By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
Long Island's MP yesterday urged Bahamian commercial banks to created shared services hubs that will cater to multiple Family Islands rather than abandon these locations completely.
Adrian Gibson, also executive chairman of the Water and Sewerage Corporation, told the Long Island Business Outlook webinar that Scotiabank's decision to exit four Family Islands over the next four months would further undermine the ability of residents to access financial services.
"The recent revelation by Scotiabank that they intend to exit those branches on Long Island, Exuma, Andros, Abaco and Paradise Island has caused much consternation, I understand, particularly given that our population is middle aged [and] elderly," Mr Gibson said. "I believe that this will affect my constituents greatly.
"As I told Scotia, there are many who are also challenged with Internet access and digital literacy. Let me note that I've written to the minister of finance to suggest that Bank of The Bahamas (BOB) be domiciled on Long Island to ensure that residents have this banking option as Scotia closes its branch in four months.”
K Peter Turnquest, deputy prime minister and minister for finance, told the House of Assembly last week that replacing Scotiabank's closing branches with Bank of The Bahamas' locations is “unlikely to be a viable option".
And Roger Archer, Scotiabank (Bahamas) managing director, had previously contradicted Mr Gibson's concerns over Internet access and digital illiteracy by asserting that 93 percent of transactions at the five branches it plans to close are now being conducted over self-service or digital banking channels.
However, Mr Gibson argued that the commercial banks needed to merge their Family Island branches into shared services hubs. This, he suggested, would reduce costs and generate greater efficiencies while enabling them to continue serving these markets.
"That need for Bank of The Bahamas to have a physical presence on the island will ensure that residents are not unbanked, and we also note that I've heard from the managing director and the retail director of Scotiabank, and they have assured me the automated teller machine will remain on the island," Mr Gibson said.
"Islanders will be able to withdraw funds, deposit funds, pay credit cards, etc, and that they will fly into service; that they've also assured me. They will provide customer assistance in training business persons and the elderly to prepare them for the digital platform, and they will maintain their credit card machines and business relations with Long Island business operators.
“I'm of the view that the commercial banks should consider creating banking hubs on the islands, where they share the cost of space under one roof and can carry some of their regular services and multiple brands under the same roof.”
As for ongoing water infrastructure works in Long Island, Mr Gibson added: “I've charged the Corporation's management to review their strategies for provision of affordable water supply for residents where we have not already reached.
"When it's all said and done, only about 10 percent of the population does not have access to potable water. We will be working on those as well. We know that we will also be establishing a commercial office in north Long Island as we expand the system and bring new customers on to the system."
He continued: "In recent weeks, several pieces of equipment have been taken to Long Island to commence the first phase of the roadworks on the island. A $4.3m project was awarded to Bethel’s Trucking and Heavy Equipment. This is the first phase of the road paving exercise. I look forward to seeing them again in short course.
"The road to the monument, and development of that cultural and economic site, is substantially complete. A $500,000 bridge connecting the eco-touristic haven, Newton’s Cay, to Long Island is also completed and serves as a major tourist attraction."
Mr Gibson lamented that Long Island's Road Traffic office remains closed following the death of its sole employee. "I, too, have a rental car business, and I understand the importance of having access to licensing. I'm pleased to announce that I've been in talks with Dion Foulkes (minister for transport), and the Cabinet has approved the hiring and training of a number of persons to man local road traffic offices.
"Moreover, a new Road Traffic office will also be opened in Deal’s, which will complement the office in Hamilton's. We expect those offices to be opened in short course. Those offices will be equipped with brand new printers for the printing of driver's licenses and other modernised features"