By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Union leaders have written to the government seeking a "seat at the table" over the approval of CIBC FirstCaribbean's majority sale to a Colombian-headquartered financial group.
Teresa Mortimer, the Bahamas Financial Services Union's (BFSU) president, told Tribune Business it was seeking "a say in what happens" following confirmation that the Canadian bank is selling a two-thirds majority stake in its Caribbean operation to GNB Financial Group, which is owned by the Gilinski family.
She added that the BFSU, which represents 300 Bahamian staff at CIBC FirstCaribbean, and unions from other countries had also requested to meet GNB in a bid to discover its plans and how they might impact existing industrial agreements and "job security".
Ms Mortimer said union representatives had held a conference call with CIBC FirstCaribbean management two days before the sale was formally announced, during which they were told that no deal had been signed, the Canadian parent was still talking to the buyer and it was "all talk".
She added that it did "not go well" when she pointed out that K Peter Turnquest, the deputy prime minister, had told Tribune Business that same day that the purchaser had already been "introduced" to him.
The BFSU president revealed that she was then summoned early on Friday morning, with little notice, to attend another conference call during which CIBC FirstCaribbean executives admitted the sale to GNB had been signed the night before - just over 24 hours after the first conference call.
Questioning the bank's transparency, given that the two sides are partners, Ms Mortimer told this newspaper: ''We said to them we'd like to meet the buyer. We all have agreements that, sale or no sale, are binding.
"We want to meet the buyer and find out what they have in mind and where we go from here. With a sale it's new ideas and everybody is looking for ways and means to cut costs. We don't want persons to lose their jobs. For us, job security is everything. What are we looking at? That's what we need to ask the buyer.
"What are our members going to be faced with? What's in it for our employees and members? That's why we want to meet the buyer. That's what we need to know. It's job security and we need to know how it's going to affect the employees and workers, not only in The Bahamas but the Caribbean."
Tribune Business understands that the regulatory approvals required to consummate the deal could take up to a year to come through given that they are needed in 16 separate jurisdictions.
GNB is to acquire a 66.73 percent equity stake in FirstCaribbean, taking majority control from CIBC to enable the Canadian bank to begin its long-awaited Caribbean exit. The latter will retain a 24.9 percent minority position in its former regional affiliate once all necessary regulatory approvals in The Bahamas and other jurisdictions are received.
Colette Delaney, CIBC FirstCaribbean's chief executive, told employees in an internal e-mail confirming the deal that the bank will have to rebrand - likely through dropping the CIBC portion of its name at the very least.
Its reliance on its former Canadian parent for back office and technology systems support will also end, she added, with such services likely transitioning to independent services providers.
GNB's plans for the business will only become fully known in time, yet it will be heavily reliant on The Bahamas and Turks & Caicos to produce the bulk of its profits - at least in the near-term.
While the Bahamian unit produced 32.3 percent, nearly one-third or just over $188m, of CIBC FirstCaribbean's $581m top-line in 2018, its $85m in net income generated 84 percent of the bank's regional $101m bottom line.
The Gilinski Group has banking operations in Colombia, Peru, Paraguay, Panama and the Cayman Islands with approximately $15bn in combined assets.
"FirstCaribbean will remain the strong entity it is today, committed to servicing its clients in the region," said Jaime Gilinski, chairman of GNB Financial Group. "I have been impressed by the strength and stability of FirstCaribbean, and am excited about its prospects for the future."
"FirstCaribbean is a strong, well-performing business that continues to grow across the region. FirstCaribbean remains laser focused on delivering on its strategy - providing its clients with first-class service through a modern, every day banking experience and providing its employees with the best possible work experience," said Ms Delaney, its chief executive.