Sun | Feb 25, 2018

Assamba back at COK Sodality

Published:Wednesday | November 9, 2016 | 12:00 AMNeville Graham
A COK office.
Former head of COK Sodality, Jacqueline Mighty.

Former high commissioner and one-time parliamentarian Aloun N'Dombet Assamba is back at the head of Jamaica's third largest credit union, COK Sodality.

On Tuesday, the managers of the credit union were meeting with the CEO as Assamba settled back into a job she previously held up to 2002 when she left to enter politics.

Assamba takes over from former CEO Jacqueline Mighty.

COK's board officially made the appointment on Saturday, well-placed sources say, after word began circulating late last week that a change in leadership was imminent at the community bank now celebrating its 49th year in business.

By Tuesday, Assamba posted on Facebook that: "I begin my second stint at COK Sodality Credit Union today. I pray for your support. I am looking forward to taking the organisation to higher heights."

The transition is happening at a time when COK's bottom line is under pressure.

President Steadman Pitterson was not available for comment. And Assamba initially declined to comment on specifics of COK's performance, saying that she would first have to meet with the board.

But in the last set of financials seen by Gleaner Business, COK Sodality lost $44 million in 2014. This was a reversal of the modest $3.1 million surplus in 2013. Credit unions, being co-operatives, cannot declare profits.




The credit union's balance sheet actually showed an operating surplus of $97.6 million in 2014 but that was savaged by provisions for loan and interest losses along with losses on assets, all totalling $75 million.

The credit union movement has been self-regulating since 1942 under the auspices of the Jamaica Co-operative Credit Union League (JCCUL). The sector is in the process of migrating to a new regulator - the Bank of Jamaica - a process that has seen many of them shoring up their balance sheets and prudentials, largely through mergers, to strengthen their operations.

COK itself merged with the smaller Sodality Credit Union back in 2010, allowing the then Kingston-bound lender to expand its horizons beyond the capital.

JCCUL's Stabilisation Fund Unit administers the PEARLS standards - each letter in the acronym represents a group of prudential indicators which gives a measure of the health of each credit union. COK Sodality's 2014 annual report, the latest available on its website, indicates that COK has underperformed in most PEARLS groupings particularly effective financial structure, asset quality, rates of return and costs, as well as liquidity.

At the end of December 2014, COK Sodality's delinquency rate was 9.1 per cent. This was slightly down from the 2013 level of 9.83 per cent and an improvement on the double digit outturn since 2010. PEARLS indicators mandate that delinquency be less than 5 per cent of total loans.

Assamba says she is well are of the tough new environment in which COK is operating, noting that a lot has happened in her 15-year absence.

COK has had two CEOs since her departure: Brenda Cuthbert and Mighty. When Assamba left in 2002, COK had a membership base of 180,000, its assets totalled $3 billion, and its loan book was valued at $1.36 billion.

Today, its membership base is 267,000, its assets amount to $7.8 billion, and its loan book is valued at $5.36 billion.

"During my absence the environment has changed a lot but I was never far from the movement as evidenced by the accolade bestowed on me by the World Council of Credit Unions. I am excited to be back and my aim is to secure recent modest gains and build for the future," Assamba said.

As a politician, Assamba has represented the constituency of St Ann South East as member of parliament, and was once minister of tourism. She was later appointed as High Commissioner to the United Kingdom in year 2012, a posting that she gave up earlier this year after a change of Government in Jamaica.

Having met with COK Sodality's management team, Assamba said she would next be meeting with staff at the three branches spanning Kingston and Portmore up to Thursday, and with those at the Mandeville and Montego Bay branches next week.