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Bank’s Out Island sites ‘a philanthropic service’

  • As South Eleuthera faces ‘dire situation’

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Reporter

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Bank of The Bahamas’ top executive yesterday described its Family Island presence as an act of “philanthropy” amid complaints that woes at its branch have left south Eleuthera in “a dire situation”.

Neil Strachan, the BISX-listed institution’s managing director, confirmed to Tribune Business that the automated teller machine (ATM) at its south Eleuthera branch was “up and down” due to frequent breakdowns that have forced businesses and individuals to “queue from morning to night” in a bid to access their money.

Revealing that Bank of Bahamas is exploring “agency banking” as an alternative means to provide more efficient financial services, he added that “zero” Family Island branches are profitable and its continued presence in these locations is only maintained at the behest of its majority shareholder - the Government.

Mr Strachan also argued that Family Island communities are failing to uphold their side of the relationship, saying many persons were “quick to complain” when things go wrong yet fail to provide sufficient support. As an example, he cited a recent business symposium held in Eleuthera that was attended by a six-strong Bank of The Bahamas team, yet only five persons from the business community attended.

The Bank of The Bahamas chief spoke out after multiple south Eleuthera businesses argued that the loss of the ATM, the “only facility for 60 miles” before reaching Governor’s Harbour, had exacerbated problems caused by the bank’s failure to “keep pace” with the area’s rapid economic growth driven by investments such as Disney Cruise Line’s Lighthouse Point project.

Chris Cates, a Rock Sound resident who operates a gas station and lumber/hardware store with his family, told Tribune Business that as many as 40 persons can be found queuing outside Bank of The Bahamas’ branch at any one time as they can only gain access to their accounts manually.

Asserting that the branch’s ATM has been offline for about a week, he said: “We are really challenged here. I want to sensitise the powers that be to our plight. We are really struggling. South Eleuthera has a seen a resurgence in our economy thanks to Disney and Lighthouse Point. Unfortunately, Bank of The Bahamas has not been able to keep pace.

“We’re in a position where it’s near-impossible to do business banking and individual banking. I think of the elderly and working class folks. There is literally a line, and it can be as many as 40 persons outside, and that lasts from morning to night.

“We have a huge expatriate workforce here because of Disney. It’s crazy the manpower hours being lost because of the inability to serve the public. As a business, you cannot get your deposits into the bank. It’s just getting them in, because you cannot get into the bank. I think the staff at Bank of The Bahamas are doing the best they can with what they have, but they are seriously under-staffed.”

Mr Strachan yesterday agreed that it was “accurate” to say the south Eleuthera branch’s ATM is presently off-line, and that there have been frequent problems with it. He explained that IBM, the machine’s manufacturer, does not keep the necessary spare parts in The Bahamas and these have to be sourced from Florida, which delays repairs and lengthens the time taken to restore its services.

“The ATM has been up and down,” the Bank of The Bahamas managing director confirmed. “We’ve had several issues, primarily with the machine breaking down. The challenge for us is the parts, IBM, they don’t keep the parts in inventory locally. We have to go and get the parts, and there are technical issues. They have legitimate complaints. We have to wait a little.”

Mr Cates, meanwhile, said the situation is impacting “dozens of people”. He added that some persons “sit out from 7am in the morning hoping to be first in line”, with his elderly mother - who handles banking for the family’s businesses - sometimes making up to four attempts per day to deposit money, and even returning home unable to accomplish this.

“The big challenge is if the ATM never works, if someone wants $50 out of their account, they have to queue up to enter the bank like someone opening a new account,” he added. “We have people lining up because the ATM is never operational. It’s very unsafe for businesses to do cash banking.

“They now have a policy where they close Wednesday. That’s the wildest decision to make, to close in the week, and open every other Saturday to compensate.” Mr Strachan confirmed that Bank of The Bahamas’ South Eleuthera branch is now opening on the second and fourth Saturday of every month “so we have tried to accommodate the community as best we can”.

Mr Cates said persons receiving their pay on Friday are unable to access it until Monday, after the weekend, because they are unable to enter the bank before it closes. “South Eleuthera is grateful for the economic boom, but we need help with our banking,” he told Tribune Business. “It’s a dire situation with our banking. It’s no reflection on the team in the bank; I feel they’re handicapped by lack of resources.

“I feel like we’ve gone backwards with our banking. We had Scotiabank for years, and before that Barclays, and they served us well. We’re in a real quandary. If you generate significant turnover and can’t get it in the bank, it’s a real problem.”

Mr Strachan, though, argued that the relationship with Family Island communities is, in effect, a two-way street and Bank of The Bahamas is not receiving sufficient support for maintaining unprofitable branches to serve them.

