RBC sidesteps question about Caribbean pullout

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By Robert A. Emmanuel

The Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) has avoided giving any definite answer to reports that it is holding discussions with local banks regarding a potential sale of its assets ahead of closing shop in the Caribbean region.

Recent reports suggest that another Canadian bank was looking to sell its assets to local banks in the Caribbean jurisdictions in which it operates, and at Thursday’s post-Cabinet press briefing, Information Minister Melford Nicholas told reporters that the bank in question was RBC.

However, in an emailed response to a question from OBSERVER about what Minister Nicholas had said, Jacqueline Taggart – Director of Sales, Effectiveness, Strategic and Corporate Communications for RBC (Caribbean Banking) – stated that, “RBC has had a presence in the Caribbean for more than 100 years. Rumors of our impending departure have likely been around for more than 99 of those years. While we originated in Canada, we have deep roots in the Caribbean and the countries where we operate, with a vested interest in the growth and development of our communities. 

“For several years, RBC Caribbean Banking has been on a path to become the premier digitally-enabled relationship bank in the Caribbean markets we serve. We continue to base our strategy and growth in the region on three imperatives: build a high-performance culture; focus on and expand our relationships with our clients by providing solutions and services they value; and leverage RBC innovation and capabilities to serve our clients with excellence, anytime and anywhere.

“Our clients are our first priority and that commitment is constant in the strategic business decisions we make. Our ongoing focus is to ensure our business services, structure and priorities support our strategic vision, drive our financial performance, and improve the client experience.”

In the meantime, there continues to be no end in sight to the ongoing impasse between Canadian-based Scotiabank and the government of Antigua and Barbuda, as Scotiabank continues to reject any request or proposal to sell its assets to local banks.

Digging in its heels last week, the bank, in a letter to Prime Minister Gaston Browne, stated that it would be willing to close its branches and leave Antigua and Barbuda unless it was allowed to proceed with the intended sale of its Antigua business to Republic Financial Holdings (RFH) of Trinidad and Tobago.

At yesterday’s briefing, Minister Nicholas said the government will handle any consequences surrounding the potential closure and exit of Scotiabank.

“Clearly, a sale to Republic Financial Holdings is not on the cards—the government will not allow it. So the option is going to be whether Scotiabank engages the government with its intention in good faith or whether it closes its operation.

“If it closes its operations, that too has consequences in taking that approach, and the government is quite prepared to engage,” he said.

Nicholas maintained the government’s stance that the Canadian bank should sell its assets to local banks, as the people of Antigua and Barbuda have a vested interest in the potential future sale of Scotiabank.

“It is going to be left up to us to build our own resources, banks, institutions; and that is the essence and ethos behind the Prime Minister’s and the Government of Antigua and Barbuda’s insistence that the resources that would remain when Scotiabank leaves are really the deposits for Antigua and Barbuda.

“The monies they have in deposits are the deposits of Antiguans and Barbudans. The businesses that they have done and the mortgages that they have underwritten are the business of Antiguans and Barbudans; and so the government is adamant that we are not without the capability of managing those resources,” the Minister highlighted.

Additionally, and true to form, members of the public were not shy about voicing their opinions when the matter came up for discussion on yesterday’s OBSERVER AM radio programme.

One caller stated that while he supported the Prime Minister’s intention, Scotiabank and Republic Financial Holdings cannot afford to appear as if they are bending to Browne’s will.

Other callers shared the view that Scotiabank should give Antiguans and Barbudans “first choice” regarding to the bank’s sale.

 Another caller believed that investors would think twice about coming to the country, and others criticized the government’s approach to the matter.

In the meantime, Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American States, Sir Ronald Sanders, in his opinion piece, stated that Scotiabank’s decision to not engage the government prior to its agreement with Republic Bank or discuss the sale with other Caribbean governments “was extraordinary” and that “in Canada, no bank… can carry on business without obtaining the approval of the Finance Minister and the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions.”

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