Banking Industry Shrinks By $200bn


James Smith


Tribune Business Editor


Total bank assets in The Bahamas fell by over $200bn during the six-and-a-half years to end-September 2018, amid rising fears yesterday that the sector’s latest reforms are a “death knell”.

Central Bank of The Bahamas data, unveiled at a December 2018 industry briefing, revealed that combined domestic and “offshore” banking assets declined by 35.2 percent, falling from $657.9bn to $426.2bn, between 2012 and last September.

The regulator attributed the fall largely “to a shift in business model” by many of its licensees, but other figures further fuel the impression of a Bahamian financial services in slow, steady contraction and retreat.

Total industry employment, again covering both the domestic and international bank and trust company sectors, dropped by 13.6 percent over the six years between 2012 and 2017 as financial institutions shed some 650 jobs.

The Central Bank said this amounted to the loss of 113 jobs, or 2.5 percent of the Bahamian financial services industry’s workforce, per annum over that period. The sector, which is primarily responsible for providing the lucrative, professional jobs that underpin this nation’s middle class, saw its workforce fall from near 5,000 to just over 4,000.

The asset base decline was especially pronounced in the Bahamian commercial banking industry, where total assets fell by more than 80 percent over the six-and-a-half years to September 2018 - dropping from $100bn in 2012 to less than $20bn.

Describing this as “a significant fall-off”, the Central Bank added that the decline in the domestic banking sector’s deposit base - from more than $35bn in 2012 and 2013 to less than $15bn since 2014 - had resulted from “a shift in business strategy and de-risking”.

While the international banking industry’s asset base had also shrunk over the same period, dropping from $558bn to $406bn, the Central Bank said the latter figure had been “relatively stable” since 2016.

The data, produced as part of Central Bank efforts to prepare its licensees for the upcoming IMF Financial Sector Assessment Programme (FSAP) that begins today, will likely exacerbate concerns about the future growth prospects for The Bahamas’ second largest industry in the wake of reforms imposed by international anti-tax evasion offensives.

The Bahamas has implemented far-reaching, historic reforms to its financial services regulatory regime to meet European Union (EU) and Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) demands, which include tearing down the decades-long “wall” that separated the domestic and international banking segments.

It is also stripping new International Business Companies (IBCs) of the preferential tax breaks that made them such a competitive product, “equalising” their tax treatment with that of domestic companies, while existing IBCs will only enjoy these advantages for a further three years until end-2021 before they lose them.

James Smith, former minister of state for finance and an ex-Central Bank governor, yesterday described these reforms as “quite radical” and a “180 degree” turn away from the financial services business model employed by The Bahamas for decades.

He argued that The Bahamas was “yielding its sovereign rights to grow the economy in the best interest” of the country and its citizens, and expressed particular concern that the removal of the separation between domestic and “offshore” financial services would place Bahamian-owned institutions at a competitive disadvantage.

The Bahamas’ new financial services framework, unveiled by the Minnis administration last week, permits international institutions to enter the domestic market and conduct Bahamian dollar transactions once they have obtained the necessary regulatory approvals to do so.

Banking industry fees/taxes will now be based on a “sliding scale”, coupled with the complexity and regulatory resources involved in supervising them, and if they engage in Bahamian dollar transactions.

However, Mr Smith argued that Bahamian-owned institutions now face the prospect of being squeezed out of business, as they will be exposed to foreign rivals able to draw on their parent’s financial muscle plus access to lower international interest rates and foreign currency financing.

He added that Bahamian providers, by contrast, will still face the same obstacles of a non-convertible Bahamian dollar and exchange controls when it comes to accessing competitive financing rates.

“What we’ve done here is remove the protection and opened up [domestic] financial services to foreign firms,” Mr Smith told Tribune Business. “You’re putting wholly-owned Bahamian companies at a competitive disadvantage, and doing so because of the nature of our economy. Our ability to expand is limited severely by the currency in which we operate.”

The Canadian-owned banks, Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), CIBC FirstCaribbean and Scotiabank, already operate in the domestic commercial banking industry, and K P Turnquest, the deputy prime minister, told Tribune Business the reforms “will not result in a significant change in the way the sector operates”.