“The bank just participated in a business symposium down there put on by the Eleuthera Chamber of Commerce,” he said. “How many persons do you think attended? Five. The organisers included a session about banking, and I sent a team down there of six employees to participate. They had five people that showed up.

“It was organised by [Chamber president] Thomas Sands. He called me, and I said we’d participate to see what we could do to improve banking in that area. The bank is performing a philanthropic service in areas of the Family Islands.

“It’s not profitable. None of the Family Islands are profitable. Zero. That’s why all the other banks pulled out. We’re there. The shareholders [the Government, through NIB and the Public Treasury] want us to be there to service the island.”

Mr Strachan said Bank of The Bahamas is exploring “agency banking”, which will involve appointing existing businesses as its agents to provide financial services on its behalf, as a means to operate in the Family Islands. He added that it is the process of negotiating and agreeing contracts now.

“It’s an alternative means to provide the same level of service more efficiently,” he added. “We don’t get the support from the community. They complain, but don’t support. They’re quick to complain, but when we have a business symposium and only five people show up, they’re not serious.

“We’re trying to find alternative means. I’m hoping agency banking works. I think it will. Fidelity has done a bit in Exuma. We’ll see what happens. We’ll make some public announcements shortly.”

Mr Sands, echoing Mr Cates’ concerns, told Tribune Business that the ATM’s loss has been a serious blow the ease of doing business in a community and private sector that still rely heavily on cash-based transactions.

“There are challenges,” the Eleuthera Chamber of Commerce president affirmed. “Their ATM is down. They are the only bank in this area. The line is around the door when they open and the ATM being down for a significant period of time.

“A lot of people rely on it. It’s the only ATM between here and Governor’s Harbour. It’s the only ATM for 60 miles. It’s the lifeblood for 60 miles for the community. It’s an important part of the community and economy. It means people don’t have cash to go and purchase from some businesses, and a lot of businesses are still mainly cash transactions.

“Let me say that it has been indicated to me they [Bank of The Bahamas] intend to make some improvements. I don’t think they have announced them yet, but the community is growing rapidly. It’s kind of a different day than it was two to three years ago. The rate of growth is significant, and we all have to prepare for a growing economy.”

Comments

sheeprunner12 1 month, 1 week ago

If Eleuthera is struggling with banking, imagine any island further South. Thank God for Post Offices ....... Smh

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Socrates 1 month, 1 week ago

Isn’t it ironic that a country that boasts about being a leader in offshore banking can’t provide adequate facilities for its own citizens and residents?

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AnObserver 1 month, 1 week ago

I haven't set foot inside of a bank in years. There is nearly zero reason for the banks to maintain a physical presence. Everything is done online these days.

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truetruebahamian 1 month, 1 week ago

Wrong. Cash transactions are the life blood of the communities.

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Porcupine 1 month, 1 week ago

Wrong. Our internet is so bad that no business would get done on the Family Islands without cash.

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LastManStanding 1 month ago

Get Starlink if you can, it is miles better than anything BTC or Cable have to offer on the Family Islands.

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Porcupine 1 month, 1 week ago

Mr. Straughn, Your statements are a joke. You should find another career. You say, "It’s not profitable. None of the Family Islands are profitable. Zero. That’s why all the other banks pulled out. We’re there. The shareholders [the Government, through NIB and the Public Treasury] want us to be there to service the island.” Mr. Straughn, banking is a national service critical to the functioning of a society.. Bank of Bahamas was, and could be profitable, except for the historical incompetent management and sticky fingers of far too many in your organization.. You must know this from reading this paper for the last 20 years, yes?. BOB has failed, just like every other SOE in this country. Correct? Maybe NIB and Bahamas Air and Water & Sewerage should all "pull out" too? They are also losing money. I have personally spent 15 years asking BOB for sensible improvements on our Family Island. BOB officials have not been honest, responsive, or seem to care about the Family Islands. Get off your high horse Mr. Straughn. You are a mouthpiece for a failed company. For you to suggest that the Family Islanders don't support BOB is crazy. Maybe, like me, they are tired of the empty words, the shitty service and the pretense that you are doing us a favor. Do you know how much time I have spent trying to get BOB to do the right thing? And, you want to know why anyone would waste their time coming to your silly Photo-op meetings. KMA Your statements are an affront to all Family Islanders in this country. I have heard 10 year olds make more sense than you, Mr. Straughn.

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sheeprunner12 1 month, 1 week ago

I agree Porcupine.

If BOB in Inagua is unprofitable, then we know that serious teefing is going on there. That bank is sitting in the midst of a goldmine, with citizens who make tons of Morton money, with very little to do with it.

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