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Imf: Bahamas Bank Fees Rise Up To 186%

Central Bank of the Bahamas.

Central Bank of the Bahamas.

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Bahamian banks have increased fees for cross-border transactions by as much as 186 per cent over the last five years, due to growing pressure on their international ties.

A recently-published International Monetary Fund (IMF) working paper further exposes the impact correspondent banking ‘de-risking’ is having on Bahamas-based institutions and their clients, with wire transfer fees alone having increased by 20 per cent since 2012.

It reveals how the fee increases, and extra time spent on compliance and administrative work, have negatively impacted the financial services industry and a wider Bahamian economy that is primarily based on international trade and services exports.

The IMF paper warned that besides further depressing growth and jobs in the financial services industry, ‘de-risking’ was also “complicating efforts to diversify the economy”, with many institutions “vulnerable” to further reductions in the number of relationships they hold with foreign correspondents.

It acknowledged, though, that the decision by some global banks to terminate relationships with their Bahamian counterparts was driven, at least in part, by their “discomfort” in providing services to institutions that do business with the web shops.

Drawing on the Central Bank of the Bahamas’ correspondent ‘de-risking’ survey from August 2016, the IMF paper revealed that fees charged by Bahamian banks to their customers for correspondent banking-related services had increased by between 8 per cent to 186 per cent over the last five years.

This represents the highest increase in the Caribbean, although both the IMF and Central Bank rated the ‘de-risking’ impact on the Bahamas to-date as ‘low’ when compared to other nations in the region.

“Based on a recent survey by the Central Bank of the Bahamas, a total of 14 institutions (about 25 per cent of survey respondents), comprising three domestic commercial banks, one money transmission service provider, and 10 international banks, have been affected or impacted by the withdrawal of correspondent banking relationships,” the IMF paper said.

“Thus far, there is no evidence of significant impact on the domestic financial system as a whole, or on financial intermediation in the domestic economy. This reflects the dominant role of Canadian-owned banks, which hold almost 70 per cent of total banking system assets and have not lost any correspondent banking relationships. Financial institutions that were not able to replace lost correspondent banking relationships, continued to rely on existing correspondent banking relationships or their parent companies for correspondent banking services.”

Instead, the IMF paper said the private sector and individual Bahamians had felt the impact in higher transaction fees, with banks incurring increased time and compliance costs in a bid to maintain their relationships with US and other industrialised-world institutions.

“Banks report higher investment and staffing costs stemming from additional reporting requirements and scrutiny; disruptions in services to money service providers; impact on cheque clearing, trade finance, international wire transfers, and cash management transactions; as well as sometimes sizeable increases in customer fees,” the IMF paper said.

“Fees for wire transfers have increased about 20 per cent on average over the last five years. A majority of financial institutions rely on few (one to four) correspondent banking relationships, suggesting vulnerability to further losses.”

Banking fees, and real or perceived increases in them, are an especially sore and sensitive issue for many Bahamians. A senior Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) executive said last week that fees had increased in line with the drop in loan interest income, as banks bid to cover their costs in a depressed economic environment. International pressures, though, are clearly another factor.

Correspondent banks are those that allow Bahamian financial institutions to provide services in their home countries, using their physical and electronic banking infrastructure. They give Bahamian banks, and their clients, access to the international capital markets and financial system, enabling transactions to clear and be settled on a timely basis, and foreign currency deposits to be taken.

Banks in major industrialised countries have embarked on an increasing trend of severing correspondent relationships with foreign banks, and the Caribbean region is among those that have been most heavily impacted.

The move is being driven by the ‘risk/reward’ analysis, with developed country banks perceiving correspondent relationships with their Caribbean counterparts as too ‘high risk’ when measured by the financial rewards.

They are particularly concerned that Caribbean banks are susceptible to financial abuses, such as money laundering and terror financing, which could lead to financial sanctions being imposed on themselves by home country regulators.

Correspondent bank ‘de-risking’ has potentially major ramifications for the wider Bahamian economy, given that this nation’s model is that of an international business and financial services provider, which also imports the majority of what it consumes.

Bahamian banks rely on foreign correspondents to clear foreign currency transactions and payments on behalf of their clients, and increased de-risking threatens to cut off local businesses from international finance, trade and commerce, undermining the economy’s very existence.

The Bahamas’ ‘trade openness’ was said to be equivalent to 100 per cent of GDP between 2011 and 2015, due largely to tourism receipts standing at 27 per cent of economic output - the highest in the Caribbean. Net foreign direct investment inflows averaged around 11 per cent of GDP over the same period, the third highest in the Caribbean.

