World’s Best Banks 2021: The Caribbean

The Best Banks in the Caribbean delivered via technology and are solidifying operations for post-pandemic economic recovery.

With beaches and resorts empty, the Caribbean is deprived of a large portion of the economic activities that characterized its landscape, with no replacement prospects on its sunny horizons.

Even prior to the crisis, the financial sector was in a state of flux, after Santander, Scotiabank and Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) decided to sell off parts of their business in the region. Those changes had significant impact on this year’s selections. Mergers aside, Caribbean retail and corporate banks have hunkered down during the past year, focusing efforts on speeding digitalization and providing financial support to local clients.

Banreservas of the Dominican Republic takes the top prize as Best Bank in the Caribbean, as well as its home-country award. A major DR institution by assets ($11.2 billion), Banreservas used previous investments in technology to adopt new mechanisms to facilitate customer banking through the pandemic. One of the most important was the rapid design of a digital tool to reach 700,000 poor families and allow them to receive government subsidies. New technology pushed the bank’s digital transactions to 71% of the total. Overall, the bank saw a 13.7% increase in assets and a 24.8% return on equity; and it fattened its loan provisions ($133.9 million), preserving its AA+ national long-term Fitch rating.

Beyond extending loan payments and reducing its credit card interest rate to 1%, Banreservas moved ahead with two programs to prepare local businesses for recovery: one supporting development of cooperatives, the other supporting sustainable building projects. The bank also joined Unicef in a program on education and financial inclusion.

The National Commercial Bank (NCB) takes the country award again for Jamaica. The bank has crafted an ambitious medium-term strategy focused on building a top-class financial ecosystem by 2024 based on improved technology and analytical tools.

In the past year, NCB adopted Braille kits to make ATMs accessible for visually impaired customers, introduced a token for access to its platforms using mobile devices and registered a 100% increase in mobile transactions. Despite a high level (35.8%) of nonperforming loans (NPLs), NCB’s assets grew 10% to $6.2 billion; and the bank remains the national leader in assets and deposits.

After completing its acquisition of Santander Puerto Rico for $1.3 billion, First BanCorp saw its assets jump from $18.8 billion to $ 24.3 billion by the end of 2020. With this merger, the bank gained musculature to compete in a dynamic financial field that is subjected to regulation by the US Federal Reserve. The deal also brought the bank Santander’s added technological capacity and sustainable standards.

Scotiabank Trinidad & Tobago takes a country award for its strong investment in technology and support for its community during the pandemic, as well as its good financial results and low level of NPLs. Scotiabank’s agenda for local business included payment deferrals for 75,000 companies.

RBC Royal Bank takes the prize in Turks & Caicos, where the parent institution introduced its standards on digitalization, optimization, simplification and also its commitment to environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. Barbadian operations should be strengthened this year by the closure of RBC branches in the other Eastern Caribbean islands. This decision can also favor the bank’s transactions in Turks & Caicos, where RCB operates with a smaller structure.

Belize Bank this year is starting to enjoy the acquisition of Scotiabank’s operations in this country, which give it around 49% market share. This acquisition is expected also to awaken the bank for the necessary ESG commitment and faster digitalization. Last year, Belize Bank introduced a digital wallet service and implemented its digital bank, which allows operations through mobile devices and text messaging.

Republic Bank takes two awards: Best Bank in Barbados and Best Bank in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), with the acquisition of Scotiabank’s operations playing a key role. In Barbados, the purchase increased Republic’s assets by $1.5 billion. In the BVI, the bank added $551.7 million to assets when the acquisition was concluded in June. Republic Bank will gain from the digital improvements adopted by Scotiabank.