Government collaborating on banking access solutions for the Family Islands

Government collaborating on banking access solutions for the Family Islands

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The Davis administration in collaboration with the Central Bank and the Clearing Banks Association is working on viable solutions to address banking access in the Family Islands according to Acting Prime Minister and Acting Minister of Finance Chester Cooper, while acknowledging that there is still frustration at the national level with banks and banking.

Cooper, the Exuma and Ragged Island MP, spoke at the opening of Fidelity Bank on Exuma and noted that the island has been witnessing significant progress, with full employment and a desire for new investments.

“In the face of challenges and changes, we recognize the loss of banking services across many Family Islands.  It’s a loss keenly felt and one that highlights the importance of accessible and reliable banking within our communities. The absence of such essential services impacts us all, affecting our businesses, our daily lives, and our ability to thrive and grow,” said Cooper.

“However, amidst these challenges, there’s hope on the horizon. Not only do we now have Fidelity physically on the island, but the Davis – Cooper administration, in collaboration with the Central Bank and the Clearing Banks Association, is actively working on viable solutions. We must continue to be intentional in resolving this vexing issue.”

Cooper expressed that it takes too long to open a bank account, obtain a credit card or a replacement card, get a loan application approved, or receive reliable responses to queries.

“ I hope that you will buck this trend in Exuma and that we can hold you out as a model for the rest of the industry.  We hope that your work here will not only provide accessible and modern banking solutions directly to our communities, fostering convenience and reliability – but will also renew our confidence in banking again. You see, after a 50-year marriage, that other bank walked out on us, leaving ATM machines that are often broken or have no cash. We trusted them to be there with us as they promised they would be, but after they got what they wanted they walked out on us.,” said Cooper.

Central Bank Governor John Rolle stated that the regulator is undertaking several initiatives to promote access to banking and financial inclusion for all of our communities—many of which still have less than what is available in Exuma.

“The first is that financial institutions are encouraged to accelerate their thinking around agency banking—meaning, relying on outsourced arrangements to connect with and provide services to persons in the Family Islands. The Central Bank is developing a regulatory framework to facilitate and encourage such arrangements, which we would like to have concluded in 2024,” said Rolle.

“A second point is that Exuma still typifies financial inclusion challenges, which will have a digital component to resolution. Fidelity, and all of our licensed financial institutions, will have a role to play in this process. It means also having the capacity to provide the onboarding leg for services through digital channels; taking P2B payments capability beyond credit and debit cards, to safe and interoperable mobile phone applications; and equipping all businesses and individuals with the options to send and receive payments digitally.”

Rolle also noted that cash is not going to disappear from use, however it is costly to store and transport, is administratively less efficient for businesses to keep track of, aggravates security and money laundering concerns, and is costliest to maintain on the Family Islands. 

“Therefore, it is in our national development interest to reduce our reliance on physical cash. Again, for financial inclusion to be positively impacted, all persons in The Bahamas must have the right access to digital money and other alternatives to cash. This is also the direction we are continuing to push at the Central Bank. Also, we are commissioning work in the area of the SandDollar on how peer-to-peer and P2B payments can still be safely and securely completed when persons lose data connections,” said Rolle. 

LeMarque Drew, general manager of Cash N Go’s which has partnered with Fidelity Bank in Exuma said, “It is our hope that this marks the first of many great partnerships, where we use our platform to bring a sense of ease to doing business in our nation.  As we present the Cash N’ Go platform to you, we present the ability to perform multiple transactions in one location, send & receive money, perform government pay services, pay utility bills, and purchase airline tickets. Today, Cash N’ Go maintains 20-plus locations all across the Bahamas and continues to be the premier one-stop shop.”