Posted on

THE ISSUE: Embracing e-commerce

SHAWN CUMBERBATCH, [email protected]

THE ISSUE: Embracing e-commerce

Social Share

IF YOU WALK INTO a branch owned by any of the five commercial banks operating in Barbados, chances are you will see a line of customers waiting to be serviced by a teller.

This is despite the existence of dozens of automated teller machines (ATMs) at convenient locations throughout the island, and access to most bank services electronically from the comfort of home or office.

As a new generation of Barbadians matures in an age of social media, and a range of electronic devices giving them access to the internet, the traditional commercial bank branch will have no choice but to evolve over time.

So that the sight of people in queues waiting to cash cheques or deposit money, while interacting with a human being, will likely also be reduced. That’s if what has been taking place internationally in places like the United States (US) and Canada is a reasonable gauge.

England’s Barclays Bank, which operated here from the 1830s as The Colonial Bank, and merged with the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce to form FirstCaribbean International Bank in 2001, before leaving Barbados in 2006, was the first to install ATMs in the Caribbean in the 1980s.

With the computerisation of banks, ATMs have become the norm, with all commercial banks operating here having them, including the drive-thru variety. Mobile telephone, and internet banking are also available.

But what does this mean for the traditional bank branch and the teller? Based on what is taking place in the US and Canada, the ATM will eventually become more than a cash dispenser, as financial executives and analysts say the technology may soon be able to replace some human bank tellers and bank branches. The US has about 425 000 ATMs.

Citibank in the US has introduced new ATMs that “remember” customer preferences, off-on-page scrolling, lets customers check their balances without leaving the screen they are on, and feature instructions that are more conversational.

American bank representatives say they are adding such features “to add convenience for customers – a convenience that may mean that you really no longer need to wait in line to see a bank teller”.

Canada, which has three banks operating in Barbados, has also been moving away from heavy traffic in bank branches. A 2014 Canadian Bankers Association (CBA) report found that only 13 per cent of Canadians use branch banking as their primary banking method, down from 29 per cent in 2000. It also found that 55 per cent of Canadian bank customers were mainly doing their banking online.

CBA director of communications Maura Drew-Lytle said: “Branches have changed a lot. There’s fewer people going in doing their day-to-day deposits, withdrawals. Branches have really changed into advice centres.”

The issue of changes in banking in the Caribbean was the focus of the Caribbean Association of Banks’ most recent annual conference held last November in Grenada.

Addressing that meeting on the topic The Changing Face Of Banking In The Caribbean, Bank of St Lucia International Limited general manager Ryan Devaux said: “It is clear that the banking sector in the Caribbean is dynamic, and while evolution is inevitable and the face of Caribbean banking is going to continue to change, the ability to provide first rate products and services and excellent customer service, with that signature Caribbean hospitality, will ensure there remains a vibrant Caribbean banking sector for many years to come”.

However, he added that embracing new technology would be key to their survival.