Several months ago, I wrote an article entitled Independence: A Blessing or a Curse. The next week, it was my intent to write an article on how the banking sector fits into the equation. I also intended to put in an insert from my manuscript. Then I wanted to include Ann Riley-Fox’s story. However, I kept putting it off. The news I received yesterday was not good. Here is what I may have written months ago. Maybe now it is being written at an opportune time.
My earliest memory of a financial institution was not pretty. It was about the Civic Society in Bridgetown.
The Civic Society was located on the corner of the eastern end of Eastern end of Swan Street. There were few banks back then and many people including my mother saved some of their wages there. I do not know how much she was paid -it never entered my mind to ask but I believe that it was not much. However, she set aside a little each week to deposit at the Civic Society in Bridgetown. Maybe she was saving to buy a house for our education or just saving for a rainy day. I do not remember how old I was but one Saturday when she went to deposit some money the Civic Society was closed. There was no notice on the door to advise if the institution was closed or relocated. In dramatic fashion Civic Society just disappeared. It never reopened. Gone were her life savings –so too the life savings of many poor Barbadians. How much I do not know. I was too young to understand. I do not recall if she cried, if so not in my presence.
Thoughts of it now that I am grown would put me in despair if every cent I possessed disappeared into thin air. I do not remember if the newspaper carried a story about it. We never found out what happened to the money. It was just gone, probably into someone’s pockets. As far as I am aware no one was ever held accountable for what happen to that money. Maybe it was a secret someone took to their grave. After that, for the rest of her working life, my mother never trusted any financial institution and saved her money at home until she retired and her pension had to be deposited into a bank account.
It was not the last time Barbadians suffered losses through financial institutions. It has happened with banks and insurances companies and the results were always the same; the people are the ones who loose and are not protected to prevent future reoccurrences. The biggest of these to date has been the CLICO scandal.
It would be remiss of me not to look at the role played by the banking sector in a post-independence Barbados. With an excess of 15 billion in liquidity banks have very restrictive, deceptive and abusive lending practices or refuse to lend to black Barbadians. They have always portrayed a lack of corporate social responsibility to the poor. In our 50th year of independence it is a crying shame that there is no legislation to ensure that the banks meet the entire credit needs of the communities that they serve. There is no Equal Credit Opportunity Act. By now the banks should have been meeting the credit needs by providing services and consumer loans to low and moderate income areas. They willing open their hands to receive money so to add to their savings or reinvest but hardly lend to the poor black community. One reason why black entrepreneurs and business persons have not grown significantly is because of restrictive banking policies.
There is however another occurrence that the banking sector seems to have escaped unscathed with their reputation intact, people are ashamed to have themselves identified as victims. It is known as foreclosure or the banks taking up a person’s house. Whatever you may call it; we seem not to want to discuss it. Yet thousands of Barbadians have lost their homes due to the harsh economic environment that has caused them to lose their jobs.
Ann Riley-Fox, who was a successful black business woman in Barbados, yesterday she lost her fight with First Caribbean International Bank who unceremoniously evicted her from her property. A change in the business policies of the bank negatively affected her as a black business person. It was as though she was targeted and set up for failure. I said she lost her fight but what I really intend to say is that her fight must now become the fight of every Barbadian, those who have lost their homes, those who are losing their homes and those who do not know if and when they will lose their jobs which will jeopardize their mortgage. It is time to cast off our shame and rise up and fight back restrictive policies that for far too long have never been in our favour. Some may argue that we have credit unions but what good are credit unions that turn around and bank your saving with the banks that are against your growth, economic independence and advancement?
The very fact that black banks are growing now in the USA should be taken note of. We spend half off our lives working and saving our money at these commercial banks, then for 20 years or so pay them a mortgage. Then one day you lose your job and what happens the bank forgets the good times in a flash. It is time that Barbadians to pool their resources to form their own bank and withdraw their finances from the foreign commercial banks . It is my hope that the Fairness Committee will examine this and other initiatives.