While the value of Bahamian bank cross-border operations had dropped by between 25-30 per cent between 2011 and 2015, the third-highest drop in the Caribbean, the volume had increased by 28 per cent - the second biggest jump. This, the IMF paper said, implied a near-50 per cent drop in average transaction value.

The IMF paper said “the largest fallout” from correspondent banking ‘de-risking’ had been felt in the Bahamas’ international financial services sector, which “has been shrinking” due to uncertainty associated with global regulatory initiatives and decline in clients’ risk appetite.

“Global trends of withdrawal of correspondent banking have led to even more scrutiny, further reducing the sector’s contribution to growth and employment, and thus complicating efforts to diversify the economy,” it warned.

Foreign banks’ risk perceptions were identified as a major factor behind Bahamian banks losing correspondent relationships. The IMF paper adds: “Anecdotal evidence suggests that international correspondent banks are uncomfortable providing services to domestic banks that do business with either money transmission businesses (MTBs) or online gaming operators (so called web shops), which are perceived as a higher anti-money laundering/counter terror financing risk.

“Smaller, standalone financial institutions with fewer international transactions, in both domestic and international sectors, have been more vulnerable. The general view is that in several cases the costs of anti-money laundering/counter terror financing compliance outweigh the profits generated by correspondent banking services, making it particularly difficult for smaller local institutions with fewer international transactions to maintain their correspondent banking relationships.”

To tackle the problem, the IMF paper urged the Bahamas to swiftly tackle deficiencies in its anti-money laundering/counter terror financing regime that were identified in the July 2017 Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) report.

“Looking forward, authorities should ensure strong compliance and take a proactive approach to strengthening implementation,” the IMF paper said. “Continued evaluation of the supervisory and regulatory framework for both banks and non-banks to proactively identify and address risks in a timely and assertive manner is critical.”

Comments

realfreethinker 11 months, 3 weeks ago

So basically what you are saying is they gat us by the balls

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sheeprunner12 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Soooooo, can the Central Bank cap the fees that clearing banks charge Bahamians????

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ohdrap4 11 months, 3 weeks ago

if they can, they are not interested.

the fact is, the banks should be more agressive in the software they use because, in the long run, computers are cheaper than paying people to shuffle paper.

look at the immigration dept., it is in shambles because they continue to shuffle paper instead of upgrading technology constantly.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 11 months, 3 weeks ago

From the IMF's own lips ".........the decision by some global banks to terminate relationships with their Bahamian counterparts was driven, at least in part, by their “discomfort” in providing services to institutions that do business with the web shops."

The global financial community is well aware that the Minnis-led FNM government is beholden to the numbers bosses, especially Sebas Bastian, for having provided significant funding to the FNM party and many of its candidates who ran and got elected in the last general election campaign. This is evidenced by Minnis, KP Turnquest and John Rolle now promoting that the corrupt racketeering web shop owners be licensed to engage in electronic money transfer and payment activities previously reserved for well-regulated reputable financial institutions operating in and from within our country. This of course has the global financial community absolutely incensed and essentially gives them the perfect excuse for seeing to it that our financial services sector is pummeled to a pulp. Minnis, KP, Rolle, Michael Paton, QC Moree and so on, all just don't get it!

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Reality_Check 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Minnis is even more of a puppet to Sebas Bastian (Island Luck web shops) than corrupt Christie was; in fact, so much so that the international financial community views our FNM government as an instrument or tool of the (still regarded) money laundering and other illegal activities of the racketeering numbers bosses in the Caribbean region, like Sebas Bastian and Craig Flowers.

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John 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Not only has the fees doubled but banks like RBC has cut back significantly on their service. Plan to spend up to two hours in line when you visit any of their locations. And while they have replaced their clients cards with credit cards, they haven't done enough to inform clients that they no longer have to stand in line for lots of payments they can make on their credit- debit cards

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Well_mudda_take_sic 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Both the PLP and FNM took the wrong fork in the road when it comes to the money laundering and other criminal activities of the web shops. Rather than reverting back to and enforcing the old laws we had to shut down the web shops, the PLP and FNM alike have wrongfully decided to endorse and participate in the ill-gotten gains from their corrupt activities.

It is a well known fact that gambling houses pray on the less fortunate and more vulnerable in any society. The Minnis-led FNM government should be doing something about this as a matter of great urgency and national importance. But we now all know why Minnis is not doing a thing about this scourge on our society, which is daily eating away at our banking system, financial services sector, and entire economy for that matter, like a growing deadly cancer from within.

