Diplomatic Notes

Banks do what is in their best interest, we have to do what is in ours

There has been a major uproar in recent times after one of the major local banks based in Canada made announcements regarding discontinuing issuing $20 bills and below from its ATM machines followed by the announcement that savings accounts and fixed deposits will now attract zero interest. There were calls for boycotts and removal of funds and protests on Facebook. Many felt insulted by the bank and some persons followed up on their threats and took their money from the bank. Is this the right course of action? Are the banks being unreasonable and insensitive to the needs of Bahamians?

Before we answer that question, we have to examine the current trends in the Caribbean and the climate in the financial arena globally. In speaking with a number of professionals in the financial world, I discovered that since 2008 and the financial bubble, foreign banks and Canadian banks in particular have been seeking to reduce their footprint particularly as it relates to ordinary banking. The once profitable Caribbean market has declined, and banks are a business, so they are making business decisions. It is true that they have been profitable for many years in the past and they have been unfair in their practices, but can we blame them if we let them get away with it? In business, companies do what they are allowed to do, and in many instances, we allowed them to do things that were not in our favor. In life you get what you negotiate, so if they took advantage of us, it is because we allowed it.

The Bahamas belongs to us, and our lawmakers determine what our policies will be. We do live in a free-market economy so there is a limit on what governments can do, but the Government does have a say and does hold some leverage. Either we use it, or we suffer the consequences. In the current environment the legislative options may be limited which means as a country we have to realize that the answer is not in cajoling the banks, but it may be that we need to do what we should have done a long time ago – and that is open more Bahamian banks and utilize the services of existing Bahamian banks at a higher rate.

Why do we need foreign banks?

We need foreign banks because there are certain services and transactions that are difficult to do without them. Correspondent banking, certain international transactions, and high capital items are the domain of the foreign banks so in some cases we have to use them. There are many other instances when we do not have to use them so in those instances, we should use the Bahamian banks.

I view banks from a simple business perspective – if I need your services, I utilize them. If I don’t need your services, then I bank with whoever gives me the best advantage. What I have found in more recent times is that the foreign banks have consolidated their operations regionally and internationally so many of the decisions that were previously made locally are now made in Canada or another part of the Caribbean. This has been a frustrating experience for me, and I realize that even though I’m aggrieved, my complaints are ignored because they made a business decision, and they have the leverage. In that case I have done two things – examined and researched their operations to see how I can communicate with the decision makers locally or abroad – and I utilize them for what I absolutely need and what is convenient for me. Wherever possible I do business with Bahamian banks where I know the manager or owner and can speak directly with decision makers. Unfortunately, business is business, and the banks look out for their interests, and I have to look out for mine. Where they intersect, we have a relationship, where they do not, I move elsewhere.

I believe this situation should cause a resolve among our people to take the corrective action. We also have to be practical. If you get angry and take your money out of the bank and then next week you need to do a transaction that only they can process it means you made an emotional decision. Emotions are important, but misguided emotions can create unnecessary stress. Sometimes we are led to believe that capitalism is Christian or God’s plan. Capitalism is good and bad. It can be a very cruel system to those without capital and a boon to those who have capital. It is certainly not the kingdom way.

If we look at the book of Acts 2:44-46 one thing that stands out is that it says,“All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.”

Sure, we need private ownership and reward for work, we also need a system that looks out for those in need rather than allow people to sleep on the streets or go hungry while we purchase bigger homes and fancier cars.

At the end of the day, the banks will do what is in their best interests and we have to do what is in our best interests. Foreign banks are trying to leave The Bahamas, or at least reduce their footprint so that they remain in the profitable sectors only. Consumer banking for them at this time may be more of a headache than anything else. If this is indeed the case, the same way they made a business decision, each of us should make business decisions. Our Government should also make a business decision and determine what we need and don’t need them for, and address it accordingly. Remember you get what you negotiate, not what you deserve.

• Pastor Dave Burrows is senior pastor at Bahamas Faith Ministries International. Feel free to email comments, whether you agree or disagree, to pastordaveburrows@hotmail.com. I appreciate your input and dialogue. We become better when we discuss, examine and exchange. 

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