By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
AN Abaco condominium association yesterday accused Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) of leaving it financially crippled due to the "unexplained" closure of its account.
Dan Proctor, chairman of Treasure Cay's Atlantis Condominiums Complex, told Tribune Business that loss of its "key" account would create "ripple effects" for the local economy by rendering it unable to pay Bahamian vendors, maintenance men and their property manager.
Disclosing that the 40-unit Association was also unable to pay due taxes and insurance premiums, Mr Proctor said he only found out two days ago that an account normally containing "thousands of dollars" had been reduced to a zero balance with no prior notification.
He added that phone calls and e-mails, including messages exchanged with RBC's Marsh Harbour branch manager, had failed to remedy the situation through re-opening the account and returning its funds.
Pointing out that Atlantis Condominiums' account had been with RBC's Treasure Cay branch since 2009, prior to that location's closure, Mr Proctor said the negative publicity for the Bahamas and the bank would likely be "magnified 40 times" given that the owners resided in multiple jurisdictions.
In an e-mail sent to Nathaniel Beneby, RBC's managing director for the Bahamas and Turks & Caicos, Mr Proctor wrote: "Following... [the] failure to resolve this issue successfully through your Marsh Harbour branch, I am seeking your assistance with reference to RBC Savings Account number..... in the name of Atlantis Condominium Common Area.
"This account was opened at the now-closed Treasure Cay branch in 2009, and has been in good standing since that time. Upon receipt, only two days ago, of a statement for the period ending November 7, 2017, it became apparent that our savings were no longer available to us...... "I see that on November 7 your bank, without any notification or authorisation, unilaterally decided to issue a debit override which has caused thousands of dollars in deposits to suddenly become zero. Further, we are now unable to access or transfer those funds to be able to pay our Bahamian vendors.
"I stress that this was done without any notice and represents an illegal seizure. Failure to immediately restore both the account and funds will leave us no choice but to seek legal action and to enjoin others who have also been subject to your..... actions."
The Atlantis Condominiums situation highlights just how widespread the impact has been from RBC's decision to close the accounts of foreign customers who failed to meet its deadline to respond to requests further Know Your Customer (KYC) verification.
Mr Beneby told Tribune Business that RBC was "working through" the matter and re-opening client accounts once the latter contacted them, suggesting the impact was largely confined to those with "no substantial economic ties" to the Bahamas.
However, it appears that persons with business and real estate interests have been caught up in RBC's 'drag-net', with Mr Proctor telling Tribune Business that the Atlantis Condominiums Association has been in existence since the 1970s.
The Association's experience mirrors almost exactly that of fellow Treasure Cay condo owner David Hare, the world-renowned landscape and marine artist, whose work - including scenes of the Bahamas - has been purchased by royalty in both the UK and Dubai.
He, too, only discovered that his account had been closed when he received a statement with the same 'debit override' tag-line and a 'zero' balance. Mr Hare yesterday confirmed he had finally recovered the funds in the account at time of closure, following several message and e-mail exchanges with RBC since Tuesday this week.
Mr Proctor, meanwhile, said of Atlantis Condominiums' situation: "The particular account in question has been open since 2009, with tens and tens of thousands of dollars in it. It had several thousand dollars in at the time of closure. We use that to pay Bahamian vendors with.
"We're going to have some very unhappy landscapers, property managers, insurance companies and so forth. The problem for us is this account is really a key account, as it's in Bahamian dollars, and our vendors are typically small operators. I don't want to say they're pay cheque to pay cheque, but they depend on prompt payment.
"When you put in a Canadian dollar or US dollar cheque, the time that takes to clear is long, and these folks require prompt payment or they take their work somewhere else. They see this as a major problem," he continued.
"We're continually moving money in and out of there, and this time of year is a critical time because we will have typically deposited another $25,000 from homeowners coming into that account. We had to stop that; someone tried to put money in to pay their fees, and couldn't because the account was closed."
This shows how the RBC account closures are negatively impacting the Bahamian economy, potentially leaving vendors and freelance contractors without the due income to service their own obligations and spending needs.
Mr Proctor disclosed that the Government's revenues will also be impacted, with the Association due to pay dockage and licensing fees soon. "There are going to be a lot of relationships that are strained at the very least," he added.
"If we find ourselves without insurance coverage as a result of this, it's going to be horrendous. None of us owners live there year-round. I live in Michigan, 1,500 miles away, and we depend on a local property manager, paying them from this account. We have an insurance bill that's due and can't pay it because the funds aren't there. It's quite a ripple effect."
Mr Proctor added that Atlantis Condominiums' owners came from countries including the US, UK, Canada, Switzerland, France and South American nations, and warned: "It's large enough that for every owner there are many people they speak to, so the publicity is magnified 40 times'.
"It's a pretty high profile complex, right in the centre of Treasure Cay. Word gets around pretty quickly. Already I'm hearing from others, with two callers trying to secure new banking relationships and move funds. Even though they haven't lost funds yet, you don't treat customers that way. It sounds to me that this is pretty widespread."
Mr Proctor emphasised that, like Mr Hare, there was "no notification, no communication, no dialogue" before RBC closed the Association's account, and it had been unable to resolve the situation despite receiving several e-mails from the bank's Marsh Harbour manager "saying everything was fine".
"We have no idea where our funds are, no communication from the bank, no satisfactory response to our e-mails and phone messages," he added. "Our property manager tried to go into the bank in person, and that has not worked.
"If you have a customer relationship you take care of customers because if you don't they will leave. At this point we don't want any money to go into our account because it's questionable. We had electronic access to be able to view and transfer and so forth, and can't even go in and determine what funds gave been moved, what are still there. It's pretty unsettling."
Mr Proctor told Tribune Business that Atlantis Condominiums was looking at alternative options for its payments needs, "none of which involve RBC". He acknowledged, though, the challenges facing persons not physically present in the Bahamas when it came to opening bank accounts, due to all the due diligence requirements.
"It's critical that we have a central repository for all our owners' money, and ensure we are able to distribute money to our vendors," he said. "RBC has taken that away from us."