Caricom commission monitoring Scotiabank's sale of Caribbean assets

Senior staff reporter

Friday, December 07, 2018

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Caricom's Competition Commission, which monitors business activity in the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME), says it has taken note of the recent announcement by the Bank of Nova Scotia (“Scotiabank”) of its intention to sell banking assets in nine English-and Dutch-speaking countries in the region.

In a release issued Wednesday, the commission said that it has taken note of the announcement made on November 28 that the bank plans to sell banking assets in Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, St Maarten, St Vincent & the Grenadines, to Republic Financial Holdings Ltd, and its life insurance operations in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago to Sagicor Financial Corporation.

“The commission has further noted the concerns of bank customers and governments, across the region, regarding the proposed acquisition of Scotiabank by Republic Financial. The commission advises that it shall continue to monitor these developments in the banking and insurance sectors. Any impact to the community market by the proposed acquisitions will be assessed in accordance with the RTC,” the release issued by commission chairman, said.

The commission said it has also taken the opportunity to highlight the need for strong national and regional competition rules and frameworks. However, it added that, despite the need for these regulatory tools, it stands ready to support the Member States of the CSME and financial sector regulators in analysing the competition effects of the proposed acquisitions in their respective national or sub-regional jurisdictions.

“As always, the commission remains committed to a process that is fair and transparent in the determination of any regulatory matter, where the interests of both business and consumers must be considered,” the commission said in its release.

The Bank of Nova Scotia announced November 27 its plan to sell its banking operations in the nine Caribbean countries and its insurance operations in two other regional markets , also noting that its expects more international divestments in the pipeline.

Scotiabank said it had signed an agreement to sell the banking operations to Republic Financial Holdings Ltd for an undisclosed amount. The bank also said its subsidiaries in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago will sell their insurance operations to, and partner with, Sagicor Financial Corp Ltd to provide products and services in the two countries, for an undisclosed amount.

The exits are considered part of Scotiabank's broader strategy to “sharpen our focus, increase scale in core geographies and businesses, improve earnings quality and reduce risk to the bank,” according to its chief executive, Brian Porter.

He said that the bank intends to remain in its core Caribbean markets, as well as the Pacific Alliance countries of Peru, Chile, Colombia and Mexico, but there are more divestments on the horizon.

On the very day of the announcement, a group of regional union leaders, led by Jamaica's Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), vowed to challenge the bank's transitional programme across the region.

Six visiting trade unionists, who visited Jamaica to join the BITU's response to Scotiabank's plans to transition three local service units to the Dominican Republic, said they were alarmed to learn on arrival that Scotiabank had announced overnight the sale of banks in nine Eastern Caribbean countries, as well as its insurance operations in Jamaica.

BITU President Senator Kavan Gayle accused the bank of “job trafficking”.

“What we call job trafficking is the act of bullying, selling or transferring of employees without clear justification,” Senator Gayle said in criticisms of the bank's actions.

Senator Gayle said that the unions considered the action as an immoral practice employed by enterprises operating across several countries, where positions and employments are transferred from one place to another or from one country to another, for profit and without consideration to its impact on their employees.

He alleged that it is a new move by multinationals to transition roles to where wages are cheaper and workers are not unionised.

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