• Banker: Bahamas should be doing this already
• Regulator applauded for 21st century moves
• Greater clarity sought on ‘embryonic’ reforms
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Central Bank’s governor has “laid down the gauntlet” with his plans to modernise the commercial banking industry for the 21st century, a BISX-listed institution’s chief executive said yesterday.
Gowon Bowe, Fidelity Bank (Bahamas) chief executive, told Tribune Business that the objectives and strategies unveiled by John Rolle at last week’s Bahamas Business Outlook conference targeted issues that the local banking industry should have been doing already.
Responding to the Central Bank chief’s drive for greater transparency, accountability and consumer protection, Mr Bowe said Fidelity Bank (Bahamas) had no objection to or difficulties with the policies that were set out.
“He’s laid down the gauntlet of what he wants to achieve,” he told this newspaper of the governor’s address. “He said that you either get on board or there will be consequences. That’s the right manner as a regulator.
“We are in a fairly mature banking industry, and we have to be nimble in the way we adapt. Some of those are things we already should be doing and we should not be surprised at. From my organisation’s perspective, these are things that have been discussed with the Central Bank over time.”
Mr Rolle, in his Business Outlook address, pledged to deliver “greater transparency” on commercial bank fees and provide Bahamian financial services consumers with greater choice and protection. He promised that the “Financial Services Ombudsman” post will be established early this year.
Acknowledging that “governance, transparency and consumer protection will also require bolstering”, Mr Rolle said the Central Bank planned to start by producing more openness around commercial bank fees that have long drawn the ire of consumers.
“One near-term deliverable will be publication of more comparable information on the fee structure of financial products across banks, using a standardised template that has been already developed. This would promote more informed choices across products and services being provided by competing institutions,” he argued.
“The bank will also consider what regulatory avenues can be exploited to promote transparency around fee setting practices under the Payment Systems Act. In addition, as regards mobility and choice, the Central Bank will explore medium-term reforms around the feasibility of open banking, having full regard to regulatory proposals that would encourage product development, but keep consumer protection in full view.
“From an inclusion perspective, we will also explore the feasibility of incorporating universal access criteria into the basic product mix of financial institutions through potentially a basic, no-frills, fee- regulated instrument that each institution would have to provide.”
Mr Bowe told Tribune Business that consumer protection had been “part of first world banking for decades, but is not so prevalent in The Bahamas”. Suggesting that it would help prevent the mis-selling of financial services to Bahamians, as has happened in other jurisdictions, he added: “I think that in The Bahamas that is necessary. We don’t have complex products.
“I think the ombudsman’s role is also necessary. I don’t believe the Central Bank should really be the advocate for consumer protection. They’re the ones which take the feedback from the ombudsman to determine if the rules and regulations” need strengthening.
Setting out his vision for the ombudsman’s role, Mr Rolle had said: “Taking a more holistic view of consumer protection, the Central Bank is now committed to completing the establishment of the Financial Services Ombudsman role early in 2021.
“Initially, the role will strengthen advocacy around service delivery within Central Bank-supervised institutions, and identify where principles-based regulations can be deployed under the existing laws within the Central Bank’s remit.
“In addition, the ombudsman will focus on proposals for consumer financial protection that might require new comprehensive regulations. For example, the current scope which the Central Bank has in the payments space would not impact credit products.”
Kenrick Brathwaite, the Clearing Banks Association’s chairman, said that while the industry had no objections to what the Central Bank governor had set out, more clarity was needed on the precise role that the proposed ombudsman will play.
“That requires a lot more consultation and conversation,” he told Tribune Business. “The full extent of that post has to be defined so that everyone understand what the position is created to achieve. A lot of these things are in the embryonic stages, and we will have consultation and conversation with the governor so that we are all on the same page with regard to these things.
“But I can tell you I don’t generally have any objections to this. These are in in the embryonic stages, and some of the things he’s talking about have not even been discussed. We’re going to have the regular meeting with the governor in a few weeks when we will sit down and discuss these things.
“The things he’s talking about we knew were coming and don’t generally have any objections to them.”