George Belnavis - Banking on values
There are certain values which are important to attorney-at-law and legal educator, George Belnavis. One of those is equality.
However, it is not the kind of equality which George Orwell satirised in the popular quote from his novel, Animal Farm, in which he stated: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." It is equality in its true sense, as advocates such as Dr Martin Luther King, Jr and Nelson Mandela gave their lives to promote and preserve.
"My dad imparted to his children that we were not better than anybody, although we had better opportunities than most people," Mr Belnavis mused from his office in New Kingston. He continued: "We shouldn't look down on anybody; but treat each person equally, with respect and courtesy."
Those words from his father, an estate manager, who was responsible for well-known entities, such as the Seville Estate in St Ann; and the Eden Park Estate in Oracabessa, St Mary, were his guiding light during his now 44 years at the Bar. Those years have spanned service as a prosecutor, educator, administrator and in private practice.
The Jamaica National member, found his father's guidance to be especially important to him as he taught at the Norman Manley Law School at The University of the West Indies, Mona in the 1990s, and also served the Legal Aid Clinic.
"I've always believed in what you call the Justinian concept of law to render to each man his due. And, the reality is that: in our Jamaican society, if you can't afford the services of an attorney and I can afford the services of an attorney, in any litigating matter, I automatically have a better advantage than you."
"But, I like to level the playing field," he admitted.
Married, with three daughters, Belnavis has passed on his values to his now adult children, Stacy, the eldest, who is a banker; Lesli-Ann, an art therapist; and Stefanie, the Belnavis' last daughter who lives and works in the United States as a dance movement therapist.
"The theme of this family is service. It's integral to who we are," said Lesli-Ann, who acknowledges that her career choice was shaped by the values of advocacy and philanthropy by both her parents. Sybil Belnavis, a Jamaican who grew up in Trinidad, is an active philanthropist who maintains an outreach for young people and wards of the state.
As an art therapist, Lesli-Ann works with mainly at-risk and incarcerated youth, helping them to explore feelings and resolve conflicts through an art medium.
"I can't be in the field I am without being compassionate," she said, reflecting on the lessons from her grandfather that her father passed on to her.
Belnavis' embrace of equality for all men also determines the organisations he and his family are prepared to do business with, and that includes financial institutions.
"My dad and my mom believed seriously in saving, and they were members of the St Mary Benefit Building Society, which subsequently became part of Jamaica National [in 1983]. Therefore, I always heard them discussing savings and the building society, so in the back of your mind you want to save," he recollected.
That was in addition to his father's and later father-in-law's advice, as well as wife's prodding that he should ensure that he was not only a working man, but a proud homeowner. In 1992, he negotiated a mortgage with Jamaica National, switching from a commercial bank because the interest on his loan made his payments unmanageable.
"Jamaica National moved quickly and I had no problem at all with receiving my loan," he recalled.
Additionally, over the years, he has not only benefited from mortgages, but from other financial products, which helped to fund important goals, such as his children's education, other savings accounts, and insurance from the JNBS subsidiary, JN General Insurance.
"If I ever tell you I got less than first-class service, I would be lying," he declared.
For Belnavis, what makes Jamaica National different is its emphasis on mutuality, which he points out, is reflected in the service members receive not only in JN banking halls, but also in communities.
"Today, institutions tend to be more impersonal. They are more about making money and charging the clients. And, I would never want to see Jamaica National go in that direction," he stated.
"To me, whatever Jamaica National becomes, it must still think about its core service values, where people will always want to do business with JN because you are thinking about them; and because you treat them equally and fairly," he advised.
"At some banks, sometimes you see how some poor people are treated and you are offended ..." he observed. "Mutuality is very important."