start-ups”.

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Jamaicans, by 2030, may be using a BOJ backed Mobile Money platform powered by a blockchain based cryptocurrency Network.

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This would effectively make all transactions electronically, thereby eliminating corruption and making taxation easier as noted in my blog article entitled “How Electronic Transactions in Jamaica can eliminate Hidden Economy via Universal Consumption Taxation”. 

This is the long terms outlook. But right now, it is one block at a time as we climb the blockchain towards cryptocurrency adoption in Jamaica.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

How LASCO Manufacturing Limited Drinks Future is Sugarless and Health-Conscious


“The positive out-turn for the quarter reflects growth in volumes, improved operational efficiencies, streamlining and cost controls …..”

Managing Director James Rawle, commenting on LASM (LASCO Manufacturing Limited) performance

LASM (LASCO Manufacturing Limited) is doing well this year as they are on a profitability roll.

This is especially true for their manufacturing of drink products as noted in the article “Lasco pushes for greater share of food drink market”, published Thursday, August 16, 2018, The Jamaica Observer.

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LASM has two (2) sections to their plant:

1.      Liquid plant - making soy-based drinks, juice, drinks and water
2.      Dry Plant - - making soy-based powdered drinks

The strong sales from LASM are from the sale of the following four products on their three production lines in the Liquid Plant:

1.      LASCO iCool range of water and juice drinks
2.      LASCO iDrade, a hydration drink
3.      Lyrix,  a carbonated beverage
4.      Konka, energy drink similar to Boom

I've personally consumed Konka, as can be seen from the bottle in my hand below.

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Based on its ingredients, it is not much different from Boom, having the same active ingredients including Taurine and Caffeine.
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Shushana Levy, a Jamaican YouTuber, has tested out Lasco Lyrix, Konka and iCool and gives her expert opinion in this natural, unscripted video promo of their products.


Now on to their Dry Products Division, which I call the Dry Plant! Their Dry Plant makes many products that I personally like to consume:

1.      LASCO Lasoy
2.      LASCO Enriched Milk Powder
3.      LASCO Oats Porridge Mixes
4.      LASCO Nutrify, a high protein meal replacement.

So how are they doing profit wise?

LASCO Manufacturing Limited Profitability - Shushana Levy says the Drinks are Driving Profits

Managing Director James Rawle was apparently quite pleased with the numbers, quote: “Sales are as expected, even as volumes continue to grow in a competitive market......The margin improvement is attributable to volume growth, sales mix and improved operational efficiencies”.

LASM (LASCO Manufacturing Limited) recorded the following strong numbers in Q3 of 2018:

1.      JA$237 million Net Profit
2.      JA$134 million in Q3 of 2017
3.      77% growth in Net Profit
 
Revenue had also increased when compared to the same period last year:

1.      JA$1.7 billion for Q3 of 2018
2.      JA$1.5 billion for Q3 of 2017
3.      35% Gross Profit Margin in Q3 of 2018
4.      32% Gross Profit Margin in Q3 of 2017

Their administrative expenses remained stable.

1.      JA$308 million administrative expenses in Q3 of 2018
2.      18% expense to sale ratio in Q3 of 2018
3.      20% expense to sale ratio in Q3 of 2017

Their Total assets, Trade and other receivables and Trade payables have seen moderate gains:

1.      JA$8.3 billion in Total assets in Q3 of 2018
2.      12% increase in Total assets in Q3 of 2018 over Q3 of 2017
3.      JA$2.1 billion in Trade and other receivables in Q3 of 2018
4.      30% increase in Total assets in Q3 of 2018 over Q3 of 2017
5.      JA$937 million in trade payables in Q3 of 2018
6.      10% increase in Q3 of 2018 over Q3 of 2017

So it looks like Shushana Levy, our YouTube Reviewer, is on to something here.

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Clearly, their new Drinks lines are as good as Sushana Levy, our YouTube Reviewer, has pointed out in her video. So what is the future for LASM?

LASCO Manufacturing Limited Profitability - The future is Sugarless and Health-Conscious

LASM now hopes to double net profit over the next two quarters.

LASM has just completed their 65,000-square foot warehousing facility. They're also launched new flavours from its flagship product LASCO Vanilla Food Drink in September 2017.

The recent trend towards reducing sugar content in foods and beverages also benefitted the company as it is also a way to avoid future taxation from Government over Sugar as noted in the article “Lasco Manufacturing Enters Carbonated, Energy Drink Markets With Two New Brands”, Published Friday February 16, 2018 by Avia Collinder, The Jamaica Gleaner.

Their reduced sugar variant of LASCO Vanilla Food Drink and iCool juice drink being a part of the run on profits. LASM's carbonated beverage Lyrix and energy drink Konka, have also had solid export sales from the export market since their launch earlier this year.

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Nonetheless, LASM continued to invest heavily in marketing programmes such as this islandwide promotion drive for their products. Their brand building activities are being expanded in Q4 of 2018, with special attention to recently launched new products.

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For LASM, the future is definately Sugarless and Health-Conscious.

Here’s the link:

Friday, August 10, 2018

Audley Shaw's Plan for Agriculture at Denbigh 2018 needs Mechatronics, Vertical Farming Tech


“Over the past five years, the agriculture sector in the Caribbean has been affected by shifts in weather patterns. We have experienced significant episodes of prolonged droughts, frequent intense rainfall, flooding and hurricanes. Climate-related natural disasters, especially hurricane and drought, could result in losses estimated at US$22 billion annually by 2050 throughout the Caribbean”.