Referring to the elimination of the ‘divide’ between domestic and international financial services, he added: “The elimination of preferences and eligibility for traditional ‘offshore’ banks to enter the local market may result in an expansion of activity, although this is not expected to be significant at the moment.”

The Bahamas, as a relatively finite market of 350,000-400,000 persons, may not be large enough to interest international institutions to enter the domestic segment. Yet, apart from banking, the reforms also open up the insurance industry and capital markets sector - including broker/dealers and investment funds - to more foreign competition.

Mr Smith, though, argued that while The Bahamas was giving foreign financial services providers more access to its markets, locally-owned institutions were being denied similar in their countries as a result of the “de-risking” that has led to the severance of correspondent banking relationships.

Arguing that Bahamian-owned institutions may ultimately be “gobbled up” by foreign rivals, he told Tribune Business: “Unless I’m reading this thing wrong what they’re doing is putting a death knell in the financial services industry.

“My fear is that we’re going to end up with a well-regulated jurisdiction, having passed all the laws necessary, but there will be no financial services industry to regulate. I don’t think whoever’s put this together realises the full impact on our economy. They’re being ill-advised.

“By the information the Central Bank has put out, looking at the financial services sector in the past decade we’ve lost 1,000 jobs, maybe even more; the number of institutions doing business in that period has decreased; and the number of assets under management has decreased tremendously,” Mr Smith continued.

“You’re seeing the rapid diminishing of our financial services sector, and it’s all tied to the rules and regulations imposed from the OECD and EU. We’re not challenging them; we’re implementing them and patting ourselves on the back saying we’re compliant.

“But your financial sector will disappear sooner or later. That’s not surprising. The OECD set out in 2000 to eliminate international financial centres, and we’re helping them. The same people we’re trying so faithfully to serve are the ones putting the knife in our back. If the OECD keeps moving the goal posts we will be left with no financial services.”

Mr Smith said the question facing The Bahamas was now whether it continued to “roll over” or start to resist, suggesting that the country may as well go down fighting given that it was set to lose either way.

“I don’t like dressing it up as in the best interests of the country,” he told Tribune Business of The Bahamas’ compliance. “Destroying an important industry is not in the best interests of the country.”


Sickened 8 months, 2 weeks ago

And I hasten to guess that the average wage in the financial services industry is about $50k a year where the average wage in the hotel/tourism industry is closer to $20k. With the loss of the financial services industry worker the entire economy has been decimated. Banks no longer have a pool of professionals that they can lend money to. The amount of money in circulation has also dropped dramatically because of the loss of the financial industry worker (and the unfortunate legalization of the numbers criminals).


concerned799 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Step 1. OECD et al make "demands"

Step 2. We comply

Step 3. OECD et al makes new demands

(Process repeats)

Complying with Step 1 does not get you anywhere and does not avoid Step 3.

Everything he says is true. We never should have started the cycle.


Sickened 8 months, 2 weeks ago

It's time to buy some pirate ships!


birdiestrachan 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Mr. Smith is a brilliant Bahamian. Turnquest should listen to him for the sake of the Bahamas. Turnquest will soon be moving of the scene, But the damage to the Bahamas will remain for generations to come.


bogart 8 months, 2 weeks ago



joeblow 8 months, 2 weeks ago

The powers that be don't care. They prefer to pat themselves on the back because their EU/OECD masters are saying "good job"!


bogart 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Monkey onkle....an...an............BAHAMAS NATIONAL DEBT AT HIGHEST LEVEL......NOW ....OVER THE $8 BILLION ....MARK...around $8.1 plis some.........after all this....homes repossessed list....5,400 homes without light.....many... dependent on corner stand pipe for clean water.....more Bahamians...pore...depending on families....friends......Charities.....many big Bahamian firms collecting donations to feed the pore....even one foreign Embassy....bless their soul...donating food for some 3 000.........pulease dont some smart alek say those words....


SP 8 months, 2 weeks ago

James Smith and successive governments continue to ignore one of the biggest elephants in the room to the detriment of the whole country.

What jackass is going to believe that the loss of a mere 1000 jobs in the financial sector is the main cause of the near collapse of the domestic banking sector?

