When the customer is no longer king or queen
In a week in which the Fair Trading Commission (FTC) issued a rather conservative –– others would say flaky –– ruling on sand, it is interesting that it would be faced with much “bigger fish to fry”, in terms of Barbadian-domiciled transnational companies, whose way of doing business appears to fly directly in the face of the Sir Neville Nicholls-led body and its rules.
Already, more than enough red ink has been spilled over last week’s shocking Cable & Wireless buyout of cable and TV operator Columbus International, and what it all means in terms of the level of competition.
But whither the customers? And who is really looking out for them?
With many a Barbadian tongue still sore from the bitter aftertaste of that Digicel-stumping “bazooka” of a deal, it will be interesting to see if Minister of Industry, International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development Donville Inniss is as equally dismissive of the just unveiled CIBC FirstCaribbean’s plans.
Asked by reporters to comment this week on the $3 billion CWC takeover, the “consumer” minister essentially said he didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. Mr Inniss, who has direct responsibility for the FTC, also said he was prepared to leave that matter entirely in the hands of the regulators for them to decide.
Really, Mr Inniss?
For one who is usually prepared to talk on almost anything, why the pussyfooting now?
Surely, our Government regulators have not had a very good track record of late in terms of ensuring customers received their due –– just ask anyone who has been affected by the 2009 CLICO contagion. They know, only too well, that at times when regulation was most needed to protect ordinary customers from financial sharks that were busy encircling our Caribbean waters, the authorities either turned a blind eye, or bailed out just in the nick of time to save themselves, and a selected few, while the rest of us, numbering in the thousands, were left to swim or sink on our own, without so much as a life-vest, and only to discover that the very insurance policies we had bought into were not even worth the paper on which they were printed.
And if that were not enough bitter medicine for any customer to swallow, up steps CIBC FirstCaribbean to seemingly add more insult to injury in a market where the customer is clearly neither king nor queen.
It was only yesterday that the news began circulating of changes to the bank’s regional customer agreement. In a two-page notification, the company formally advised that after December 31, this year, customers would no longer have any say in applicable interest rates, fees, charges and overdraft limits. In the future, these will all be “unilaterally” set by the Canadian-based
Furthermore, the bank, which has been busy instituting cuts, says it intends to outsource several of its services. What it means for the average customer is that their confidential account information could now be held outside of Barbados in consolidated centres, or with its third party processors.
However, that’s not the total extent of the rub.
The letter, signed by the bank’s managing director of retail, wealth, business and international banking Mark St Hill further informs us CIBC FirstCaribbean “will not be liable to [the customer] by reason of any act, delay or omission of such CIBC FirstCaribbean Group member or any third party service provider in the performance of the services required of it”.
And you say it is all in the interest of the customer, Mr St Hill? We think not! In fact, we now wait with bated breath, standing as we are on the side of the ordinary customer, to see what will be the type and extent of the FTC’s response.
We note that it was only this week that the FTC issued its latest ruling. And pursuant to Section 16 (3) (d) of the Fair Competition Act CAP 326C (Act), it found that Island Development Limited, as the dominant supplier of wholesale sand in Barbados, “in increasing its price from $22.70 to $42.01 on March 10, 2014, imposed an unfair selling price on wholesale sand that was excessive and unreasonable”.
Our hope is, in this matter of “unilateral” banking fees and the protection of legal rights of customers, that the FTC will prove to be more than a rubber-toothed lion and that its judgement is worth more than a mere $5 off a tonne of sand.