Agriculture Minister Audley Shaw speaking at the now concluded Denbigh Agricultural, Industrial and Food Show on Saturday August 5th 2018.

Climate change is now affecting us financially, through agriculture.

So says Agriculture Minister Audley Shaw who cites losses of $1 billion to the Agriculture Sector in the past two years as noted in the article “Climate change hits agriculture with $1b loss, says Shaw”, published Wednesday, August 08, 2018, The Jamaica Observer.

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He made this statement at the recently concluded Denbigh Agricultural, Industrial and Food Show on Saturday August 5th 2018, and pointed out that the effect was, quote: “beginning to have a sustained depreciating impact on agricultural production”.

I personally was at Denbigh and saw little improvement in the facilities and displays. Albeit technology was on display, very little of it was what small farmers could afford. A good example of this problem was this tractor which had an attach for ploughing up inside of a large chicken coop……who can afford this attachment, let alone a tractor for such a purpose?

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Minister Audley Shaw is clearly aware of this as well as the financial constraints facing farmers, quote: “We recognise that there are several persistent challenges and constraints facing the agricultural sector, chief among these, of course, being the impact of climate change”.

So what has Agriculture Minister Audley Shaw done that will make a difference?

Agriculture Minister Audley Shaw - Crop Modelling a first vital step

In July 2018, the minster introduced crop modeling.

This is the use of computer simulation software to predict the effect of various factor on the growth of crops and thus better plan what to plant, when to plant it and the cost of inputs and potential yields.

Crop modeling software, like any simulation software, can help you plan and reduce losses and maximize on the yield of your field but with lower cost in terms of planning.

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Crop Modeling software is used extensively in global agriculture with benefits such as:

1.      Increasing farmers' crop yields
2.      Improvement of research and extension capabilities
3.      Informing sustainable and effective planning

Now that we have this tool, which is really an advanced version of Farmville but for actual agriculture on real land, planning large scale farming should be a lot easier. Still, it does not address the losses by farmers, many of whom plant and raise livestock on their own land using traditional techniques that are effective but low yield.

Consequently many farmers do not make much money at the farm gate and even fewer invest in any newer farming technologies or techniques, especially if it involves loans or the possibility of the Government owning their land.

So ....how do you convince Farmers, who are steeped in traditional ways of farming that newer methods exist, to invest in any new technology?

Future of Agriculture - Agriculture Minister Audley Shaw Plans need financing

Agriculture Minister Audley Shaw does have some new strategies that I personally like.

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He mentioned them at Denbigh and they are geared towards achieving sustainable production:

1.      Provision of more irrigation systems
2.      Implementing more drought-resistant measures such as water harvesting and storage
3.      Application of new technologies to include drones and alternative energy sources
4.      Coordinated value chain-driven partnerships and linkages between agriculture and industry
5.      Increased efforts to establish agricultural insurance schemes

We'll definately need some external funding for these overhauls of our ageing Agriculture sector as promised by Audley Shaw, quote: “It is worth repeating that grant funding from the United Kingdom Caribbean Infrastructure Partnership Fund, administered through the Caribbean Development Bank, in an amount equivalent to £35,515 million will go towards the cost of the Essex Valley Agricultural Development Project. ....”

So is this enough to transform Agriculture and make it resistant to Climate Change.

Food Security in the Face of Global Warming - Free Farming Loans and Incentives to modernize

I especially like the mention of Water Harvesting and long term water storage initiatives and the planned use of Drones and Alternative Energy Resources; these are thing I've written about before.

This is especially true of Water Harvesting which I suspect will eventually lead to the liberalization of the Water Sector in Jamaica as predicted in my blog article entitled “How Diehl Metering Prepaid Water meters for NWC enables Prepaid Water and Rainwater Harvesting”. 

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Drones and possibly blimps with cameras could help with praedial larceny, which is more like organized crime as posited in this article “Full Potential Of Agriculture Remains Untapped – JAMPRO”, published Tuesday July 31, 2018, The Jamaica Gleaner.

What I do not hear or see more of his plans for Vertical Farming i.e. basically multi-storey buildings designed to grow crops in a controlled Hydroponic and Aquaponics environment, possibly using tissue culture as explained in my blog article entitled “How IGES Canada Ltd Vertical Hydroponic Aquaponic Towers make low cost Organic foods”.

Or even the use of Solar Power and a centralized network with moisture sensors to control the usage of water as show in the images below I took at Denbigh 2018.

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Or plans to use of Mechatronics to do labour intensive tasks in agriculture such as checking on plants, pruning, weed control and livestock farming as explained in my blog article entitled  How Australia's University of Sydney Livestock Farmbot heralds Efficient Agricultural Towers”. 

Whatever plans they have, they need to be given to farmers for free, with no strings attached for 5 years. This would be done in exchange for members of the Government to come in and manage the farm, with the farmer keeping the profits but benefitting from increased use of the above-mentioned agricultural technological innovations.

The Government of Jamaica could also have hotels involved in the management of the farms by specifying what they want to have grown and having farmers meet that demand as Audley Shaw had argued back in June 2018 as noted in this article “Minister Shaw Wants Hotels to Purchase More Local Produce”, published July 13, 2018 by Chad Bryan, The Jamaica Information Service. 

This in order to make us ready for a future of food scarcity as the world population increases as explained in my blog article entitled  United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says Insects is the Meat for the next 20 years”. 

Still, Jamaica has to take small steps......or decided to makes sum huge leaps of faith, as increasing Global Temperatures threaten to make Drought a yearlong phenomenon.