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More than 400 people packed the SuperClubs Breezes ballroom on May 28 for the Commonwealth Bank annual general meeting, creating a record crowd for attendance.
"Our results this past year were very impressive when one considers the difficult economic environment and increased competition that we are exposed to," said William B. Sands, Jr., executive chairman. "Total profit in 2013 was $51 million, the third highest profit in the bank's history."
That result, said President Ian Jennings, placed Commonwealth Bank out in front of all the clearing banks in The Bahamas, including those with vast regional resources and assets; it also allowed the bank to pay out a total of $29.5 million in dividends to some 6,000 shareholders from every walk of life who earned quarterly and extraordinary dividends totaling 30 cents per share in fiscal 2013.
Questioned whether the bank would alter its business model of personal banking relationships with a focus on consumer lending to move toward e-banking and other global banking initiatives, Jennings said Commonwealth Bank understands its market and will continue to focus on personal banking, implying that a move outside its core business could easily have quick negative results.
"The challenge comes not from the growth period," he told the standing room-only crowd, "but from how you maintain your performance once growth slows down. The danger of growth or undertaking new business directions is that you outgrow your capacity to manage the business."
More important than changing direction, he said, is managing risk and maintaining strong personal relationships with customers. Risk management and consistency were themes carried throughout the meeting that several times erupted in applause as financial highlights were interspersed with appreciation to staff and shareholders.
"The foundation of Commonwealth Bank is ingrained in our business model, which focuses on personal banking," said Sands. "This model is captured in our vision - to be the first choice of Bahamians for all personal banking services. This model has served us well over the years as we have successfully used it to navigate through good and bad times, and in many instances outperforming our competitors. The current challenging economic environment has become our new normal since 2008 and is expected to persist in the short term. While the market environment in recent years has forced many of our competitors to change direction, our business model has and will continue to be consistent, reinforced and focused on being the first choice of Bahamians for all personal banking services."
As Jennings said, "there has never been an easy year", but the bank's challenges of impaired loans - a major concern for all banks throughout the retail domestic system - are being met through a multi-tiered approach that involves concentration on quality loans, active collection and writing off those loans that are realistically unable to be satisfied. The combination of tactics has produced a stronger loan portfolio, according to reports, with Commonwealth Bank's non-performing loan portfolio at less than a third of the percentage of the industry average that hovers about 15 percent.
In a snapshot of financials for the fiscal year that ended December 31, CFO Patrick McFall reported a 42 percent increase in profits from the previous year.
"Commonwealth Bank had total profit of $50.8 million dollars in 2013, compared to $35.7 million in 2012 - an improvement of 42.1 percent," he said. "Commonwealth Bank ended 2013 with total assets at $1.43 billion, basically unchanged from 2012. The combination of improvements in profits and no change in assets resulted in overall improvements in the bank's performance ratios.
"Earnings per share is up 50 percent. Return on shareholders' equity is up 42 percent. Profit available to common shareholders is up almost 50 percent. While total profit is up, the bank's efficiency ratio is also up."
In other business, shareholders approved the first increase in remuneration for directors in several years, approved the amendment of the rights of unissued preference shares to terms that comply with Basel III accords on Tier 1 capital and re-elected all directors, including William B. Sands, Rupert W. Roberts, Jr., Earla J. Bethel, Dr. Marcus R.C. Bethel, Larry R. Gibson, Robert D.L. Sands, R. Craig Symonette and Vaughn Higgs. Jennings continues to serve in his capacity as president.
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A leading attorney yesterday expressed concern that the Bahamas was running "a real reputational risk" because very few fraudsters and wrongdoers responsible for financial collapses in this nation had been brought to justice, while the regulators rarely failed to detect such problems in their infancy.
Brian Moree QC, senior partner at McKinney, Bancroft & Hughes, told Tribune Business that the Bahamas and its financial services industry "had to be concerned" about the message being sent to clients/foreign investors when it came to holding financial criminals and wrongdoers to account for their actions.
And he argued that Bahamian ...
The Bahamas International Securities Exchange (BISX) announced the listing of a new "SMART" fund yesterday.
The Internazionale Investment Fund Limited successfully submitted an application to be listed on BISX using the exchange's mutual fund listing facility.
The fund was approved for listing by the BISX Listing Committee and will now have its information disseminated via the BISX Website.
