'We will be ready!'
VM pushing for open banking provisions; calls on regulator to go further
CAMPBELL...we are also eager for our regulators to adopt open finance which goes beyond the scope of transactional bank accounts

THE VM Group is pressng its regulator, the Bank of Jamaica, to go further than the proposed implementation of open banking measures, which are aimed at improving the ease at which consumers can switch accounts from one bank to the next, and to adopt an open finance policy that allows consumers to do more.

There have been indications in recent times that under open banking provisions to be implemented in the near future, consumers will be able to ask their current financial institution to transfer personal data for opening an account from one financial institution to another — either on a one-off or ongoing basis — to help ease the stress of opening new accounts.

The proposal has found favour with consumers and financial institutions, with VM Group president and CEO Courtney Campbell pushing for swift implementation.

"VM is eagerly awaiting open banking," Campbell told VM Group members at the entity's annual general meeting on Tuesday. "We are confident that given the quality of our service delivery, the competitiveness of our products, and our demonstrated commitment to financial inclusion, our business should benefit from data portability and open banking whenever it is implemented in Jamaica. We will be ready!" he continued.

But Campbell didn't stop there.

"In fact, as an integrated financial group we are also eager for our regulators to adopt open finance which goes beyond the scope of transactional bank accounts to include mortgages, pensions, insurance, investments and stocks — all connected across shared networks. This unified, cross-sector functionality is typically facilitated by super apps which provide multiple financial services in one place," he said enthusiastically.

Campbell, who was speaking shortly after a vote for a new scheme of arrangement for the VM Group, also told his audience that the financial services group, which is seeking to reorganise into a financial holding company in keeping with requirements from the Bank of Jamaica, will soon participate in the central bank digital currency, Jam-Dex.

" I can confirm that the VM Group intends to partner with the BOJ in the issuance of Jam-Dex, and we are making preparations in this regard," he said without elaborating on a timetable to do so. Currently, only NCB through its Lynk subsidiary offers Jam-Dex. The aim is to get more financial institutions on board as quickly as possible.

As for the company's readiness to comply with the Bank of Jamaica requirement for it to apply to be licensed as a financial holding company, Campbell told the audience that such an application will be submitted after that new company, VM Financial Group, has been incorporated "and at the appropriate stage in our reorganisation process, certainly by the end of this year".

The vote for that reorganisation was taken on Tuesday but due to the scattered nature of the meeting — with members present in the National Arena in St Andrew and at VM Group branches in Portmore, St Catherine, Savanna-la-mar in Westmoreland; in Fairview, Montego Bay and online, the final result was delayed until Friday by the auditors, KPMG.

Growth plans

Campbell also outlined to the audience that the financial group is in growth mode. Late last year the VM Group announced an ambitious plan to grow its membership base to one million by 2025. On Tuesday, while Campbell appealed for current members to help recruit new members, he said the group is growing its "active membership at three times the pace we have done in the most recent past. Many more people are reactivating dormant accounts and we are also opening a greater number of new accounts". He however did not say how far away from the target the VM Group is at the moment.

On the matter of expanding its presence across the region, Campbell said its "affiliate Carilend launched in Trinidad and Tobago in July, so they are now in three Caribbean territories, while BCIC has a growing business in Barbados and writes business in the Turks and Caicos islands". BCIC is the British Caribbean Insurance Company, a Kingston-headquartered general insurer in which the VM Group owns a 39.24 per cent stake.

"We have partnered with Canopy Insurance to launch the Canopy Family Plan, exclusively designed for you, our members of the VM Group. We have now introduced our first credit cards with two new cards — Visa Gold & Visa Platinum. These credit cards will be very competitive, offering lower annual fees and lower interest rates than the market...We have rolled out our online business banking solution to meet the needs of our large corporate and SME customers. This will be a game changer as VM Building Society positions itself to be a significant provider of financial services to the business community," he said.

"For our prospective new members and clients in Barbados, VM Investments Limited has agreed to acquire 100 per cent of Republic Funds Barbados Inc. We have received three of the four regulatory approvals required and expect to conclude this transaction by the end of this year."

The VM Group reported a net surplus of $1.79 billion in its 2021 financial year, a figure which was lower than the previous year by $850 million.

Dashan Hendricks

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