Repost from 3 days ago: Carl Bethel, like John Rolle, Michael Paton and QC Moree, still just doesn't get it, even after all of these years of black listings and high risk ratings by the FATF and its affiliated agents since 1992. Our legalization of the web shops and racketeering activities of the numbers' bosses was the straw that broke the camel's back as far as the global banking and financial services community is concerned. We will now never have a low risk rating until both our offshore and onshore banking and other financial services sectors have, for all intents and purposes, been pummeled to a pulp. Only then can the U.S. and its counterpart, the OECD, be satisfied that their nationals are unable to use the Bahamas in any meaningful way to avoid paying taxes to the developed countries. Bethel, like Rolle, Paton and QC Moree, is unwilling to accept that the Bahamas could never have the resources necessary to implement all of the measures being demanded of us for the benefit of the developed countries. And of course none of the developed countries would ever pony up the resources (financial and otherwise) that our small financially troubled developing nation would need to accommodate their very burdensome wishes. The tasks and goals we are being cajoled and coerced into trying to achieve for the benefit of the developed nations at our great cost are, quite deliberately, unrealistic. They are only being demanded because they will achieve the true underlying goal of the U.S. and OECD countries - the complete obliteration of our country as a significant financial centre and global player for any type of offshore or onshore banking and other related activities. The added costs associated with each more onerous legislative requirement simply make us that much less competitive. Carl Bethel's time would be better spent pressing for the complete shut down of the corrupt racketeering activities of the numbers' bosses like Sebas Bastian and Craig Flowers. That's the bottom line!

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Reality_Check 11 months, 3 weeks ago

The IMF and its affiliated international agencies (all of whom represent the interests of the developed countries) are certainly trying to help the naive dolts like PM Minnis, AG Carl Bethel, Finance Minister KP Turnequest, QC Moree, lawyer/accountant Michael Paton, Governor John Rolle, banker/accountant Gowan Bowe, and so on, to "get it". Unfortunately though, these twits may still just not "get it" at the end of the day. The message is a very simple one and has now been all too clearly telecast by the global financial community: SHUT DOWN THE WEB SHOPS OR ELSE!

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Well_mudda_take_sic 11 months, 3 weeks ago

The IMF paper adds: “Anecdotal evidence suggests that international correspondent banks are uncomfortable providing services to domestic banks that do business with either money transmission businesses (MTBs) or online gaming operators (so called web shops), which are perceived as a higher anti-money laundering/counter terror financing risk."

Yes indeed. The message could not be any clearer!

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DDK 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Mudda, you get it, Reality-check, gets it, I get, most intelligent people in this country get it. What the hell is wrong with our P.M. and other current party leaders? They need to fess up to their numbers bosses involvement, apologize to the electorate and close down the gambling houses, NOW. It is clear as day that we have turned into an overly expensive, disreputable, crime-ridden, inefficient country with no future. The pathetic status quo is unsustainable. If Minnis and Co. don't do something about the scourge NOW they won't have to wait another four and a half years to worry about losing their precious seats. They'll be sitting under a dilly tree somewhere doing a Hillary Clinton.

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sheeprunner12 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Soooooo, when RBC closes all of its Family Island branches ..... how will their "clients" pay their loans, mortgages and credit cards???????? .......... Will that means those bills will be forgiven??? ........... No bank = No bills

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MonkeeDoo 11 months, 3 weeks ago

It was a dead giveaway when Sebas sat alone in one of the tents at Government House for the swearing in ceremony. Unfortunately he must have pre-paid for his seat so I doubt that anyone will shut down anything until the entire economy grinds to a screeching halt.

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killemwitdakno 11 months, 3 weeks ago

I'm going to need for y'all to REMEMBER things. They're simply now using webshops as an excuse. They were de-risking all around the region years prior because of FATCA and their history of HSBC changing bank teller money slot sized to launder drug cash.

Without the webshops , we still would have lost the banks, and more so , had no local financial institutions (considering the webshops give reloadable cards now).

Re- read up on De-risking from years back please! Don't be swing by enemies in the financial war.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 11 months, 3 weeks ago

@killemwitdakno: There is nothing to deny when it comes to the grave harm the web shops are causing our banking system, economy and society. So we can safely assume that either your bread is somehow buttered by the web shop owners or you are one of their many addicted customers.