The fund is licensed as a "SFM 007" SMART fund pursuant to the Investment Funds Act, 2003. SMART funds are one of the fastest growing wealth management structures in The Bahamas, as they allow service providers the flexibility required to offer unique financial and legal solutions to their clients.
Speaking on this development, Keith Davies, CEO of BISX stated: "We are very encouraged by this latest listing. Earlier this year, BISX identified SMART funds as a target market that we would focus on at the exchange, and this is now our second SMART fund listing in three months, so we are very pleased and we are quite optimistic for the future of SMART funds listings on BISX. To encourage this growth, we have offered unique fee proposals to encourage our financial services providers to seriously consider a BISX listing when creating SMART funds.
"Some of the main advantages that financial services providers receive from establishing operations in The Bahamas is the sovereignty of the jurisdiction and the ease of access to key decision makers. BISX prides itself on the fact that we engage with the industry and especially our members in an effort to find new ways of differentiating The Bahamas from our competing jurisdictions. The feedback of our sponsor members has been integral to the growth of our mutual fund listing facility," added Davies.
The fund has appointed Credit Suisse AG, Nassau Branch to act as the investment manager and sponsor member.
It would be a "significant error for the country" if former College of The Bahamas President Dr. Rodney Smith is reappointed to the top post, former COB Council Chairman Franklyn Wilson said.
Wilson was asked by The Nassau Guardian to respond to reports from sources close to the process that the college council has recommended to the government that Smith fill the position.
In 2005, Smith apologized for not properly using another academic's material with attribution in an address
at COB's honor's convocation.
He alleged that the council forced him to resign, even though it had been proved that his use of material in the speech was not a violation of intellectual property rights.
Speaking to The Nassau Guardian recently, Wilson said he could not confirm that Smith's name has been forwarded to the minister of education for consideration.
But he said, "I personally would be disappointed if that were in fact the recommendation."
Wilson said, "I think it would be a significant cause for having to explain a lot to the public as to why that is the right thing to do.
"In doing so, I make it clear, there is no question about the competence of the gentleman. There is no question in my mind about that, but the issues left from the time of his separation from the college, they remain and quite frankly his performance when he came back for the interview, I cannot believe that an objective analysis of his comments when he came back for this interview would leave him as [the best] candidate."
Smith was one of four candidates shortlisted for the vacant presidency post.
While addressing the college's stakeholders in March, he said if successful he would implement policies to ensure students and faculty are held accountable for any breach of intellectual property rights.
Smith said he was disappointed to have left the college amid the plagiarism controversy, but has returned and offered himself again for consideration in the national interest.
"I left feeling disappointed that even though I had taken a drastic reduction in income and returned home to serve, I was being rejected and did not feel the support I was promised," he said.
"My family and I have suffered for the past nine years emotionally and financially as a result. I am not a plagiarist, and I have never been accused of such before or since that incident.
"I am here today offering myself once again to be of service to my country."
But Wilson said Smith's failure to show contrition is disappointing.
"In my view there is no doubt that the good gentleman is knowledgeable, academically qualified; no one questions that he has an earned doctorate degree...no one questions that he accomplished meaningful things here in the role, but at a time when one is trying to inspire certain qualities within the population, I think that is a very difficult thing to do for somebody in that role," he said.
"...I am not limiting this to what happened when he separated from the college. That's not the point to me because everyone's entitled to a second chance. But in the process of getting a second chance it seems to me useful to show contrition.
"I saw just the opposite. What I saw appeared to me to be a rationalization that somehow an individual had been wronged, that somehow what happened previously was a mistake, that somehow what happened reflected an error in judgment on behalf of the then council."
Smith is vice president for administrative services, operations analysis and research at Hampton University.
Minister of Education Jerome Fitzgerald confirmed that he received a recommendation on the next COB president from the college council, but he said it would not be appropriate to make the name public until he has taken the matter to Cabinet.
