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Bahamas slips 3 places on financial services Index

The Bahamas has slipped another three places to 67th on the Y/Zen Group’s 9th Global Financial Services Index(GFSI), published yesterday.

The jurisdiction’s slip in ranking came along with a fall in its rating, from 529 six months ago to 517, behind all other offshore centers on the list. The news comes as The Bahamas hosts financial training institutes from around the world during the 9th World Conference of Banking Institutes. Ironically, their role impacts greatly on the single most important determinant of jurisdictional competitiveness–the availability of skilled personnel.

“The Bahamas is a leading financial center, but it needs to keep working at it. You can’t be complacent. London had a slippage too, but in order to get going you need a skill base,”Simon Culhane, chief executive of the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment toldGuardian Businessyesterday.

The availability of skilled personnel factored at the top of the 14 competitiveness factors used in the GFSI methodology, ahead of factors like the regulatory environment(second), the availability of business infrastructure(fourth), government responsiveness(seventh)and the corporate tax regime(eighth). With the jurisdiction’s declared focus on wealth management, the human resources factor becomes even more critical, according to Culhane.

“In the wealth management market[the availability of skilled personnel]is very important, because people who have the money will look carefully to make sure the advice is top quality. So they won’t want the minimum standards, they want people who have got much more than the minimum,”Culhane said.

The need for having a highly-skilled labor force in financial services is by no means news to industry stakeholders and decision makers. The hosting of the 19th World Conference of Banking Institutes by the Bahamas Institute of Financial Services(BIFS)over the past three days may bear that out. Wendy Warren, Bahamas Financial Services Board CEO, told this paper yesterday that the success of the sector is”intricately tied”to expanding the range of skills–and being globally recognized for it.

“BFSB is firmly of the view that human capital is the driver of this industry. Talent generates confidence, an essential ingredient in cross-border trade involving financial assets,”Warren said.

Tanya McCartney, BIFS president and RBC FINCO managing director, told this newspaper that the role the institute will play in improving The Bahamas’rating and perception is critical.

“At the end of the day it is people who make up the sector and the level of skills, qualifications and the level of integrity people have that will influence what our rating is,”McCartney said.”The programs that we offer will have to be geared toward raising the standards in terms of skills and ensuring that we reinforce the importance of ethics and integrity in execution of our duties in the sector.”

According to Kim Bodie, executive director of BIFS, there also needs to be a concerted effort to market the level of intellectual capital already existing within the jurisdiction, noting that after 36 years the institute was no’novice’, and that the proof of the caliber of local professionals may exist in the presence of banks like UBS, SG Hambros and Pictet.

A retired banking executive, Al Jarrett, said that immigration policies are also contributing to a less-skilled labor force.

“About 12 years ago Bahamians had the opportunity to go outside The Bahamas and the Caribbean for training on a global level,”Jarrett said. He added that he had opportunities to work in New York, Canada and other jurisdictions that prepared him to be an international banker. Now, with the movement of mind and management of several leading Canadian banks out of The Bahamas to Caribbean centers such as Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados, he said Bahamians are being precluded from the critical global exposure.

The invaluable experience of relocating to international financial centers may never be available to the majority of Bahamians in the sector, however, intellectual capital improvements through BIFS training and online access to international certification may be more accessible, particularly considering that examinations can be taken locally via the Internet.

From Culhane’s perspective, more international certification in the sector would go a long way in improving skill levels and allowing the jurisdiction to promote the high level of intellectual capital here.

“If you want to attract international investors you need international qualifications,”Culhane said.

CISI, which is a charity, is recognized by 92 percent of the world’s banks, according to Culhane. He also said that CISI provides certification in three specific areas integral to a wealth management-focused industry, including wealth, securities and investment management certifications.

“The Bahamas Institute(of Financial Services) expressed great interest in our qualifications,”Culhane said.”We hope that soon we may be able to announce something more formal.”

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