by Joseph Young
Barclays, a British multi-billion dollar banking and financial services company, has named Estonia and South Korea as the top two countries in the international rankings of its Digital Development Index.
The Digital Development Index, a survey-based project conducted by Barclays with an aim toward understanding the state of the U.K.’s digital economy, is a global ranking of countries primarily based on the level of digital skills and confidence of workers.
Estonia and South Korea, which the Barclays research team describes as “Digital Tigers,” have made significant progress in the development of various innovative technologies that are applicable across major industries.
The Barclays research team’s global data suggests that employees in Estonia and South Korea lead the world in digital skills policy, workplace skills, digital skills in compulsory education, and broadband access and policy, which in turn lead to the creation of innovative and futuristic technologies.
Estonia is a country that has been advertised as one of the locations for technology startups and entrepreneurs to launch new products and services. Over the past decade, Estonia has produced prominent fintech startups including Transferwise, Fortumo, and Erply, earning the nickname E-Stonia.
There are three key reasons behind startups’ preference for Estonia: ideal economic environment, digitalized economy, and president’s passion for e-solutions.
Since early 2015, Estonian startups and government have shown increasing interest in emerging fintech platforms and the blockchain technology. The country’s politicians and government-supported establishments have particularly been involved in the development of the blockchain technology, due to its ability to store irrefutable and unalterable data at low costs.
On November 26, 2015, the Estonian government entered into a strategic partnership with Bitnation, a blockchain startup that offers governing bodies with blockchain-based systems for transparency and real-time visibility.
“Via the international Bitnation Public Notary, e-residents, regardless of where they live or do business, will be able to notarize their marriages, birth certificates, business contracts, and much more on the blockchain,” stated the Estonian government.
Four months after the involvement of the Estonian government, a government-supported establishment called the eHealth foundation secured a strategic partnership with data security startup Guardtime on March 3, 2016, to store over 1 million patient health records on a custom-built blockchain network.
The eHealth foundation merged its existing Oracle database with Guardtime’s keyless signature infrastructure blockchain, to provide greater transparency and enhanced security for its patients, customers, and employees.
“Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves has repeatedly pointed out the biggest threat in cyberspace is integrity, and in particular the integrity of patient healthcare records. We are proud to announce that Estonia is again leading the world in digital innovation,” Guardtime CEO Mike Gault stated.
The ability of the Estonian government and its foundations to courageously test out emerging technologies rightfully earned the country a top spot at the Barclays rankings.
South Korea, a country often perceived as the leader technology in all of Asia, has secured a top position on the Barclay’s Digital Development Index, because of the country’s startups and government agencies’ tolerance of new technologies and their potential.
When Bitcoin and the blockchain technology was first introduced in Korea in early 2014, the majority of the Korean population was skeptical of the technology, primarily because of the concept of a purely digital currency.
Despite the nationwide skepticism, numerous Korean entrepreneurs launched bitcoin and blockchain-focused businesses, to spur the growth of the FinTech and blockchain markets in Asia. Startups like Korbit and Coinplug recognized the large market South Korea offered with its highly advanced financial industry.
Within a year of operations, Korbit and Coinplug successfully demonstrated the potential of the blockchain technology and bitcoin in Korea, securing hundreds of thousands of dollars from Silicon Valley investors.
In early 2014, Korbit CEO stated, “Korbit has already reached profitability in less than a year of operations. In order to grow our lead and global competitiveness, however, we brought in strategic investors who can add critical value in addition to their investment dollars. We’ll be leveraging their expertise in order to realize Bitcoin’s full potential in the years ahead.”
Recognizing the efforts of blockchain and bitcoin-focused startups, the Central Bank of Korea and the Korean government continuously supported emerging fintech and blockchain startups, launching various investigations and campaigns to reduce fraud and scams in the industry.
For instance, the South Korean law enforcement collaborated with the Korean Central Bank in September of 2015 to terminate altcoin pump-and-dump schemes because, according the government, “it harmed the reputation of bitcoin and startups focusing on the developing technology.”
The economically reasonable and fair policies of countries like Estonia and South Korea on digital products and emerging technologies have allowed the two countries to establish themselves as two of the largest technology-driven nations around the world.
The 10 countries the Digital Development Index included in its ranking are Sweden, the U.K., China, the U.S., and Germany, which all have interestingly been recognized as leading financial hubs for fintech and blockchain startups by venture capital research firms including the Outlier Ventures research team.