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Canadian banks see potential turnaround for Carib operations

Published:Tuesday | January 20, 2015 | 12:00 AM

The combination of lower oil prices and cost-cutting should lead to improvement in their Caribbean operations, Canadian bankers said Monday at a conference in Toronto.

While Canadian banks brace for loan losses and lower revenues in western Canada due to the plunge in oil prices, the big banks say oil-importing Caribbean markets are set to benefit from the decline.

"They're one of the biggest beneficiaries of cheaper oil, so there are some positives finally starting to creep into the economic outlook of the region from that perspective," said Royal Bank of Canada chief executive, David McKay.

RBC announced last year it is exiting its Caribbean-wealth management business, after selling its Jamaican operations at a loss.

At the same time, another Canadian bank, CIBC, took a CAN$420 million charge on its Caribbean operations in the second quarter of last year, plus an additional CAN$123 million in loan losses.

The Bank of Nova Scotia, which has also been operating in the Caribbean for more than a century, plans to close some of its 370 branches in order "to be congruent with the economic reality", Scotiabank's chief executive, Brian Porter, told the banking conference.

But with oil prices declining, Porter said Scotiabank's Caribbean operations are about to turn a corner.

Just last year, RBC sold its loss-making Jamaican subsidiary to Sagicor Group Jamaica to reduce its Caribbean exposure. Otherwise, McKay told the banking conference that RBC has trimmed its staff in the region around 6,500 to less than 5,000 in the past two years.

"We're operating in a very challenging economy but, with that cost takeout, we feel strongly that we will have a strong rebound in the Caribbean performance in fiscal 2015," he said.

"We've done the hard work necessary to turn that franchise around and I am confident that in 2015 you'll see the fruits of all that work."

Caribbean economies have been in a slump since the global financial crisis of 2008.