The Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, launched a searing attack on the Eastern Caribbean Amalgamated Bank (ECAB) for having a track record of poor service which has infuriated many customers. Subsequently, there have been calls for sweeping changes in the leadership and management.
The ECAB has had a long standing and quite unwanted reputation for intermittent systems issues which have escalated over the last two years. This escalation is in conjunction with its acquisition of the Scotiabank’s Antigua and Barbuda operations.
Since the indigenous bank’s shareholders include the government, it was hailed for announcing that it had secured the assets of the departing Canadian institution in September 2021. Even PM Browne praised the move at that point, calling for local banks to be prioritized as potential purchasers.
Simultaneously, there was a concerted effort by Trinidad and Tobago based Republic Financial Holdings Limited (RFHL) to acquire the Scotiabank assets, which ultimately failed. There was a reasonable degree of interest from the Antigua Commercial Bank (ACB), as well as another indigenous bank, but to no avail.
Even though thousands of former Scotiabank costumers were expected to shift onto its systems, it seems to be the case that the magnitude of work required for the integration caught the ECAB off-guard.
As a consequence, thousands of customers have voiced their dissatisfaction on radio shows, social media and even in the streets. Their frustration stems from issues like transaction delays, point-of-sale (POS) disruptions, out-of-service ATMs and poor customer service.
In an intriguing and quite ironic turn of events, Prime Minister Gaston Browne, who was a staunch supporter of the ECAB in the past, has now turned into its harshest critic. He attacked the ECAB Board of Directors for failing to do what is necessary to mitigate the issues and improve service, in response to a news article which brought to light the problems being faced by customers.
He also made a bid to hold the Chairman of the Board, Craig Walters, responsible for the dismal situation the bank finds itself in.
PM Browne then proceeded to take to Facebook where he said the following, “the time has come for the shareholders of ECAB to have an extraordinary meeting to demand his resignation”. He then stated that Walters should alternatively take the honourable route and resign of his own volition.
He went on to say that, “If the Chairman and others are not held accountable, they will continue to treat people with contempt and offer them inferior banking services”.
“If they can’t handle the job, they have an obligation to resign so that the bank could employ persons with the requisite skills to preside over the transition. We are looking for results, not excuses” he asserted.
This is not the first time PM Browne has taken aim at the ECAB. In September last year, one year after the Scotiabank takeover, he had spoken of the decline in services and pushed the ECAB to improve its service offerings.
“ECAB’s service remains a problem and I would have held discussions with the manager and one of the Directors as well about it” the PM had said last year.
“This is my public call for ECAB to step up on its service. If you need to employ more people, employ more people” he added.
Despite the issues with the bank’s services, the PM has stood by his government’s support for the Scotiabank takeover, even though there was significant interest from the RFHL as well.
The RFHL has already acquired Scotiabank’s interests in Anguilla, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, St Maarten and St Vincent & the Grenadines. This acquisition then, would have been just another drop in the proverbial bucket that is the banking sector of the region. Apparently, the RFHL acquisition fell through due to a difference in the valuation of both parties involved.
When questioned if the RFHL would have been a more suitable option, PM Browne reiterated that the decision was made with the interests of the nation in mind at that point.
He also spoke highly of the ECAB’s experience in this regard, pointing out their purchase of “certain assets and liabilities of ABI Bank Limited” back in 2015 – amusingly adding that “bank consolidation is not rocket science”.
He also said that, “this upsizing makes our banks more sustainable and profitable, thereby increasing the national wealth from retained earnings and makes them eligible for corresponding banking services”.
“The majority of the dividends payable from the increased profits will be paid to local entities, adding to the national income. It also has the added benefit of the pride of ownership and has positioned ECAB as the primary acquiring bank in the OECS sub-region”.
“In addition, there would be no concerns over foreign exchange leakage to Trinidad with its foreign exchange problems” he stated.
While the ECAB has confirmed that an official statement from the bank is on its way, they have remained silent through the publics anger and the Prime Minister’s barbs.
Even though the Prime Minster has promised to continue verbally addressing the persistent issues with the bank, he has also said that he is looking forward to a resolution to them and ultimately to the success of the bank.
“I shall remain optimistic about the prospects of our country and its people, while standing on the truth. Despite the problems experienced by ECAB, they shall pass and history will show that our decision to scale up the domestic banking sector was a wise and sustaining one” he said.