Brian Stuart-Young, CEO of Global Bank of Commerce, and Antigua and Barbuda’s Non-resident Ambassador to China, talks to Global Island News about the bank’s credentials and its leading role in driving innovation and change in the country and across the wider region.
How would you summarise the wealth management credentials of Global Bank of Commerce, head-quartered in Antigua and Barbuda, and the attributes that make it attractive and competitive in respect of asset, portfolio and pension fund management, investment advisory services, trusts and estate planning services and the corporate structures it makes available?
Over the past 30 years there has been a complete turn-around on the supervision and performance of Caribbean Financial Centres that provide international financial services, and Antigua and Barbuda is one of those that successfully weathered the regulatory and compliance storm to meet international financial standards. Antigua’s Financial Centre was established in 1982, and has worked diligently to comply with the requirements of the Global Forum on international tax matters initiated by the Organisation for Co-operation and Economic Development (OECD), and on AML/CTF standards in accordance with the Financial Action Task Force. Financial institutions operating in the jurisdiction have also had to raise the bar and meet the many challenges. Its oldest financial institution offering international financial services is Global Bank of Commerce, incorporated and licensed since 1983, and its longevity is one of the attributes that signals safety and makes it attractive for the provision of wealth management services. It is a locally owned private bank providing multi-currency accounts, strong correspondent banking services to facilitate world-wide transfers, secure internet banking, corporate and trust structures for estate planning, card services, and a multi-lingual and friendly staff of bankers.
Our financial group is not simply about capturing deposits.
What are your thoughts on FATCA? How has it acted to influence operations and strategy at Global Bank of Commerce? Is there an active move away from courting US investors? If so, which markets are being increasingly focused upon?
In Antigua and Barbuda’s case we have in force a Tax Information Exchange Agreement (TIEA) with the United States, and we have agreed, at great cost to our Government and financial institutions, to cooperate with the US Internal Revenue Service through the US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. Our government has agreed with the US government on the terms of an Inter-governmental Agreement (IGA) Model 1B for the implementation of the FATCA provisions. Our local banks have already registered with the IRS, however the Model 1B IGA requires our institutions to only report FATCA client details to our own Inland Revenue Department of the Government of Antigua and Barbuda (the Competent Authority), who will review and submit to the US IRS. Through these mechanisms, US government agencies will have all the information they could possibly need to satisfy themselves that our jurisdiction cannot and should not be labelled as a “tax haven”. Our institution has never directly promoted itself in the US or sought to attract US clients, but we do support US investors making foreign direct investments into Antigua, and will provide banking services in these cases. Our marketing thrust is largely directed to the Latin American, European and, more recently, Asian markets.
How important do you believe the Chinese market to be to Antigua and Barbuda’s future prosperity? Have you been able to catalyse inward and outward investment with that country?
Antigua and Barbuda’s relationship with the People’s Republic of China dates back to 1983, and I was privileged to accompany a team led by our then Prime Minister, V.C. Bird, on the very first State visit to Beijing to establish our diplomatic relationship. Over the past three decades we have continuously strengthened the friendship and collaboration between our countries. China has become our closest ally to provide financial grants and concessional loans to support improvements in infrastructure, health, education and community development. We have also seen a growth of Chinese participation in our business sector including restaurants, supermarkets and retail stores. In the last year, however, there has been a shift towards more significant direct investment by wealthy Chinese in major tourism, construction and distribution activities. In addition, as an export opportunity, we are working towards capturing a portion of the ever-growing stream of Chinese tourists seeking to explore world destinations. We are a visa-free destination for the Chinese, making it more convenient for us to receive day visitors arriving on cruise ships and via arranged air connections.
In support of encouraging Chinese visitors to Antigua and Barbuda, Global Bank of Commerce has become the first financial institution in the Caribbean to be a member of China’s major payment card service, Union Pay International (UPI), and provides both issuing and acquiring services. This means that Chinese visitors can use their China issued cards to pay for services at merchants accepting UPI payments and at UPI authorised ATMs. The service also opens the opportunity for Caribbean persons and businesses to obtain the card and more easily conduct payments to China.
How does Global Bank of Commerce stand ready to assist in bringing to fruition investment opportunities around areas such as port infrastructure and energy?