Smith and clowns fail to acknowledge one major factor causing the decline in domestic banking is the intentional, systematic, erosion, of Bahamian blue collar workers that were supplanted by literally tens of thousands of expat blue collar workers that do not spend or save locally and use money transfer services instead of domestic banks!

We can thank Hubert Ingraham and Perry Christie for causing the tremendous loss of local banking volumes leading to the demise of domestic banks and the rise of money transfer companies which assist in draining hundreds of millions out of the economy that WOULD HAVE BEEN returned into circulation if Bahamians were the beneficiaries.

Secondly, permitting international institutions to enter the domestic market and conduct Bahamian dollar transactions will cause increased competition leading to lower rates, and putting a serious wrench into the unfair, ridiculous, rates Bahamians now suffer. This would be good to consumers.


bogart 8 months, 2 weeks ago

True....true.....simple supply and demand...blue collar...over supply of cheap labour enjoying illegal cheap shanty town costs...coupled with govt inability to reverse..curtail.... OTHER factors include banking practices....using saame ratios for over 40 plus years even though ecomonic conditions much changed.....other..using indeminity insurances to lend almost to full price of lending knowing this is hurricane prone area likely to make ineffective indemnity as hurricane damage could be extentive wiping out entire small island homes, businesses, employment, and economy........other....built in conflict is bank interest in select high profit loans.....often conflicts with sovereign nation growth business development policies....other....banks are profit oriented entities and will seek maximum returns sometimes strip mining...other....banks lending policies applications, criteria designed by banks for maximum yields...with calculated provisions may not be fully regulated. intentionly leading to failure eg giving sub prime loans....the local predatory banking practices collaspe involving billion dollar...4,000 plus clients failure....needdd to be investigated......no Financial Ombudsman to address financial customer issues which could lead to quick remedial corrective action for customers industry.....govt inability to remedy employees excessive salary assignments...previously specificly controlled bt Trucks Act changed into labour laws....


Well_mudda_take_sic 8 months, 2 weeks ago

SP, your mental prowess could run circles around Smith's peanut sized brain.


Well_mudda_take_sic 8 months, 2 weeks ago

I laugh most heartily every time this arse Smith pretends to know what he's talking about, especially given the fact that he himself has played such a major role in the demise of our financial services sector under prior PLP governments as either minister of state for finance or central bank governor. Smith should just stay focused on what he has been doing best in recent years, i.e. sucking as much milk as possible from the teat ('tit') of his Greek master. LMAO


TalRussell 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Yes, or no - considering these are current government's own statistics you don't have be no comrade Sherlock to acknowledge not even fresh spin hire face likes Erica can turn this into a positive KP's financial polices over past 608 governing red shirts days. Yes, no - media coverage seems point to spike in bank employees internal theft over same 608 day period.


John 8 months, 2 weeks ago

The question is where is most of that $200 Billion that left Bahamian banks? And the fact is most of it is still in offshore banks around the world. Some as close as The Cayman Islands ( which is now number 6 largest in offshore banking) and the United States that is number three. Switzerland is now the largest offshore banking center followed by Hong Kong, the US, Singapore, Cayman Islands, Luxembourg then Lebanon. Unlike what Hubert Ingraham did in the Bahamas to dismantle offshore banking, these countries, including the US, that was breathing so heavily on the necks of countries like the Bahamas, adjusted and/or strengthened their laws to protect offshore deposits and to keep their owners identities secret. The fact is they didn’t give in to pressure . And in the of many US companies, whilst the deposits may be physically in the US, they are on the books of banks overseas. And in the case of Lebanon, most of its citizens live outside the country but they make deposits to banks in Lebanon. And the country’s bank secrecy laws protect these deposits from taxes or exposure.


bogart 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Took a lot of guts but Smith did have to point out in publictly in Guardian Business newspaper 10.28.16 the Bank of the Bahamas loans to Resolve for $100 million dollats was worth $22.5 M...kudos to him...but them after his time.... further along .... in Tribune Business Section 10.31.17 "Gov't pays '3x' value of BOB's toxic loans"..."*Taxpayer pays $162m for $49m 'bad credit'".... Financial Ombudsman is needed...


TheMadHatter 8 months, 2 weeks ago

This is great news. Hopefully they can all go out of business soon and our entire economy can collapse completely - fish on the rocks and lantern for light. That would be awesome. Maybe then the sloops will stop coming.


