This week we hear from Anthony Clerk, CEO of Republic Bank (Barbados) Limited
What trends are you seeing in the finance market generally and specifically in banking? What’s shifting?
There’s more competition now than ever. The non-bank players have been making – strides – folks like credit unions, large retailers, peer-to-peer lenders and so on. It’s a tough fight for everyone. Add to this the fact that interest rates have been coming down, partly through government’s removal of the minimum savings rate and partly through economic stagnation, and you see a difficult _operating environment. The banks are also being required to increase their reserve requirement with the Central Bank, which may inhibit liquidity for an economic revival.
What could the industry do better in say, technology?
Well, technology is still a work in progress for us. In this part of the World, we’re generally followers in this industry, we tend to lag, to watch and study how things develop. But adoption will come. However, we have other challenges as well. Right now, customers get annoyed when we “on-board” them – that’s the new word for opening an account – because of all the information we are required to gather about them these days.
But they’re the new legal regulations, and we must comply. Once upon a time, you could open an account simply by bringing in your ID card. But nowadays it’s far more complicated, and customers are naturally annoyed. The banking industry’s problem is that customers blame us, even though the new rules aren’t ours, we must apply them.
All these new requirements make the process complicated and slow things down.
But even after all this, there’s still too much paper in system, and it’s expensive to manage. Government still issues a lot of cheques , and our industry is working with them to reduce that.
Government needs to facilitate private sector growth; that’s what we need. They must provide the environment for the economy to succeed. For me personally, even as a CARICOM citizen, it took me several repetitive steps to get my work-status here. That level of bureaucracy is counter-productive.
How bullish are you (or not) for the future of big banks in the Caribbean?
I’m pretty bullish on banking, actually. It will be less bricks-and-mortar and more electronic in its nature. Banks have already been rationalising their staff numbers to cope with the new realities. Look, younger people don’t want to come into the bank, and we must find a way to deal with them. We’re already on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LINKED IN and we need to do more in the digital space.
We need to reach out and find new ways, to compete with our determined new competitors. I’m not at all depressed about the future. The Republic Bank Group is exploring ways to partner with Fintech companies and adopt developments like the blockchain to improve our efficiency and the way we do business.
It will be a series of new fronts for us, and my one wish is that we speed things up.
And one more: On a broader front, what is your vision of small vulnerable economies like Barbados in the future?
Barbados used to be a place where things worked; the country was known and respected for that. But that’s changed over the years, and not for the better. Even so, with the right business climate, there is still so much opportunity to improve: developments like medical school tourism, retirement communities, technology partnerships, FOREX-earning industries and so on.
Over many years of coming here, I’ve seen the infrastructure deteriorate noticeably, and it’s harder to do business. Bridgetown also needs a renewal programme, there are more vagrants these days, and crime and corruption – if you believe what you hear – are on the increase.
The new government must nip these trends in the bud or they will become endemic. I have seen this happen in Trinidad and I don’t want to see it happen here in Barbados.