Overstock invests $4 million in Caribbean firm working on digital currencies

Bitcoin (virtual currency) coins are seen in an illustration picture taken at La Maison du Bitcoin in Paris, France, May 27, 2015. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. online retailer Inc OSTK.O said on Friday it has invested $4 million in a financial technology company that is working to move countries in the Caribbean region to adopt digital currencies.

The investment was announced at a media conference in Barbados attended by principals from the financial firm, Barbados-based Bitt, and Overstock, according to a statement from the U.S. retailer.

“A major impediment to economic advancement around the world is the fact that the vast majority of humans are unbanked,” said Overstock Chief Executive Patrick Byrne.

“Yet mobile penetration in some countries exceeds 100 percent. Bitt has a vision for the Caribbean of frictionless mobile cash, beginning with central banks transparently issuing digital fiat which is then exchanged on a blockchain.”

In February of 2016, Bitt launched a digitized Barbadian dollar on the bitcoin blockchain, backed by the Central Bank of Barbados.

The blockchain is the underlying technology behind the digital currency bitcoin. On Friday, bitcoin traded at $416.19 on the BitStamp platform.

The company intends to digitize all of the fiat currencies found in the Caribbean and place them on the blockchain so they can be easily traded among the islands, bringing modern solutions to a region historically limited by an inefficient exchange and settlement systems, the Overstock statement said.

Overstock has been one of the earliest advocates of digital currencies. It was the first U.S. company with annual sales of at least $1 billion to accept bitcoins as a mode of payment.

Reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss; Editing by Steve Orlofsky