EASTERN CARIBBEAN CEN­TRAL BANK PLANS FOR GROWTH

The ECCB re­leased its new Strate­gic Plan this month, aim­ing to trans­form the re­gion

The Star (St. Lucia) - Business Week - - NEWS - BY CATHER­INE MOR­RIS, STAR BUSINESSWEEK COR­RE­SPON­DENT

The Eastern Caribbean Cen­tral Bank (ECCB) is hav­ing a good year. In March the in­sti­tu­tion posted a $6.3m profit af­ter three con­sec­u­tive years in the black. This growth re­flected the strength of the EC dol­lar which, at press time, had a back­ing ra­tio of 98.3 per cent - well above the statu­tory base­line of 60 per cent and even ex­ceed­ing the bank’s 80 per cent op­er­a­tional tar­get.

Fresh from these suc­cesses, the ECCB is con­tin­u­ing its for­ward mo­men­tum with the launch of a new roadmap for growth. Un­veiled ear­lier this month, the 2017-2021 Strate­gic Plan is a “new vi­sion for a new era” ac­cord­ing to ECCB Gover­nor Ti­mothy An­toine. He says peo­ple are at the heart of the ini­tia­tive which calls for a new ap­proach to tackle new chal­lenges with the ul­ti­mate aim of de­liv­er­ing “so­cio-eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion”.

“It is about rais­ing the qual­ity of life of the peo­ple of this re­gion,” says the Gover­nor. “That is es­sen­tially the mis­sion of the bank.”

To de­liver on the ECCB’s twin man­date of main­tain­ing fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity and pro­mot­ing eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, the strate­gic plan iden­ti­fies five main goals in­clud­ing en­hanc­ing or­gan­i­sa­tional ef­fec­tive­ness, main­tain­ing the EC dol­lar, strength­en­ing the fi­nan­cial sec­tor and be­ing an ef­fec­tive ad­vi­sor to the re­gion’s gov­ern­ments.

A CHAL­LENG­ING CLI­MATE

It is a com­pre­hen­sive and wide-rang­ing plan, de­signed to meet the Caribbean’s chal­lenges head-on. An­toine says: “This plan comes at a time when our re­gion is con­fronted by many chal­lenges, in­clud­ing slow growth, high un­em­ploy­ment and in­creased fre­quency and sever­ity of nat­u­ral dis­as­ters.”

The lat­ter is es­pe­cially rel­e­vant given the re­gion’s re­cent bat­ter­ing by hur­ri­canes Irma and Maria - two back to back cat­e­gory five storms which dev­as­tated parts of the Eastern Caribbean last month. Ad­dress­ing the United Na­tions Assem­bly in Septem­ber, Saint Lu­cia Prime Min­is­ter Allen Chas­tanet high­lighted this is­sue, and Saint Lu­cia’s vul­ner­a­bil­ity, say­ing: “It is im­pos­si­ble to avoid the facts of cli­mate change. What is fast be­com­ing the new nor­mal is the in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion of ex­treme weather events which de­mands from us real so­lu­tions in real time. No longer can we de­pend on old mech­a­nisms with dense bu­reau­cra­cies that de­lay or limit a na­tion’s abil­ity to safe­guard its ci­ti­zens dur­ing a cri­sis and slow the re­build­ing ef­fort.”

This year, Irma and Maria are bound to make a dent in the re­gion’s fore­casted 3 per cent growth. The ECCB’s new strat­egy is fo­cus­ing on mak­ing the re­gion more re­silient, cre­at­ing a Re­gional Re­silience Fund that all is­land na­tions in the Eastern Caribbean Cur­rency Union (ECCU) will con­trib­ute to and ben­e­fit from.

“Gov­ern­ments would con­sis­tently set aside a por­tion of rev­enues from the Ci­ti­zen­ship by In­vest­ment funds, where they ex­ist. [These] can then be lever­aged to at­tract cli­mate fi­nance from the var­i­ous fa­cil­i­ties es­tab­lished to sup­port the Paris Cli­mate Ac­cord,” ex­plains An­toine. “You save for the rainy day and God knows it has been rain­ing quite heav­ily around these parts lately.”

