EDITORIAL: Make business our business
The ongoing battle for Banks Holding Limited should be a wake-up call for all Barbadians and we hope that the penny has finally dropped. We say that tourism is our business, but so too is business. We should all take an interest in the public companies that operate within our shores and we must as individuals take considered decisions to invest sensibly in those companies of our choice.
We have had the debate before. The controversy about the Barbados Mutual; the sale of the BS&T group to Trinidadian interests and the sale of ICBL to Bermudan investors are recent examples of lamentations about the need for us to buy shares in these companies; but such wailing and gnashing of teeth was too late, and so too is the latest outcry concerning the most beloved of Barbadian companies known as Banks Holding Limited.
Any doubt about the wisdom of investing in shares should have been dispelled by the history of this company. It has long enjoyed the support of the small man investor and from the start included on its board was at least one voice which would be au fait with the concerns of the small investor shopkeepers. These factors ought to have been confidence boosters to encourage further investment by local shareholders in that company. Alas this has not been the case and there has been no stampede to purchase Banks shares.
What has happened here is that smart investors from elsewhere have cast their eyes over our companies and have taken the view that Banks Holdings Limited can and should be bought! That should tell us a thing or two; and investors as well as would-be investors and the Government should all be concerned about the way in which our companies seem to be sitting ducks for purchase by overseas interests.
Ironically, the massive savings of our people sit earning little or nothing by way of interest in our commercial banks, while dividends on shares in local companies are generally earning better returns for those wise enough to have invested. Some of our savings will doubtlessly be lent to companies which will pay the banks handsome interest while depositors enjoy little more than the security of knowing that the money lies passively in an account in the bank.
This state of affairs cannot continue. Education about holding shares and investing in companies must become part of the national conversation. Somehow we must change the perception that buying shares in companies in commercial Bridgetown is an activity which is off limits to the majority of Barbadians.
That job can be undertaken by private sector groups acting alone or in concert with Government agencies, but buying and selling shares must be explained to John Public. It is not rocket science.
We must also make it more financially attractive to companies to offer shares for sale to the public rather than borrowing from banks and other financial institutions when they are seeking to raise capital. Some entrenched hurdles may have to be surmounted but in 2015 this country needs to have all hands on its economic deck, if we are to make the giant strides of which we are capable.
We hope that the message has been received, and we urge all Barbadians to consider investing in their local companies in much the same way as they have embraced investing in credit unions. Economic power matters.