65 year old Siân Jones began her career in IT 48 years ago, with a focus on information security. Back then, it was more about data processing than IT as we know it today. After working with the likes of banks, healthcare, and pharmaceutical companies, she landed a corporate job in an overseas jurisdiction as CIO of an international group in Cyprus. 8 years ago, she made the move to the UK where she began doing some consultancy work. Siân was intrigued by Bitcoin and its application of cryptography. She thought it a novel use, and so began attending meetup groups in London and elsewhere to learn more about it. She confesses: “In those days they were nearly all start-up hipster entrepreneurs with ideas on how to use Blockchain – I was the oldest in the room!” However, people were interested in what Siân had to say due to her background in regulatory compliance. She understood the old financial services world – the traditional one – but also the technological. Straddling these two disciplines was to her advantage, and she soon began advising start-ups in her consultancy career.
In October 2016, the Gibraltar Financial Services Commission (GFSC) joined the Government of Gibraltar’s DLT working group. Siân became a consultant for what developed into DLT Regulation, which came into force In January of this year. Back in December, she was asked to come to Gibraltar permanently.
But what is DLT, also known as blockchain? Distributed Ledger Technology is a means of digitally recording, updating and storing information in multiple places at the same time. The first blockchain database was first devised in 2008 by Satoshi Nakamoto; the name used by the unknown person (or people) who invented bitcoin. This database solved the problem of ‘double spending’ digital currency, as every time a transaction is made, it’s made known to everyone on the ‘chain’, meaning everyone maintains a true copy of the ledger. Siân explains: “Everyone synchronises their ledger to make sure the ‘fingerprint’ is the same. This fingerprint changes according to totality of information on the ledger. If someone’s ledger is out of kilter it becomes apparent, because it doesn’t agree with the fingerprint that everyone else has agreed on. “This blockchain technology is really a way of providing trust in a trustless world. That’s not that everyone is untrustworthy, but we can’t always know who the ones we can trust are.” [The notion of blockchain as ‘The Trust Machine’ was a headline in The Economist in 2015.]
Whether you’re clued up on cryptocurrencies or not, the numerous other benefits of DLT are undeniable. For example, health records; this technology can be used to share data to many health providers, meaning the emergency clinic you visit abroad will have your medical information (as much or as little as you consent to) from your doctor back home at the touch of a button. Another key way DLT can be harnessed is for land registry. Large parts of the developing world have no record of who owns what property. “Generations have been dispossessed because some logging company wants to buy a swathe of land. Blockchain can provide solutions to financial exclusion and restoring trust in government, especially in places where corruption is rife.”
However, this technology has brought with it some tension as some draw comparisons between readily available personal information in multiple places to a ‘Big Brother’ situation. Siân reassures this is not the case. “Privacy isn’t an absolute, nor is it state controlled. Some people confuse privacy with an absolute right to anonymity. Google knows everything we do, but data protection legislation ensures this doesn’t get shared without consent. In the DLT world, there are similar mechanisms that can be used. Most people have nothing to hide and are therefore quite happy, in personal circumstances, for their information to be available. Tools to detect money laundering and fight illegal activity already exist. While cash can be untraceable, digital currency is not nearly anonymous as some people would have you believe.”
With her extensive technical knowledge of DLT and how it can and should be implemented, it is unsurprising that Siân was asked by the GFSC in December to relocate to Gibraltar. Whilst having a drink at the University of Gibraltar, overlooking the straits on a clear sunny day, it’s a decision she doesn’t regret making.
Another facet to Siân that makes her such an interesting, strong female figure is that she had to work a little harder than most to get there.
Whilst participating in a European Women Payments Network (EWPN) conference in Amsterdam last autumn, Siân remembers a session where women were expressing how they felt challenged in the workplace, and how they needed to gain confidence in what was often a ‘man’s world’. Some women frequently feel they’re challenged by expectations and often by a feeling of somehow being second best. Siân reveals the words she spoke once it came to her turn to speak. “I said ‘look, none of you need to feel that you’re in some kind of minority – a minority of 50% makes no sense mathematically. Just look at me; as a Jewish, transgender woman who is also a lesbian, I’m in a minority of one. There aren’t too many like me!’” Siân has an incredibly, refreshing approach to the age-old debate of discrimination: “All we can be is ourselves, and do the best that each and every one of us can do as individuals.”
Whether or not women consider themselves on an equal playing field to their male colleagues, there is still the prevalent issue of the gender pay gap. In January of this year, the BBC faced backlash over a recent audit that revealed a gender pay gap of 9.3%. According to BBC Women, this issue is not simply down to the disproportionate number of men in higher-paid roles, but rather that many women are being paid less than their male counterparts for performing exactly the same roles. Siân acknowledges this area of contention, adding: “There is no merit in a woman who is doing a similar job as well as a man being treated any differently. The case for being remunerated needs to be made on that basis, not through an equality argument. Equality should be inherent.”
But how does Gibraltar fare when it comes to the delicate symbiosis between men and women in the workplace? Siân believes it’s not a numbers game, but instead about the people. “Forget men and women; I work with 90+ individuals. I am unaware of any discrimination, positive or otherwise. We are a beacon of how it should be. The GFSC has a women friendly, child friendly, and family friendly working environment. Employees are offered flexi-hours as well as maternity and paternity leave – it’s equal and family-centric. Nobody is victimised if they turn up late one day because they had to deal with a sick child. The work-life balance is equal.”
Gibraltar can often be seen as an example to the rest of the world in many ways. We have every type of ethnicity and religion in and around the Mediterranean, all living harmoniously as we learn to get on with each other and look beyond labels.
Siân agrees: “One of the things that I love about Gibraltar is how accepting people have been. It’s one of the places in the world where I feel totally comfortable; where everybody seems to be warm and open.”
A warm smile sweeps across Siân’s face as she adds: I have an incredibly supportive partner, who I am very lucky to have, who in one sense is more protective about me than I am. I am far less conscious of being regarded as different. It says more about other people when that happens! I go out in the world as me and don’t care about how other people perceive me.
Siân’s confidence has come as a result of being able to be herself, both in and out of the workplace. Not only are her comments on the booming world of DLT to be heard intently, but also those on life itself: “No woman should listen to the sexist tripe and feel about herself that she’s any less. I look in the mirror every morning and all I see is me.”