By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Royal Bank of Canada's (RBC) alliance with a payment solutions provider was yesterday hailed as a "three-way win" for solving financial access woes when it rolls out across all Out Islands.
Omni Financial Services executives, unveiling their pilot Long Island partnership with the Canadian financial institution, told Tribune Business that they aimed to expand the concept to other islands "within another month or so" once they are satisfied it is functioning as expected.
Bahamian-headquartered Omni will act as "the front-end" for RBC's Long Island clients by giving the bank's Visa debit card holders the ability to make cash withdrawals and "real time" deposits to their accounts via the payment solutions provider's location in Gray's.
Mortgage and credit card payments will also be facilitated by a tie-up that aims to tackle lack of access to mainstream financial services among Bahamians living in the Family Islands, and overcome the negative impact on communities and businesses that resulted from the closure of physical commercial bank branches in recent years.
Deidre Andrews, Omni's business development manager, told Tribune Business that the RGC partnership was a "first of its kind in the Caribbean" that could ultimately be exported elsewhere in the region once the model was proven.
And, confirming that the company would "welcome discussions" with other commercial banks on providing similar services, Harvey Morris, Omni's chief executive, said the RBC partnership would enable it to diversify "and remain a viable entity for years to come" given that the money transmission business is now over-saturated with too many providers and locations.
Mr Morris, revealing that Omni and RBC's alliance had been "over two years in the making", with discussions first starting in March 2017, said it had taken so long to formalise because of the "due diligence" required on both sides to "ensure there was a mutually beneficial relationship".
Omni began offering services "quietly" to RBC's Long Island clients last Friday, with yesterday making the "full blown" launch. "We become the front-end," Mr Morris explained. "We're really going to be doing the heavy lifting for RBC there to ensure their clients get the same level of service they're accustomed to with RBC.
"An RBC client will be able to withdraw funds at Omni's location and deposit finds in real time on their account. They will be able to make credit card payments, payments on their loans."
Mr Morris said initial activity suggested that many of Long Island's 3,500-strong population bank with RBC, and added that the plans included expanding the service menu to include commercial deposits "shortly".
"As the relationship develops we will expand the services to make sure RBC clients can get full services from Omni," he added. "We're going to take it to the full suite of services, and give RBC clients access to be able to withdraw and deposit funds over five days.
"We will provide financial inclusion for all Bahamians, and the intention is to replicate this service throughout the islands. We see this as the bridge to the transition to a digital currency."
Mr Morris, while backing the Central Bank's Project Sand Dollar initiative to develop a digital Bahamian dollar, said he was unable to currently disclose which island will next see the RBC-Omni alliance.
However, he added: "The idea is to validate the pilot and then to quickly start rolling it out to other islands. I would say within another month or so that will happen, once we're satisfied the whole project is working."
Ms Andrews, confirming that Omni will be able to offer over-the-counter deposit services to RBC clients, added: "What we're trying to do is given them the full gamut of financial services on the island that they've not had access to before.
"Omni has built its business model on providing financial services to the unbanked communities, and this partnership between Omni and RBC is the first of its kind in the Caribbean, which speaks a lot to the confidence RBC has put in Omni in terms of delivering financial services to the Family Islands."
Christina Sands, Omni's general manager, told Tribune Business that the alliance was designed to produce benefits for all parties involved. "We can say this is a three-way-win for everybody: Long Islanders, Omni and RBC," she explained.
"For Long Islanders, the absence of RBC has meant they can't make deposits for loans, deposits for credit cards. This give them some stress relief. If you look at it from RBC's end they want clients to maintain credit histories without wondering how they're going to make mortgage and credit card payments, how they will get money to their families."
Omni's RBC partnership with RBC is intended to eliminate the extra time, costs and inefficiency associated with the absence of physical financial provider presence in the Family Islands, as well as reducing reliance on cash and ensuring more Bahamians remain within the formal financial services system.
Ms Andrews added that "the door is always open" for other banks to approach Omni over the provision of similar services, adding: "We would also like, as this model develops here, to see where else we can take this business model and whether we can expand from The Bahamas."
Meanwhile, Mr Morris disclosed that the RBC partnership fitted well with Omni's strategic plan to diversify from its roots as a money transmission services provider. "It helps us in our diversification," he told Tribune Business.
"No longer can a remittance company be sustained with the influx of various providers now. It will help Omni in its diversification and to remain a viable entity for years to come. We recognise the needs are much greater than the movement of money between persons, and are moving to fill the gap to ensure there is that financial inclusion for everyone.
"I think the time has long past where everyone should have equal access to financial services. Just because you live in a remote island you should not have to endure travelling to Nassau to access your funds."