With 21 cents out of every dollar in revenue going to debt servicing this year, the prime minister has announced the creation of a debt management committee while making some of his most extensive comments to date about the government's commitment to reducing spending relative to GDP as a component of fiscal reform. Presenting the mid-year budget in Parliament yesterday, Christie's comments could easily have been seen as a response to those who have suggested that the government has yet to state as clearly and specifically as it could about exactly what role expenditure reduction will play in stemming the rising deficit and debt - a major complaint of those concerned about the impact and effectiveness of value-added tax (VAT). In his address, Christie said that "fiscal reform is at the heart of the government's plan for national economic and social development", with tax reform a part of this process. Arguing that the government is committed to "smart spending" that will see revenues utilised in the most efficient and effective manner based on a prioritization of needs, he said that the ultimate goal is to eliminate the need for deficit financing altogether."That has to be our objective; that is our objective," he said. Christie said that it is not until the government "gets its fiscal house in order" that it can do many of the things that it had promised in its campaign for government."We are fundamentally and in a balanced way reforming the structure of both recurrent and capital expenditure and the structure of government revenue. This will allow us to eliminate the untenable imbalance between recurrent expenditure and revenue, and it will allow us to eliminate the GFS deficit and reduce the government debt burden," he said. Among a "variety of measures" Christie said would be used to reduce recurrent spending as a proportion of GDP - but not in absolute dollar terms - are the implementation of "strict discipline and accountability across all government ministries and departments and public corporations", something he said "sometimes causing great anxiety and vexation on the part of ministers." "It's a work in progress and we've got to make sure we continue to not slow down the sort of things we want to see and not for example reach a position where we have wonderful work in urban renewal and home repairs, and then it stops. We've got to ensure the continuity in funding remains in place going forward," he said. Christie said that "control mechanisms" are being implemented, along with "best practices wherever feasible."In order to "more effectively monitor" the operations and spending of ministries, departments and public corporations, Christie said the Ministry of Finance is "being strengthened." "We are vigorously striding for higher levels of accountability and transparency," he said. With respect to public corporations, a perennial drain on the government's finances, Christie said that the Ministry of Finance is now "exerting more direct oversight of their financial affairs to ensure that they strive for greater levels of efficiency and effectiveness and that they are subject to greater accountability to the government."This will allow our budgeting process to be more comprehensively informed," he added. In the area of government purchasing of goods and services, Christie said that the government is set to introduce new public sector procurement procedures which impose greater controls and greater efficiency on public spending for goods and services for all public entities including public corporations - a recommendation of the Inter-American Development Bank and others. The cost of debt itself to the government will be better addressed, he suggested, with the creation of a debt management committee which has been formed with technical assistance from international agencies. Comprising representatives from finance, the treasury, and the Central Bank, the committee has developed a new debt management policy framework with the goal of minimizing the financing cost of government debt while also minimizing risk, said Christie. The prime minister said that through these actions recurrent expenditure will be allowed to grow in dollars terms in the medium term to "allow the financing of new and emerging priorities such as the hiring of doctors and other staff for the new mini hospitals", while falling relative to the size of the economy.
"This will require the setting of clear spending priorities going forward that will begin the longer term process of getting recurrent expenditure back to its level relative to GDP that prevailed during our last term in office," said Christie. Capital spending levels over the medium term are intended to fall to their "traditional level" of around three percent of GDP, with "strict prioritization and timely profiling" of perceived needs necessary. While his comments suggested an increased focus on the issue of spending, they are likely to have fallen short of the hopes of some who would have preferred the prime minister to provide more hard and fast figures regarding levels of expenditure cutback, specifics on which areas may see reduced allocations, or timelines for the privatization of public corporations, among other potential means of shrinking the deficit and debt. Christie said the national debt is projected to hit $5.1 billion at end-June 2014, around 59.7 percent of GDP.
MINISTER of Financial Services Ryan Pinder told participants in the recent Bahamas Bureau of Standards' First National Standardisation Forum and Formation of Technical Committees Workshop that the benefits of the standards bureau are critical to the Bahamas' national development.
A former Bahamas Financial Services Board (BFSB) chairman yesterday said that while the re-emergence of Senator Carl Levin's Stop Tax Haven Abuse Bill was likely to have minimal impact on this nation, "substantial costs" involved in complying with other US legislation could pose a threat to the sector.
Bahamas Striping's legacy of giving includes education, public safety and donating necessities to its community.
In November 2013, Bahamas Striping launched its first annual 'The Dollar That Could Project' which sought to raise $60,000 through a dollar drive campaign for one month in aid of The Bahamas Red Cross, Special Olympics Bahamas, BAARK, and The Bahamas Humane Society.
Managing Director Allen Albury said, "The Dollar That Could Project is another example of the company's continued commitment to giving back to the community.
"The campaign chose charities that had the ability to reach persons over the length and breadth of The Bahamas."
Bahamas Striping President Atario Mitchell believes that the passion, vision and love he has for his community and the country is all a part of the process of building a better Bahamas and providing shared economic opportunities for Bahamians.