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Porcupine 11 months, 3 weeks ago

I think this says more about our citizens than about our leaders. Of course our "leaders", I use the term rather loosely, are beholden to the web shop bosses. Now, it has become national policy to gamble away our economy, families and banking sector. So much for Minnis et al. We have sold this country out from under the feet of Bahamians. Minnis and every other small politician should rot in hell for this obvious and inexcusable lack of good judgement.

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bogart 11 months, 3 weeks ago

While there is focused attention at the other party being the web shops the insight muddatakesic raises is good on other views. Thanks.

Some other insight and opinion. The Canadian banks said that their policies do not allow them to take webshop deposits.

Well that is not entirely true as they being members of the Clearing Banks Association of the Bahamas whose business apart from the policies of good banking among other members involve the basic function of the Clearing house where on a daily basis Commercial Banks have to settle their customers deposits made at the Bank of the Bahamas and the BoB customers who deposit cheques at the Canadian Banks have to settle. In essence while the BOB whose Board of Directors are approved by the govt have a bank for a significant period accepting web shop deposits from when they were not legally approved, this factually means thst the then illegal funds was comingled with all Banks regardless of their foreign policy on a daily basis and with obvious agreement. Actual currency deposited by web shops cannot be separated from other customers withdrawing from the bank accepting it and depositing parts of it to banks claiming not to accept those unwanted funds.

Stand to be corrected if the Clearing Banks complained but then again the Central Bank allowed the BoB to operate without meeting their tier ratios but then again the govt approves who is the Govenor and Directors of the Central Bank.

It was definitely unfair for the foreign banks to make super efforts to meet the bank laws to operate while at the same time competing against a Bahamas govt bank not meeting same. Legal and legitimate concerns should have been raised by the majority shareholders in home countries of these foreign banks with the unfair competition.

It comes as no surprise that fees have been allowed to rise and the Central Bank has left it up to market/customers to correct.

Astonishing that bank debt of some 1BILLION HAVE BEEN TIED UP IN BAD LOANS AND HAVE DEVESTATED THE MORTGAGE AND ECONOMY and no committee to investigate starting with the govt own controlled by shares and Board of Directors

Next topic should be why is the foreign headquarters of banks have been allowed to have local bankers give out loans in certain sectors and meet loan volumes in order from them to gain an approved staff appraisal to get a salary increase.

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John2 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Bogart .....another interesting fact about the Banks taking web shops money will come to head in a few weeks when a major local web shop company will be going public with the necessary regulatory approvals. Members of the public many of whom will paticipate and are the clients of the local canadian banks will be expecting their little funds to be deposited in these commercial banks. where they have been customers for years. It will be very interesting to see who will accept Dividends deposits from this company because it is a very profitable company. I think the Canadian banks should accept the funds because it will be investment income and not gambling funds, if not BOB will get a whole lot of new customers,.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 11 months, 3 weeks ago

@John2: Let's see what your logic and the logic of @bogart does for the Bahamas when the Canadian banks pull out and our remaining banks (and all future planned electronic currency transfer platforms involving the numbers bosses) are left without the ability to move money in hard currencies through any payment system in the developed countries. At that point I can assure both you and bogart that your Bahamian dollars will be quite worthless!

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bogart 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Love your comments well mudda take sic, dont get me wrong. Just simply amazing persons can abdicate their nationalistic and soverign birthright to follow party rules and throw away the baby with the bath. I agree with you in many ways but what the heck. Quite amazing how the once leadership financial global position has eroded by bureaucrats playing bankers. Still waiting to hear from BISX to investigate why BOB shares dropped from some $5.23 to $1.39 loosing some 60 million in value. The SEC would surely investigate plus such high fluctuation surely jeapordises the market. Another government agency? On the devaluing of the dollar well there is a pool of funds tied up by the Central Bank to provide for parity among other things. There should be more punishment where white collar crime can be proved and you just have to laugh that despite the huge size of the financial industry only one guy was accused of bribery, one Bulgarian was accused of money laundering, one Jamaician was accused of human trafficking and cannot ever recall if any boat captain was ever found captianing a boatload of illegal Haitins, might be one or twomore stand to be corrected. Want to talk about crime on this tiny island and the number of persons hanged?

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GodSpeed 11 months, 3 weeks ago

This is also why Western Union closed. In 2015 the reasons Fidelity gave for ending the Western Union franchise were "de-risking", "increased compliance cost" and "higher bank fees in various jurisdictions to process the receipts of its money". The longer these number houses operate the more negative impacts it will have.

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