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First Global to test agent banking with new Portmore branch

Published:Wednesday | March 29, 2017 | 12:00 AMNeville Graham
Mariame McIntosh-Robinson, president and CEO of First Global Bank.

In two to three months, a new branch of First Global will open in Portmore, growing the network to eight, alongside its corporate banking centre.

The outlet will operate under the agency banking model that allows retailers and other non-bank businesses to provide banking services on behalf of marquee commercial banks.

In this case, the agent will be a member of the GraceKennedy family, an outlet of grocery chain Hi-Lo Food Stores.

"First Global is not in Portmore as yet, so this is going to be a new branch for us," Wehby said.

The central bank is still in the process of laying the groundwork for agent banking, the rules for which have to be legislated.

So Wehby made sure to stress that the new Portmore branch is still subject to regulatory approval by the Bank of Jamaica. Still, GraceKennedy expects it to go live in June.

Right now, First Global remains the second-smallest or sixth of seven commercial banks in Jamaica - with assets of $55 billion, including a $23-billion loan book, according to the most recent industry data - but GraceKennedy has already outlined plans to take the bank into other parts of the Caribbean, even as it looks for opportunities to grow at home.

New management structure

First Global is now led by President and CEO Mariame McIntosh Robinson, who made her reputation as a dealmaker overseas working with McKinsey & Company, and Bain & Company, and then working with billionaire investor Michael Lee-Chin through Portland Private Equity before joining GK just over a year ago.

Last week, amid its positioning to upsize the bank, GraceKennedy announced changes to the management structure at First Global, with a heavy emphasis on technology and digital marketing.

The post of general manager was eliminated and Paula Barclay will demit office, effective today, March 31, after 18 years working with the GK Group. Nichole Case was appointed to act in the newly created post of senior vice-president - technology, reporting directly to McIntosh Robinson. New positions were also created for assistant vice-president - strategy and project management office, and vice-president - digital marketing and communications, but no appointees were named.

GraceKennedy said the recruitment process has begun to fill the new posts.

The marriage of First Global and Hi-Lo is not new. The Manor Park Hi-Lo store previously included space for the bank, but they later split when the operations of both were expanded and they now do business from neighbouring shop space in Manor Park Plaza. However, the Hi-Lo store in Liguanea currently includes a First Global branch.

Wehby indicated that the sharing of infrastructure between supermarket and bank will be replicated in other locations. He called it the GK's "strategic financial inclusion and integrated retail services" plan.

Hi-Lo's network spans 13 stores in six parishes. First Global currently operates seven branches in four parishes.

"In a lot of our Hi-Lo locations, you will be seeing First Global Bank," Wehby said.

GraceKennedy is spending US$2 million on the First Global Portmore branch and refurbishment of the supermarket, he said.