By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
THE Nassau-headquartered Fidelity Group of Companies is moving to "centralise back office operations" in the Bahamas, Tribune Business was told yesterday, with staff costs and quality here said to be "far better or superior" to the other territories it operates in.
Anwer Sunderji, the Group's chairman and chief executive, said all the back office functions related to its Cayman Islands-based credit card business had been moved to Nassau, with plans for the accounting unit to follow suit once software compatibility was achieved.
While unwilling to commit to the number of jobs this consolidation would create in the Bahamas, Mr Sunderji did confirm it would lead to new hires.
He told Tribune Business: "We are centralising back office operations. There are other banks in the Cayman Islands and Barbados, from where we are moving staff functions to Nassau.
"We are finding that the quality of staff and cost of staff are far better or superior in Nassau than in the Cayman Islands."
Adding that the move was taking place at the Group level, Mr Sunderji told this newspaper: "We're hopeful that it will reduce overall costs at the group level.
"We've moved the entire credit card operations from Cayman to Nassau, and we are planning to move the accounting set-up progressively over time as soon as the operations adopt the same core computer software.
"We know we're getting value in the Bahamas relative to other jurisdictions, so want to move as many positions into the Bahamas as possible."
The Fidelity Group operates and owns several well-known financial entities, including Fidelity Bank & Trust International. It owns a 50 per cent stake in RoyalFidelity Merchant Bank & Trust, the investment banking joint venture with Royal Bank of Canada, and a majority 76 per cent stake in BISX-listed Fidelity Bank (Bahamas), the retail bank.
Fidelity's decision to consolidate and centralise back office operations in the Bahamas, together with Mr Sunderji's comments, are a boost for this jurisdiction and its competitiveness as a player in the international financial services industry. They also counter perceptions that the Bahamas has priced itself out of the market, and is too expensive a place to do business.
Consolidation trends, partly fuelled by mergers and acquisitions at the parent bank level, are continuing to hit the Bahamas and other international financial services centres (IFCs).
With institutions seeking to reduce costs, many head offices are questioning whether they need to maintain presences in a variety of IFCs or, given the advent of the Internet and technology, they can concentrate their presence in one regional hub.
As a result, the Bahamas is fighting a competitive battle with other IFCs to become the financial centre of choice in the Western Hemisphere, at least as far as consolidation is concerned.
Recently, CITCO Fund Services (Bahamas) announced a restructuring that will see jobs and functions leave this nation, indicating the financial services industry's vulnerability to such trends,. But Fidelity's move shows the Bahamas remains attractive, and that it can compete on business consolidation.