Our Bank is locally owned and is therefore committed to support national development, and it serves its clients and the Government of Antigua and Barbuda in achieving investment opportunities that will grow the economy and stimulate business activities. The Government is receiving a substantial concessional facility from China’s Export Import Bank to renovate and upgrade its St. John’s Harbour as both a tourism and commercial port, and this will open up additional business and investment opportunities. It is anticipated that the improvements will allow the port to accept the Quantum Class of cruise ships for the 2016/17 winter season and this will increase our visitors and consequently create a chain of expanded business services.
We have built a multi-lingual and multi-currency platform that is geared to supporting both national development as well as international financial services.
In terms of energy, the country’s policy is closely guided by its concerns for Climate Change. As a small island state, heavily dependent on tourism, we are very vulnerable to the changes we are witnessing in the weather and sea levels. As part of our own commitment to reduce green house gases, the Government expects to introduce 30-50MW of renewables both on-grid and off-grid for the electricity consumed by the public and private sectors. We are already seeing new investments by the private sector in renewables, and this initiative should also help to reduce the cost of electricity.
What can you tell us about Global Bank of Commerce’s forward strategy, in keeping with anticipated financial developments nationally, regionally and globally?
Our Board of Directors recognise that the institution is operating in a highly connected world and financial services need to adapt, albeit practicing safe steps, to provide more convenient and innovative financial services and solutions. We have built a multi-lingual and multi-currency platform that is geared to supporting both national development as well as international financial services.
Everything evolves, but in the case of driving banking services, both in the Caribbean and internationally, the sector seems to have been stuck in low gear, either frustrated by the world financial crisis or simply lazy in innovation. These days, a lot of wealth management and payment services that were once the purview of banks, have been out-sourced to third-parties. These are services that are best provided by a regulated institution, and we intend to demonstrate that we are the best choice. We have invested in technology-driven services and in training a pool of dedicated bankers. This combination earns us the confidence of our clients.
The shareholder of Global Bank of Commerce has a long-standing pedigree at the forefront of technology-driven international financial services. With this in mind, can you tell us about the bank’s affiliate – SugaPay? How is it set to revolutionise payment services in Antigua and Barbuda and across the wider Caribbean region, and in so doing positively impact the lives of ordinary citizens?
Our financial group is not simply about capturing deposits. There is no reason why the investments that we make for international services should not be used for improving financial services domestically. That is why our group branched out and invested in a local bank, a Global Processing Centre (GPC), and SugaPay. All of these investments work together with the objective of improving Caribbean lifestyles and making payments more convenient.
In order to drive electronic financial services you must have a financial processing centre to manage electronic financial transactions, and our banking group has made that investment. We have a centre (GPC) that is connected into gateways that can process Visa and MasterCard transactions, and now we have a direct integration with China’s Union Pay International in Shanghai.
Our group considered the existing options for payments and initiated the research and investment needed to create an alternative payment solution, which we branded as SugaPay – “the sweetest way to pay”. It is a marriage between your payment card and your mobile phone which delivers trusted and convenient payment services. The plastic card can be loaded with a stored value that is automatically seen and registered on your designated phone. Every card transaction is seen on your phone, providing a virtual bank account and alerting the cardholder of its use. The phone can also originate transactions for payments and receive receipts. In this way, SugaPay can be safely used for card-present and card-not-present transactions, enabling the convenience of online payments for government taxes, as well as bill payments and event tickets. We also provide a Smartphone Mobile Terminal that enables micro, small and medium sized vendors to offer merchant services to SugaPay card holders. We are able to provide ecommerce at a greatly reduced “merchant discount rate” as compared to the rate used for branded cards. At this time we are doing integrations with different departments of government and establishing a broad cross-section of merchants.
We expect that this SugaPay payment solution service will become popular, improving the safety and convenience of general payments, and also reducing the risk involved in carrying or receiving cash. Once you have got the circulation of this card and payment service fully operational, then you can look towards improving the efficiency and cost of diaspora remittances. If you have a delivery system that can provide remittances at a more efficient and convenient cost, even after managing all of the AML/CFT requirements for fund transfer security, it will provide a much needed service within our Caribbean communities.
For more information, visit globalbank.ag.