Some years ago now a leading political figure was bluntly told by a senior expatriate banker that there were things that foreign commercial banks could get away with in The Bahamas that they could not get away with in the banker’s home country of Canada. A recent former senior employee of the Central Bank believes that this remains the case.
Canadian institutions have dominated commercial banking in The Bahamas from the inception of this economic sector. Even before it opened branches in parts of what was then considered the boondocks of Western Canada, the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) opened its first branch in Nassau in 1908.
Almost 50 years later, three other Canadian banks arrived in The Bahama Islands over a three-year period. In 1956 the Bank of Nova Scotia, now Scotiabank, opened a small branch in Nassau, followed in 1957 by the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), today operating as First Caribbean International Bank.
Wikipedia reports that in, “1958 Bank of London and South America [ BOLSA], an affiliate of Lloyds Bank, and Bank of Montreal established Bank of London and Montreal as a 50-50 JV with headquarters in Nassau in the Bahamas.”
There have been significant changes in the banking sector. The Bank of Montreal was purchased by the Government of The Bahamas in 1988, becoming the Bank of The Bahamas. Commonwealth Bank is a fully-owned Bahamian entity.
The Canadian commercial banks have contributed to the national and economic development of The Bahamas. Canadians and Canada are generally well-regarded by Bahamians.
Correspondingly, there have been times over the many decades that these banks could have been better corporate citizens. There is a view by various informed observers that public officials, including the Central Bank have often been less than vigorous in pressing for necessary reforms and changes at commercial banks, including in lending practices.