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By Anna Belsey

Takeaways from 2024 Chamber of Commerce Economic Forum: Technology emerged as a driving force for Cayman’s future economy

Takeaways from 2024 Chamber of Commerce Economic Forum: Technology emerged as a driving force for Cayman’s future economy

The 2024 Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce Economic Forum, held in early February, offered an opportunity for government and private-sector leaders to gather and discuss the future of the Cayman Islands. What emerged from these presentations was a strong focus on innovation, in particular technological innovation, as the future of Cayman’s economy, and the ways in which government and the private sector working together can achieve resilience for Cayman’s economy through future proofing.  

As a sponsor, Dart had the opportunity to include a speaker in the line-up and was fortunate to be able to facilitate a presentation by Brandon Caruana, CEO of Tenet Bank and founder of Code(Cayman), at the Forum. Dart’s Chief of Staff – and the Chamber of Commerce President-Elect – Joanne Lawson also participated, interviewing the Deputy Premier André Ebanks on his ministry’s activities. 

Brandon Caruana spoke about the spirit of Cayman as an “innovation island”, emphasising that the innovation economy demands a persistent effort and patience to flourish. Here are some key takeaways from his presentation of what he sees as necessary for evolution – and what is already in progress – in the technology industry in Cayman: 

  • Cayman’s innovation economy: Within the Cayman innovation economy, the tech industry encompasses entities that adopt strategies for high growth without the limitations of geographical distance.  
  • Innovation vs. capital and labour: Mr. Caruana referenced a study from the OECD that stated that 85% of the economy is generated by innovation compared to 15% generated by capital and labour.  
  • Predictions for the future: Mr. Caruana shared he “follows the capital” to predict the future, and the capital shows that over US$600 billion has been raised for technology investment over the past five years. His predictions for 2030 include:  
    • fintech becoming a mature market segment 
    • lines between real life and virtual life continuing to blur 
    • connected machines becoming more autonomous 
    • energy requirements exponentially increasing 
    • gene editing being at the beginning of its bell curve in adoption.  
  • Code(Cayman): Code(Cayman) is a local nonprofit that Mr. Caruana cofounded to help empower minds through its free tech literacy programme. He stated that “being dedicated to building knowledge and spreading that knowledge is a life mission of mine and to that end we founded Code(Cayman).”  
  • The future of Cayman as “Innovation Island”: Mr. Caruana shared his vision for the future of Cayman as “Innovation Island”, stating that it will require us to protect our natural paradise, prioritise big data over the concrete jungle, leverage our financial expertise and introduce strong regulation, compliance, and governance, attract and protect intellectual property, and keep education at the forefront. 
man stands at podium presenting
Brandon Caruana, CEO of Tenet Bank, presents at Chamber of Commerce Economic Forum on 2 February 2024. Photos: Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce

The Economic Forum also featured an address from the Honourable Premier of the Cayman Islands and Minister for Finance & Economic Development, Juliana O’Connor-Connolly. In her remarks, she mentioned the importance of her government’s focus on future proofing, and that it had informed much of their budget for 2024 to 2025. 

“…[F]uture proofing to increase resilience also focuses on protecting our economy against future shocks and challenges,” she said. “We recognise that as the Cayman Islands economy continues to grow, and the world faces transformational shifts in global markets, we must consider potential impacts that this may have on our future and recognise the need to embrace new economic opportunities.” 

A central point of this future proofing naturally involves education, and the Premier emphasised the focus that many of the budget’s capital projects have on improving the standard of education in Cayman. “The Cabinet was recently presented with statistics which show that individuals with technical or vocational skills earned an average of 13% more than those with just a high school education, and the average earnings of individuals with a first degree was almost twice that of those with just a high school education,” the Premier explained. 

Education was something the Deputy Premier also spoke to during his conversation with President-Elect Joanne Lawson, emphasising the need for human capital planning for projects planned within his remit. “I am still surprised that some of our young people still don’t know how much financial services offers,” he said. “Not just the subject areas of lawyering and accounting and banking, but some of the other stuff you can do in financial services – it goes back to tech, AI, marketing. They just don’t seem to understand the breadth of it. And all of that is going to require training, job opportunities…”  

Woman and man in conversation on stage
Dart's Chief of Staff and Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce President-Elect Joanne Lawson talks with Cayman Islands Deputy Premier André Ebanks on stage at Chamber of Commerce Economic Forum.

He emphasised the role the private sector can play too in offering to train the next generation. “…[P]eople can take an apprenticeship, polish them, nurture them and take them into the fold.” 

And, of course, technology and innovation is key to the future of the jurisdiction. The Premier mentioned that the Ministry of Investment, Innovation and Social Development, which is under the remit of the Deputy Premier, would be revamping its services to benefit Cayman’s most vulnerable people, “advancing the digital and innovation capacities of the Cayman Islands and facilitating investment opportunities that support social development and facilities in the community.” 

The Deputy Premier gave one such example of this by teasing the rollout of a long-awaited national digital ID, confirming to Mrs. Lawson that its rollout is anticipated “by the end of the year.” 

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