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Bank branches out
Despite a downturn in the economy where some companies are laying off workers and businesses are operating in tough conditions, CICB FirstCaribbean bank is opening a new financial centre on April 24 in Chaguanas.
Anthony Seeraj, managing director of the local operations of CIBC FirstCaribbean, believes the bank has performed solidly in T&T and also the country’s economy will improve sooner rather than later.
“This is in view of what is happening in the local economy and the lack of confidence and the hesitancy to want to expand. We had a good performance at the end of our financial year 2016. Our loan portfolio has also been increasing as well. Economics is a cycle, you reach the bottom before you start to go up. So this is an opportune time to position the bank to take advantage of the upswings that will come. We have heard about natural gas and oil production increasing so that will lead to increased inflows into the country,” he told the Business Guardian last week via a tele-conference call at the bank’s head office at Long Circular Road in Port-of-Spain.
Seeraj was joined by two other bank officials. They were Trevor Torzsas, managing director, customer relationship management & strategy, and the chairman of the local board, Mark St Hill.
CIBC—the parent bank—is a Canadian-based bank that operates in 17 countries throughout the Caribbean providing banking services through 3,000 employees in 80 branches and offices.
They are one of the largest regionally-listed financial services institutions in the English and Dutch-speaking Caribbean, with more than US$11 billion in assets and market capitalisation of US$1.8 billion.
The bank also has an office in Hong Kong.
Torzsas said they have been in the T&T for 12 years.
“We are very excited to have a full service offering in T&T and this is one of our key growth markets for the future. According to Bloomberg, CIBC is the fourth strongest bank in the world.”
Seeraj said for last 12 years, the bank has had one branch at Long Circular, St James.
“We have a staff compliment of 53 at the Long Circular branch and we serve the length and breadth of country. We are now expanding our footprint and entering Chaguanas. The new financial centre will be 6,055 square feet in size.”
He said this new branch will be off the Munroe Road flyover, “so there will be no traffic to get on or off the bank’s compound.
“It is easy access. For a lot of people getting into Chaguanas is a nightmare. The bank is strategically located there. If you look at the level of commercial activity on Munroe Road, it is high and there is a ready market for that branch.”
Despite the macroeconomic environment, he said the bank had made the best decision to expand at this time.
“We have quite a lot of clients who are situated in Central and South so it is easy for them to get to the bank. Also, the alternative channels that we are providing are ideal now that you are hearing that the country is very vociferous about banking fees and charges. Once clients use the alternate channels we have, there will be no fees nor charges. We have not adjusted our fees since 2012 as we have been the ‘new kid on the block’ and the bank has to keep things moderate,” he said.
Seeraj said the quality of their service and the price of their financial products separate them from competitors in the banking industry in T&T.
“It is more than a banker and client relationship. We act as advisers and ensure people make the right decisions.
“Whether they want a retirement plan or start saving to buy a first house, they can get advice on how to do that,” he said.
Leading in technology
Torzsas said the bank’s tag line is “banking that fits your life” and so the technology platforms they have created are meant to give easy access to customers.
“People do not want to come into a branch to do their banking. They are happy to come in for financial advice and that is why the bank is opening a financial centre rather than a branch in Chaguanas. People want to pay their bills using their mobile. They want to service their credit cards on their mobile app. So it is important that we offer best-in-class mobile applications as one of the ways our customers can bank,” he said.
Torzsas said they have approximately 30,000 users of their mobile app in the region; an app that was launched less than one year ago. “T&T is a tech savvy country. We expect the uptake on this app to be very, very strong.”
Seeraj added that the bank’s technology makes it one of the world’s safest.
“Our bank is the only one in the region to employ the chip and tap technology. This is the latest technology for security. We need to ensure our client’s assets are safe. In our cards there is a microprocessor chip and that is a unique identifier that only that card has. So a customer’s card cannot be replicated,” he said.
T&T’s strategic importance
St Hill, the managing director of the bank’s regional retail and business arm and also director of the local board, said T&T remains “strategically” important to the bank’s international operations.
“We will bring a difference to the market with this new financial centre. At the end of the day, we will bring strong relationship management, supported by strong technology.”
He pointed out differences between T&T’s market and the rest of the region.
“When we entered the T&T market, we were not doing mass retail banking. In some of our territories where we have been in for over 100 years, we have a range of banking which is traditional banking, mixed with the corporate and business. We are building our base in T&T through individual relationships,” St Hill said.
According to St Hill, the bank entered T&T’s market 12 years ago, with an emphasis on the corporate clientele.
“We have a myriad of advice according to who you are as an individual or who you are as a company,” said Seeraj, adding, “we also offer corporate banking services so small businesses owners also come to them to have their needs attended to.”
According to St Hill, “What we are now building is the individual space. We are also building business banking. So we have the individual. Then, in terms of the business banking it would be the size of sales, turn over, the businesses, in many cases, are family owned. The next tier would be the corporate.”
He said customers in other banks may be just “a number” but for FirstCaribbean, everything is relationship driven.
“For some banks, it is just a customer standing in a line but that is not what this bank is bringing. For every client, we will bring that relationship. The client is at the centre of what we do.”
St Hill gave an idea of the size of their operations in the T&T market by saying they have 300 corporate accounts and 150 individuals in the platinum category.
He explained that the “platinum category” is where the customer has a specialised relationship with a specific banker who he can contact for the services he needs.
“I would say in total we have 600 ‘relationships’ in T&T. But that has been developed on an old existing platform. That will change significantly in the next 20 days as we open the new financial centre. We are very humbled by the number of people in Chaguanas enquiring about our services,” he said.
St Hill said they spent US $2 million in outfitting the new centre.
According to FirstCaribbean International Bank Ltd’s condensed consolidated financial results for the quarter ended January 31, 2017, the bank reported net income of US$33.8 million for the first quarter of the fiscal, US$4.9 million or 13 per cent below the first quarter’s net income of US$38.7 million a year ago. Revenue in the prior year was helped by several non-recurring items.
According to their statement, overall the bank delivered another quarter of strong core operating results and showed profitable growth despite an uncertain and challenging economic environment.
Total revenue for the period was US$133.3 million, US$4.9 million or four per cent below the same period last year where the bank benefited from several non-recurring revenue items. Productive loans, a key performance driver, have continued to grow, increasing US$193.5 million or three per cent.