In his keynote address to the Caribbean Confederation of Credit Unions conference at Hyatt Regency, Port of Spain yesterday, prime minister Rowley called on Caribbean governments to ensure the financial operations of credit unions are sound, regulated and evaluated.
He told the packed room that the largest number of credit unions in the Caribbean was registered in TT with 129, followed by Barbados with 33, Jamaica, 32, Guyana, 28, St Lucia, 16, and Grenada 10.
Rowley said the number of credit unions in the Caribbean in 2016 was 297 with a membership of 2,505,918. Shares and deposits amounted to $5.3 billion dollars, loans totalled $4.3 billion, and reserves stood at $651.6 million.
The Credit Union Movement in the Caribbean region is “not only alive and well but is growing astronomically in strength, stamina, and stature,” Rowley said.
Rowley said he grew up being a part of credit unions, was a member of three at one point, and is still a proud member of one. He told the regional representatives that they are "duty bound" to work side by side with the leadership of the sector in ensuring that financial operations are carefully monitored. These requirements, he said, are no different to governments’ obligations to financial institutions.
"Recent malpractices within the investment, insurance and credit union sectors of TT are enough to justify the imperatives for such mandatory fiduciary oversight. Initiatives to arrive at consensus on establishment of a mutually acceptable regulatory framework continue to be a work in progress; the principal objective being that of protecting the sanctity and integrity of the public trust. The upside of this remains, not only that shares and deposits are well protected, but that the movement gives itself the flexibility to develop and expand its service offerings: emboldened, empowered and enriched by financial regulatory best practices of the highest order: the power to change the future," Rowley said.
"Credit unions, by virtue of their own well deserved development and progress, have dismantled the socio-economic barriers and have elevated their status to a level no less prestigious or in great demand than those of other traditionally endowed financial institutions which hold consumer shares, savings, investments and deposits in trust. You should therefore expect nothing less than to be held similarly accountable by whatever appropriate mechanisms employed and, as a consequence, be no less subject to sector-specific consumer protection laws and regulations as well as security and sound business performance standards as do banks, insurance companies, pension plans, financial lending," the prime minister declared.
“Co-operative credit unionism has come of age, and we shall epitomise this only to the extent that we are prepared to walk the talk, take hold of the baton and head toward completion of the final leg, Rowley said.
“Make no mistake about it. Power to change the future will call upon you to draw down from the wealth of merits of your proven track record and, above all, summon your richly gifted attributes of tenacity, grit and determination, and by no means least, your abiding and relentless passion for progress and excellence,” he said.
He said the Caribbean should look to Canada for guidance as their credit union members enjoy, in many provinces, higher levels of deposit protection than that which is available to commercial bank customers. He added that the real task will be when credit unions are freed from dependence on commercial banks and private sector financial institutions to lodge membership shares and deposits and put the mechanisms in place to compete aggressively. He said if they so desire, credit unions can possibly offer the widest range of financial services that can include ATMs, purchase and sales of foreign exchange, wire transfers, letters of credit, debit and credit cards.
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