In ad­di­tion, the bank in­tends to con­tinue to en­gage in the ex­pan­sion of in­fra­struc­ture for clean en­ergy projects. In this area it is lead­ing by ex­am­ple with plans to green the en­tire ECCB cam­pus in St Kitts within five years, mak­ing it wholly car­bon neu­tral. “We are tak­ing the lead, to sig­nal to the world that this is im­por­tant to us,” says An­toine. “Global warm­ing is hurt­ing our economies so we are not just talk­ing, we are tak­ing it se­ri­ously.”

BET­TER BUSI­NESS

From cli­mate change, to chang­ing the busi­ness cli­mate. Like many oth­ers in the re­gion, Saint Lu­cia has seen its busi­ness sec­tor stag­nate, hin­dered by lack of ac­cess to fi­nance, lim­ited re­sources and the high cost of do­ing busi­ness. Saint Lu­cia’s econ­omy grew by just 0.9 per cent in 2016. In de­liv­er­ing the 2017 bud­get in May, Prime Min­is­ter Chas­tanet called low eco­nomic growth the coun­try’s “num­ber one chal­lenge”.

The ECCB aims to cre­ate a bet­ter en­vi­ron­ment for busi­ness by re­mov­ing many of the ob­sta­cles long faced by the pri­vate sec­tor. “The adop­tion of cer­tain struc­tural re­forms to im­prove the busi­ness cli­mate such as mod­ern land reg­istries, par­tial guar­an­tee scheme and credit bureau are all nec­es­sary,” ex­plains An­toine. “These re­forms are ur­gent.”

The bank in­tends to work with ECCU gov­ern­ments to cre­ate the nec­es­sary

Progress can only be achieved with the back­ing of a sound and re­silient fi­nan­cial sys­tem.

en­abling leg­is­la­tion to make it eas­ier for small busi­nesses and en­trepreneurs to en­ter the market. By 2021 the ECCB wants to achieve 5 per cent eco­nomic growth in the re­gion (it is cur­rently around 3 per cent al­though this may be down­graded fol­low­ing re­cent hur­ri­cane dam­age). It also wants to see mem­ber coun­tries en­ter the top 50 in the World Bank An­nual Ease of Do­ing Busi­ness in­di­ca­tors.

To fur­ther spur busi­ness, the bank is con­sid­er­ing an in­no­va­tive new so­lu­tion. Fi­nanc­ing se­lected ‘trans­for­ma­tion ini­tia­tives’ would be a first for the ECCB, but could have long-last­ing reper­cus­sions. “The bank would con­sider the de­ploy­ment of a lim­ited por­tion of its re­serves,” ex­plains An­toine. “The ar­eas have not been de­cided but could in­clude en­ergy and tech­nol­ogy, which are game chang­ers for eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion.”

Ex­plor­ing new av­enues of busi­ness within the ECCU would help halt soar­ing un­em­ploy­ment in the re­gion, which An­toine says has the bank “very con­cerned”. In Saint Lu­cia un­em­ploy­ment reached 21.6 per cent in 2016 and was es­pe­cially high among young peo­ple with youth un­em­ploy­ment at 43.1 per cent. “We are fo­cus­ing on un­em­ploy­ment, es­pe­cially in re­gard to our young peo­ple,” An­toine an­nounced at the launch of the plan. “We have an abun­dant pool of young peo­ple. We want a striv­ing and thriv­ing cit­i­zenry that have a sense of well­be­ing and progress.”

BUILD­ING UP BANKS

Progress can only be achieved with the back­ing of a sound and re­silient fi­nan­cial sys­tem. Threats such as de-risk­ing and the sub­se­quent loss of Cor­re­spon­dent Bank­ing Re­la­tion­ships (CBR) have had a pro­found ef­fect on the re­gion’s fi­nan­cial ser­vices providers and led to un­cer­tainty over the in­dus­try’s fu­ture.