Well_mudda_take_sic 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Think again. The Dominican's will quickly see to it that there are no fish left in our seas for you to catch. As for your lantern, the new Haitian arrivals that will be crawling all over our islands will sniff out and steal every drop of kerosene they can put their hands on before they begin cutting down all the trees for fire wood. LMAO


banker 8 months, 2 weeks ago

I offer a slightly different view of the decline of Financial Services in the Bahamas. This view is garnered from my experience. in 2010, two billionaires who's portfolios was handled by my wealth management group, liquidated all of their Bahamas holdings and moved to other jurisdictions. One sold two homes in Ocean Club Estates on Paradise Island for millions. Along with the real estate, he sold two helicopters and all of his vehicles. He moved his holdings back to a tax jurisdiction (Switzerland) and became a EU-taxed citizen again. The second one moved his primary residence to Colorado (I don't understand it either, but his trophy wife wanted to live there).

It was my job to do the exit interviews, and they both had the same complaints. It was due to our financial infrastructure. Cheques took forever to cash. Investment (stocks/bonds) had to go through intermediaries. Moving money was a hassle. Bahamian-located wealth managers did not have the expertise for sophisticated transactions and investments. All of the lawyering had to be done offshore because of the closed shop here, and lack of sophisticated knowledge of the Bahamian legals for law in the global village. Boutique banks had correspondent privileges and the compliance team took forever to clear transactions. Mention the word "Bahamas" and AML/KYC compliance officers around the world lit up and held transactions. That experience was my come-to-Jesus moment where I decided that I needed to do something to protect my career (hence I am no longer on island).

It wasn't the OECD and FATF and FATCA that did us in. It was us. I remember when Prime Minister Crisco Butt unexpectedly won power by defeating Prime Minister Hubiggety. He was a complete horse's azz, but one of the things that he did, was appoint all of these commissions. Of course, they all went away and made recommendations, but Crisco Butt did sweet eff all with them. One of them was chaired by Brian Moree who made sweeping recommendations to revamp financial services. The financial services and lawyer professionals roasted his nuts and almost crucified him. If we had followed his recommendations, we would be right up there with Cayman. Cayman was blacklisted too, and they never told the OECD to eff themselves. They revamped the industry and it grew. Us -- we wuz backwards and slack because the fat cats liked it that way. So the industry itself along with the corrupt legal profession, shot itself in the foot.

The rest of the country is the same way. If you want to cast blame on who is responsible, it is us. Slackness everywhere.


TalRussell 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Yes or no, two comrade billionaires, or so it's imaginary alleged by comrade the Banker, sold all their colony of islands assets move on their lives- or in case one - meet flash urges his trophy wife... Did I miss how economy suffered if their assets were quickly bought out by others, nor can Banker, expect any government be held responsible flash urges any available "for fingering" urges those living among us


banker 8 months, 1 week ago

Their billion dollar cash holdings were not replaced in the banking system. Hence the verified shrinkage of the capital under management figure,and the decline of the economic sector. The number is actually larger than reported here.


bogart 8 months, 1 week ago

.....goes even further as business associates other persons notice or are informed....plus other overseas bankers looking for clients to leave....


ok-then 8 months, 2 weeks ago

James complains that we congratulate ourselves for implementing the tools bringing about our demise. BUT, what James isn't realizing is we are being allowed a managed, gradual demise – whereas the only other option on the table is a forced, SUDDEN demise!

It's up to us to make our parachutes in time. Yes?


John 8 months, 1 week ago

Well some people believe that the US is in for a rude awakening as investment money did not flow back into that country as fast and as much as expected after Donald Trump deep, deep tax cuts. And because the economic stimulus did not occur as expected, the US debt to GDP jumped from 76% under Barak Obama to 99% in just two years under Trump. And more troubling is that several automobile companies are now shuttering several of their US plants again after finding out there’s no market for their cars. Even some models have been discontinued. Tesla, on the other hand, is using hype to boost its car sales. The company is urging Chinese to purchase its battery vehicles ahead of production as some models may be sold out for years. The CEO of Tesla. Is also touting the market with the idea that the company may soon be making cars that fly.


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