Barbara Ellington, Public Affairs Editor
While Carole Eleuthere-Jn Marie was a student in St Lucia, she juggled her assignments with her other job, head office accountant at National Commercial Bank St Lucia Ltd. Starting as she meant to continue, Eleuthere-Jn Marie went on to build a formidable career in the accounting and investment fields. Since joining First Citizens Investment Services as St Lucia's country manager in April 2006, the company has grown tremendously, with capital market transactions brokered and managed by the Eastern Caribbean (EC) office exceeding EC$800 million.
Today, Eleuthere-Jn Marie is the manager for the Eastern Caribbean and Barbados, coaching and directing the country managers of the regional territories as well as creating, developing, educating and nurturing the capital markets of the Eastern Caribbean and Barbados. The Gleaner's Public Affairs Editor, Barbara Ellington, spoke with Eleuthere-Jn Marie in an email interview, ahead of her role as chairperson of the CBA conference scheduled for the Montego Bay Convention Centre, Rose Hall, St James, starting tomorrow.
BE: Given the current near-dormant state of the Jamaican economy, what are some of the strategies banks could use to encourage investment?
CEJM: While banks play an integral role in supporting our world economies, we need to remember that banking is primarily a commercial venture, and like any business, the profit incentive will be the focused driving force for most strategies and initiatives. I think some of the strategies that could go a long way to encouraging investment would include:
a) Develop and structure products tailored for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) which can typically play a critical role in building economies when things are down and are also good providers of employment for the youth and vulnerable groups;
b) Be willing to shave interest rates and fees, where possible, for projects with good growth prospects;
c) Develop specific financing packages for sectors that will drive productivity and pursue collaboration with other stakeholders such as insurance companies, to negotiate discounts on the services required to complete and access these packages;
d) Ensure corporate lending teams are suitably well trained and comprise of specialists who understand client needs and can provide sound advice, support and guidance;
e) Collaborate with and volunteer support to the public/private sector where feasible, to enhance the ease of doing business.
How can investor confidence be boosted in the long term?
With investor confidence perhaps still at an all-time low these days, I think we can safely say that economies are reflecting the output of the wait-and-see investor mode. Lots of events in the last four to five years can clearly be attributed to what we can now call the 'crisis of confidence' being experienced today, and building and boosting this confidence to the levels prior to the financial crisis will, understandably, take tame.
Some key factors that contribute to boosting investor confidence include:
a) A relatively stable economic, social/political/ environment - this, to me, is the ultimate confidence builder for new as well as existing investors seeking to grow and/or expand;
b) Regulations need to be effective and up-to-date;
c) Transparency and information availability - unfortunately, though, this happens to be one of the areas that continues to be a major deficiency for many Caribbean territories.
These few factors are not meant to be exhaustive and there will still be many other factors considered important to individual investors - issues like crime, unemployment, corruption - all play a role in impacting the stability of a country and, by extension, investor confidence. All stakeholders must contribute to the stability of the region. The increasing demand for independent credit ratings and assessment of countries and businesses is also a direct reflection of steps being taken to provide a confidence booster for investors.
Have we seen the demise of Ponzi schemes, given the cases of David Smith, Allen Stanford and others? How do we prevent them in future?
There will always be attempts to create Ponzi schemes as greed seems to be part of our very nature and this is what such schemes thrive on. We must continue to ingrain sound values and principles in our people through education and mentoring programmes. Our leaders, in particular, must demonstrate high standards of behaviour and practice what they preach.
We must push financial literacy and constantly educate people on money matters and investments and reinforce strong ethics and principles. Our regulations and regulators must be effective and efficient in identifying and proactively dealing with such activity as soon as they are flagged. Good corporate governance must be enforced by legislators/regulators and all those who do not comply should be brought to justice.
Do you think a single Caribbean currency would make sense? Explain why or why not.
My personal opinion is yes. I strongly believe as a region there is greater benefit for us to unite and trade, negotiate and lobby with the rest of the world as one common and strong force, and I see the single currency as one major incentive to making this a real possibility.
For many years, our regional heads have given much lip service to issues such as increasing inter-regional trade and the establishment of a common stock exchange, all these including the other major issue of floating currencies and fixed currencies to the US dollar clearly do not seem to have changed or progressed in decades.
Certainly, I do not think a single currency of its own will increase inter-regional trade or remove the many barriers currently being cited to the establishment of a regional stock exchange, nor change the economic landscape of the individual territories of the region. The example of the Eastern Caribbean dollar right here in the region, I believe, clearly demonstrates the many advantages of a common currency.
What do you see as the direct impact of a second term for President Obama on the region?
We are considered to be in the 'backyard' of the US. Many of our economies depend heavily on the US for tourism, foreign direct investments, remittances and trade. At the moment, the trajectory for the US is considered to be moving upward and President Obama has demonstrated his commitment to keep on that course.
The benefits I see will come as a result of the positive uptake of the US economy and once unemployment is back on the decline, the increased remittances will begin to positively impact the region. I don't expect any major policy changes from the Obama administration to negatively impact the region. We will, therefore, benefit from US gains.
What can conference delegates expect to hear from you at the conference?
We have a packed agenda and we are looking to exceed expectations in the delivery of the diverse presentations and extremely current and relevant discussion topics. As chairperson of CAB for the last two years, along with a very active board of directors, we hope that we have delivered on our promise to create value for members and competently represented members' interests.
There were several initiatives taken during the last two years and policy changes made to meet that mandate. We expanded the constitution of the CAB to include all banks and we developed a strategic plan to reflect this new direction. We have put measures in place to provide strong continuous support to assist members in dealing effectively with the challenges they face both regionally and internationally.
We have been integral in educating members, the public and, in particular, CARICOM heads, central bank governors and other key players about the impact, implications, etc., of the implementation of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and as a result of our intervention in this area, the issue is now being handled at the CARICIOM level for negotiations with the US.
We have been strong advocates for a Caribbean credit bureau and we continue to push for common regional legislation and regulation and see this as one of the major incentives to facilitate ease of doing business in the region which would also support a strong financial landscape. We have also focused on member education and training and developed sustainable incentives to continue focus and provide benefits to our members in this area.
We look forward to once again providing them, our service providers and other major stakeholders and participants, with the ultimate networking opportunity at the Montego Bay Convention.
What led to your choice of a career and how do you balance your schedule with family life?
The funny thing about this career is that I don't think I ever chose it ... it chose me! But I thoroughly enjoy what I do and that makes it so much easier for me to deal with the constant pressures of work and a busy travel schedule while also trying to allocate time for family. I have always been a numbers person and I also thrive on challenges and love fun and excitement. Work for me must never be boring or monotonous.
Thus, my career has provided me just what the doctor ordered and I get to be an accountant, banker, financial advisor, investment broker, mother, wife ... all in one package. My life is never boring all I need to do is figure out how best to balance them all with zero disappointments.