To com­bat this, the ECCB in­tends to in­crease its ad­vo­cacy with cor­re­spon­dent banks to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion that will dis­pel any mis­con­cep­tions about do­ing busi­ness in the re­gion. Of­ten in­ter­na­tional banks view ECCU in­sti­tu­tions as small and un­prof­itable. To en­tice more CBRs, the ECCB is en­cour­ag­ing na­tional banks to con­sol­i­date in the hope that a larger bank will be viewed more favourably by po­ten­tial part­ners.

In ad­di­tion to de-risk­ing con­cerns, the in­dus­try is now play­ing catch-up as fi­nan­cial tech­nol­ogy, ‘Fin­Tech’, is trans­form­ing the sec­tor world­wide. Fin­Tech is a broad term en­com­pass­ing all as­pects of wealth man­age­ment from dig­i­tal wal­lets to cryp­tocur­ren­cies. Ac­cord­ing to Price­wa­ter­house­Cooper’s Global Fin­Tech Sur­vey 2017, over 80 per cent of fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions be­lieve that their busi­ness is threat­ened by in­no­va­tors and 82 per cent ex­pect to in­crease Fin­Tech part­ner­ships in the next three to five years.

The rapid de­vel­op­ment of Fin­Tech brings chal­lenges as well as op­por­tu­ni­ties, es­pe­cially for reg­u­la­tors. In its Strate­gic Plan, the ECCB ac­knowl­edges its role in over­see­ing the adop­tion of these tech­nolo­gies and vows to strengthen its risk man­age­ment frame­work, pri­ori­tis­ing KYC, AML/CFT and cy­ber­se­cu­rity. It is also look­ing to im­ple­ment a pi­lot scheme to de­velop a dig­i­tal EC dol­lar.

“The re­gion had bet­ter get ready,” says the Gover­nor. “There can be no eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion with­out tech­nol­ogy. Our re­gion has to lever­age tech­nol­ogy across all spheres of de­vel­op­ment. We can ei­ther be paral­ysed by fear and pre­side over our de­cline, or take a proac­tive ap­proach, do our due dili­gence and em­brace a new fu­ture. The ECCB has adopted the lat­ter ap­proach.”

CHANG­ING THE CUL­TURE

Be­fore the ECCB can ef­fect change in the re­gion, it is look­ing in­ward to change its own cul­ture. Like any in­sti­tu­tion, the bank is only as ef­fec­tive as its staff, and ser­vice ex­cel­lence is a high pri­or­ity for the Gover­nor.

Pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment, train­ing and stake­holder en­gage­ment are all part of the process go­ing for­ward. “The ECCB must en­sure it is fit for pur­pose in re­spect of its cul­ture, tech­ni­cal ex­cel­lence, ser­vice ex­cel­lence and re­spon­sive­ness,” says An­toine.

In draft­ing its Strate­gic Plan, the bank had to look sev­eral years into the fu­ture - not an easy task given the rapid pace of change glob­ally. The Gover­nor is un­con­cerned and says the plan was de­vel­oped to be flex­i­ble, with the abil­ity to make ad­just­ments as nec­es­sary. ”We will stay rel­e­vant by keep­ing a very watch­ful eye on the bank’s op­er­at­ing en­vi­ron­ment and by on­go­ing en­gage­ment with the peo­ple of the re­gion and the leaders of the re­gion.”

An­toine says the plan be­longs to the 628,000 ci­ti­zens of the ECCU. Ev­ery na­tion had a chance to con­trib­ute and each will see its in­ter­ests re­flected in the goals and ob­jec­tives. “The bank ex­ists to serve the peo­ple of the ECCU in var­i­ous ways. The ul­ti­mate end is the de­vel­op­ment of the peo­ple of the re­gion.”

Bas­seterre, Saint Kitts - ECCB: “Noth­ing less than so­cio-eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion will do.”

Eastern Caribbean Cen­tral Bank Gover­nor Mr. Ti­mothy N. J. An­toine

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