Financial Services, Trade and Industry Minister Brent Symonette.
By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
THE announced discontinuation of many of Royal Bank of Canada’s in house services in a push to become more digital could signal similar actions by other banks in the country, raising concerns that more Bahamians may soon be unemployed, Minister of Financial Services, Trade and Industry Brent Symonette told The Tribune.
Realising this, Mr Symonette said in an interview yesterday, the government sought other avenues for Bahamians to be able to find work. He was referring to the controversial Commercial Enterprises Bill (CEB).
RBC has announced several changes to be implemented in January. Deposits and transfers to other RBC clients’ accounts, with the exception of RBC FINCO clients, will no longer be accepted over the counter as of January 2; fast deposits will no longer be available as of January 15; and as of January 31, wire transfers will not be processed over the counter and standing orders for credit card payments will be discontinued among other things.
Instead, the bank has advised customers to use its ATMs to deposit cash or cheques and its mobile app to pay bills, credit cards, transfer funds, send wire transfers, check credit card balances and make payments to other RBC clients.
RBC has also announced it is ending certain services for non-clients. This includes cheque cashing, bill payments, taking deposits or exchanging foreign currency.
“More banks will be doing it over time,” Mr Symonette said when The Tribune contacted him.
“But in terms of computerisation and going digital, there isn’t much the government can do.
“It’s going to affect the entire Caribbean. If you saw, Royal Bank closed its branch in Bimini and also Spanish Wells. That’s moving towards more of a digital banking system. You notice in banks all over the place automated teller machines (ATMs) are becoming more of the norm than people behind the counter and the effect there is going to be on employment of Bahamians in the traditional banking sector.
“So, I think that is something we have to worry about and look at to make sure we can find other jobs.
“This tail ends to where we were talking about the Commercial Enterprises Bill. We were trying to find other avenues for Bahamians to be able to find work. So with all this opposition is going on about the Commercial Enterprises Bill, no one is talking about making new jobs and here we are talking about it and then the PLP is here saying we aren’t doing anything for Bahamians. Well these are the exact same Bahamians we are trying to do something for.”
With the banking sector downsizing, the CEB was envisioned by the Minnis administration to compensate for the job losses, Mr Symonette said.
The bill would allow foreigners or Bahamians to receive “economic concessions” if they establish specified types of businesses in the Bahamas with an investment of no less than $250,000.
Such businesses would be entitled to a specified number of work permits for executives, managers and people with “specialised knowledge.” Attorney General Carl Bethel recently announced the bill was amended to remove the $250,000 threshold for Bahamians to take advantage of the bill’s concessions.
“We want to go out and get businesses who will look at basically the same skills these people have - computer literate, well educated and stable,” Mr Symonette said. “These are the people who will need the jobs we are aiming to create.”
Progressive Liberal Party Chairman Fred Mitchell last week accused the government of attempting to “flood the country with workers from outside the country and undercut the market for young Bahamians” with the introduction of the Commercial Enterprises Bill.
Mr Mitchell also criticised Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar for calling the PLP “crazy” for opposing the bill.
Last Thursday, Mr D’Aguilar told Tribune Business that the Minnis administration was trying to reverse brain drain of college graduates and highly skilled workers by using the bill to attract new business.
The PLP pledged to repeal the legislation when the party returns to power and warned investors and people who may accept the bill’s benefits to “think carefully” before doing so.
Debate on the bill begins today in the Senate.