NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Exuma and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper yesterday lamented what he described as a ‘troubling trend’ of Canadian commercial banks diminishing their presence in the Caribbean.
Cooper stressed Bahamian banking sector control is achievable during his contribution in Parliament on the Investment Funds Bill Amendment.
“It is something I want to bring to the attention of this House, and have placed on the record of this house and that is what appears to be the inclination of Canadian banks to diminish their presence in the Caribbean after years and years of billions in profits, without so much as a courtesy call to anyone in the Caribbean,” he said.
“I have long bemoaned, inside this place, and in other venues, the unfair and efficient practices of what many local banks are engaged in; including fees, delays, holding cheques for inordinate periods notwithstanding the automatic clearing house.”
He said: “ We note that Canadian banks which have been here for decades with multiple outlets with massive books of Bahamian loans. They have been shutting down branches, leaving our Family Islands unbanked and levying fees that cripple consumers. Where is the love? Where is the loyalty?
The minister of labor had promised to look into it, but nothing has come of it. Now, we hear of another troubling indicator from a large local bank, primarily owned by Canadian.”
Cooper noted that late last year CIBC announced that it had reached an agreement on the purchase of a portion of CIBC’s shares in its Caribbean entity, FirstCaribbean International Bank Limited (“FirstCaribbean”) by GNB Financial Group Limited.
GNB is wholly owned by Starmites Corporation S.ar.L, the financial holding company of the Gilinski Group.
The Gilinski Group has banking operations in Colombia, Peru, Paraguay, Panama, and Cayman Islands with approximately US $15 billion in combined assets.
Cooper said: “This, along with the pending demise of FirstCaribbean, raises the strategic question of whether regional regulators ought not to unite and ensure that regional players, who are loyal to the Caribbean region not be given first opportunity to acquire these banks and these portfolios.”
Last December, the Royal Bank of Canada announced such a move stating that it had reached definitive agreements to sell all of its banking operations in the eastern Caribbean.
The sale encompasses the branches of Royal Bank of Canada in Antigua, Dominica, Montserrat, St. Lucia, and St. Kitts and Nevis, as well as regional businesses operating under RBC Royal Bank Holdings (EC) Limited in Nevis, Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.The consortium of five financial entities purchasing includes: 1st National Bank of St. Lucia, Antigua Commercial Bank Ltd., National Bank of Dominica Ltd., the Bank of Montserrat and Bank of Nevis Ltd.
According to Cooper, the contraction of Canadian commercial banks in the region might be an occasion for CARICOM to ‘assert itself’ in supporting regional banks.
“If we continue to allow outside players to determine the fate of our local banking systems, without the opportunity to chart our destiny, then we might as well have remained colonies,” he said.
“As I repeatedly point out, Bahamians have taken control of the insurance sector.The banking sector control is achievable as well. I lament that we as Bahamians do not band together to prevent this. Will Bahamians now have to wait for loan approvals from Colombia?”
Cooper said: “It makes no sense. At the very least, we should have sought consultation with our Caribbean counterparts to see how best to marshal our resources and keep this wealth and these banks within CARICOM.”