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In the forefront

Deputy CEO, Corporate Administration, Sharon Christopher.

by Shawn Cumberbatch

Barbadian small and medium sized businesses, often a second thought when commercial bank loans are allocated, should get ready to be among those first in mind and in line.

Trinidad’s First Citizens Bank, fresh from completing its $90 million acquisition of Butterfield Bank (Barbados) Limited and changing the name to First Citizens Bank (Barbados) Limited, today signalled its intention to separate itself from the competition and offer small businesses targeted financial support.

Speaking today during an interview with Barbados TODAY, the regional indigenous bank’s Deputy CEO, Corporate Administration, Sharon Christopher, said the plan was discussed during talks with Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Chris Sinckler, but stressed any such programmes would have to be signed off by regulators at the Central Bank of Barbados.

At the same time, the banker said the 114 workers her organisation had retained following its purchase of the island’s smallest commercial bank, had nothing to fear as the organisation was looking to grow, including contemplating the establishment of their first branch outside of St. Michael and Christ Church.

As far as helping small businesses here was concerned, she said: “Another big issue for us that we are looking at, and there is a need for in Barbados, is the (assistance to) small business. I have had discussions with the Minister of Finance Mr. Sinckler in Barbados and he said it’s something the government is very interested in, the whole issue of the banks supporting small business.

“This is something for us that is important and we feel that it’s something that we could start looking at within the Barbadian market where there are many more entrepreneurs here at that small level than they have had traditionally in Trinidad.”

The First Citizens executive said in a recent five-month period alone, Trinidad small and medium enterprises had benefitted from loans worth more than $30 million, something she noted was a firm indication the organisation was serious about helping the smallest players in the market place.

“So that for us it is one of the areas we will also be looking at in Barbados and what we can bring to the market and assist in that area. Now obviously whatever products you bring to the market your regulator, which is the Central Bank, has to have approval of it. Obviously we need to look at the market, because now we are in the market, and understand exactly where the needs are,” she said.

“These are our feelings having been around for the last three months, but it is now to find out exactly where the needs are and looking at how do you bring a product to the market that you are able to make money off your product and you are able to manage your risks and it is a product that serves the needs of the people.”

Christopher said as far back as May this year when the sale agreement was signed, she and other officials had sought to allay the fears of the more than 100 employees of then Butterfield Bank. Today, she said the company still believed there would be no need for staff retrenchment at the bank, which now controlled a mere five per cent of Barbados’ commercial bank market.

“Our position is that we intend to grow your institution. We don’t have anybody else on the ground in Barbados to say we would be bringing somebody to come and work here, so our thing is if we intend to grow our institution we would be relying on you to assist us and we have had several discussions with the staff since that time,” she said staff were told.

Christopher expected now the acquisition “has been finalised in the sense that we have paid for the bank” a comprehensive integration process would ensue, something she expected to conclude before year-end.

“You develop things on paper but we are now into our implementation stage. So the next few months would really be spent tying these things down so that we have full integration by the end of this year and we also are going to start rolling out some new products into the Barbados market,” she said.

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