Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Bankers push back on fee criticisms

Published:Wednesday | March 15, 2017 | 3:00 AM

Following widespread criticism by legislators in recent weeks on bank fees and other charges, the Bankers Association of Trinidad and Tobago (BATT) says discussions on the issue are welcome but should be done in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

The bankers said that consideration must also be given to the negative perception and damaging effects the remarks can have on an industry which employs more than 10,000 workers, represents over 15 per cent of the country's economy, and provides services to nearly one million citizens.

"Many of our members have operated in Trinidad & Tobago for decades and have played an important role in the development of our twin island nation since its independence in 1962. The banks have helped millions of citizens save for their retirement, own their first home, open their first small business, and generally realise on their dreams and aspirations," said the bank lobby group.

"Indeed, our members have also supported various government entities and the sovereign itself in raising funds to support the direct development of critical state projects since independence," BATT said in a statement, adding that a functioning and vibrant financial services industry is critical to the future development and stability of Trinidad and Tobago, especially as the country grapples with the current negative economic environment.

Last week, independent Senator Ian Roach called on the Rowley administration to deal with high bank charges and interest rates.

Roach charged that Trinidadians would consider the banks "to be institutional bandits, financial extortionists and conscienceless", saying they "unilaterally impose any and all types of bank charges in addition to the already outrageous level of interest rates".

He called for new legislation to deal, once and for all, with what he described as the "systemic cancer of interest rates and bank charges" to fortify the Ministry of Finance and give it new powers to regulate "these runaway ravenous horses that are the banks".

THEY DON'T LISTEN

Leader of the Opposition Business in the Senate, Wade Mark, accused of BATT of trying to dictate how Parliament conducts its business.

"They are totally out of place. Who is the Bankers Association ... Amcham, and the Chamber of Industry & Commerce to come and tell us that we do not need a joint select committee?" said Mark.

"We could tell them when they want to gouge out the eyes of people when they increase prices, that they shouldn't do it. We tell them, that but they don't listen," he said.

In the statement, BATT said that it "categorically rejects the suggestion of artificial market control practices over the provision of services in a competitive and open market. This suggestion runs counter to free-market principles and the guidelines of business conduct, which all of our members comply with".

The bankers urged clients who may have questions regarding the services provided to them to meet with their individual bank representatives to review and determine the services that best suit them.

- CMC