Trinidad’s state-owned First Citizens is seeking to apply for banking licences in both Guyana and Jamaica.
Having failed to acquire Scotiabank’s assets in Guyana, First Citizens is interested in opening a brick-and-mortar bank in T&T as well as Jamaica, as the bank seeks to grow beyond its home country.
This was disclosed by the bank’s group CEO Karen Darbasie, who told business editors of the three daily newspapers in T&T of the bank’s interests in the two CARICOM countries in particular.
She made the disclosure in responding to a specific question about whether First Citizens was prepared to apply for a license and start from scratch a new bank in those countries. Darbasie responded, “what I can say categorically is that we are interested in diversification from the group perspective, product, customer and geography.”
The First Citizens’ CEO said while the bank was disappointed in not being able to consummate the Scotiabank Guyana deal, it was still very interested in the South American country.
“We are still interested in Guyana, we are interested in lending to entities and projects in Guyana, we will do that… only with the requisite regulatory approvals from the Bank of Guyana, and we continue to try to explore opportunities in Guyana.” Darbasie told the news briefing.
She made the point that First Citizens has customers from T&T who are engaging in projects in Guyana and would like to support its customers from T&T in their business opportunities noting that the failure to extend to purchase agreement was based on the fact that there was no clear way forward and denied ever being told by the Guyana government or the Bank of Guyana that the transaction would not be approved.
First Caribbean exploring CARICOM market
She remarked, “I think when the Scotia transaction came to an end we did put out a Q and A that stated we are interested in lending across the region, lending subject to regulatory approvals from T&T, we are still interested in lending to entities or projects in Guyana and we are interested in northern Caribbean as well. So we are interested…We are looking at what opportunities develop and based on what develops and if it makes sense we will progress it.”
Darbasie was asked if the threat of Fintec meant that the best approach to moving into Jamaica or Guyana was a digital first approach, she answered that if this happens it would be a combination of both digital and brick and mortar.
She promised local business journalists to keep them updated if there were any announcements to be made.
According to Darbasie, “In T&T we are deploying brick and mortar in conjunction with a digital strategy. So we are maintaining our branch footprint and we are investing in new products and services and technology to really expand our digital product offerings. So we doing both in T&T. My personal view is that you need a brick and mortar presence in our state of development, where we are in the region, that it would be very difficult to have a full financial services group, which is what our ambition is without some degree of brick and mortar in that model.”
On the issue of First Citizens’ future outlook and whether it is holding a lot of government debt as a state enterprise, Darbasie admitted that the bank had more government paper than its competitors but said it was only 35 per cent of the total balance sheet.