"As business persons, we take for granted and overlook so many situations in our country," Mitchell said.
"Working with these four charities was an eye opener.
"Working with The Bahamas Red Cross gave me the opportunity to see firsthand the level of suffering in various communities when I went out on The Meals on Wheels Program.
"Working with BAARK and The Bahamas Humane Society showed the extensive work they do to control the animal population as well as providing homes.
"The athletes at Special Olympics showed me that there is hope and after coaching a basketball game and teaching them to shoot a free throw, provided me with so much satisfaction."
Mitchell said although they did not meet the goal of $60,000, the $16,000 which will be distributed to the four charities will go a long way, and it could not have happened without the assistance and support of Abaco Markets Limited, Hi-Lite Global, Jewels by the Sea, Sammie's Chicken and the Bahamas Telecommunications Company.
He also challenged business people if they have not already done so to adopt a charity of their choice, and donate $1,000 per year to help the unsung heroes of The Bahamas.
"Entrepreneurs set the example for the future and growth of The Bahamas," Minister of Financial Services Ryan Pinder.
"Being a committed member of the civic society, and having the interest of people is commendable. With Bahamas Striping's success through hard work, they are able to give back to the community. Recognizing charities that give back nationally was an exceptional idea, and even though the goal was not met, Bahamas Striping has achieved greatness.
"This tangible contribution will help to further the initiatives of all of the recipient charities."
The Bahamas Red Cross was on hand to receive its donation and its officials expressed gratitude.
They were not able to send out all of their food parcels to people who were waiting before Christmas because they did not have funds.
This donation will be now used to purchase the items.
Laura Kimble, board member for The Bahamas Humane Society, said, "Money is always an issue. BHS is trying to improve and the funds will go towards building the Jill Ganza Puppy House.
"They can be held for 72 hours so they can be observed before they can join the rest of the population."
She added, "For BAARK the funding will go towards building kennels to assist the government with the adoption and finding homes for dogs."
Amanda Moncur, vice president of Special Olympics Bahamas, thanked Bahamas Striping and encouraged company officials not be disappointed by the small financial return, because the bigger return was the fact that they were able to come out and bond with the athletes.
The country's most significant push to date into the Chinese market will be spearheaded later this year by representatives from the country's financial services sector, a move which seeks to capitalize on a view that the "timing and the market are right" for The Bahamas to tap into Chinese demand for asset diversification.
Minister of Financial Services Ryan Pinder suggested that the decision by the Bahamas Financial Services Board (BFSB) and the Ministry of Financial Services to attend and participate in the China Offshore Summit as 'platinum' sponsors will generate critical exposure for the country.
"The event will be held in October in Beijing, and there will also be country-specific events in Hong Kong and Shanghai. It will allow us to be able to, in a very meaningful way, enter and develop the Chinese financial services sector for The Bahamas, leveraging cooperation from the private sector here," said the minister.
"Certainly the opening of Baha Mar in December is key timing with respect to our investment in China, to be able to leverage the opening and marketing of Baha Mar and work with some of our key partners here who have significant Asian business, and we have the full cooperation of the Chinese embassy here."
Pinder said that while The Bahamas has engaged in the sponsorship of such conferences in the past in China,
the timing of the conference and the level at which the country will participate as a sponsor are expected to be more instrumental in generating business for this nation.
"We think the timing is right; the market is maturing over there in terms of the demand for the international diversification of assets. Coming to office there had been some investment the BFSB had been doing in China; they'd sponsored in the past but not as a platinum sponsor, they'd done light marketing. I have a belief that you either go or don't go, and spreading yourself wide with limited resources doesn't work well.
"We'd made a concerted effort to go to Brazil to market ourselves there and that proved to be a successful strategy. Now we believe the timing is right now with all the activity going on between the Chinese and The Bahamas to focus our resources there," said Pinder.
"We're certainly looking to attract clients to our institutions, to attract high-net-worth individuals who would like to use The Bahamas to access the markets in this hemisphere. We've also had a long-term goal of attracting Chinese investment to use The Bahamas as a hub for trade financing, and so we'll look to advance that too,"he added.
Financial Services Minister Ryan Pinder said he is confident that The Bahamas will see an increase in Latin America-based business within the next year after a recent meeting with a top banking institution.
While he would not confirm the name of the banking institution, Pinder told Guardian Business that Friday morning's meeting with executives represents a "huge opportunity" for the country's financial services sector, as his ministry continues to market The Bahamas to the Latin American market...