Minister of Small Business, Entrepreneurship and Commerce, Dwight Sutherland. (FP)

Credit Unions in Barbados are being encouraged to extend their reach and product line so they can provide more services to meet the emerging needs of their customers.

Minister of Small Business, Entrepreneurship and Commerce, Dwight Sutherland, made the call while speaking at the Lifetime Co-operative Credit Union’s 30th Anniversary Award and Dinner ceremony held last Saturday at the Accra Beach Hotel and Spa, Rockley, Christ Church.

Minister Sutherland noted that over the years, the credit union movement continued to be a boost and major source of growth within the financial sector and society and “since its inception have heeded the needs of members, where persons of common bond of association have financed one another for their mutual benefit”.

He added that without the credit union movement, working class Barbadians would not have been able to boast of being home or car owners.

The Commerce Minister re-affirmed Government’s commitment to the growth of the credit union as he pledged that it would work with the credit unions to find an alternative platform to Caribbean Integrated Financial Services Inc. (CarIFS), since the decision was taken by the Barbados Bankers’ Association to leave the CarIFS platform that links all of the ATMs across Barbados.

It was pointed out that as banks forge ahead with plans to use Visa as the switching agent, which would make the local CarIFS platform redundant, Minister Sutherland stated: “It would be remiss of this Government to accept that credit unions should be forced to accept the direction of the commercial banks and to become disenfranchised if they are not permitted to join Visa, except through a sponsorship from Visa member commercial banks.”    

He disclosed that the Ministry had initiated discussions with members of the credit union movement to decide on a way forward, and a call was made to the biggest telecommunications provider Cable and Wireless and its sister company Flow to assist Government and the credit unions to launch an electronic payments network very soon.

The Minister also suggested that taking advantage of the many apps being made available for customers to pay for goods and services using their mobile phones, as well as the use of locally issued prepaid debit cards, could be adopted as low-cost solutions to the switching problem.

“It means, therefore, that local transactions will be settled in Barbados currency and reduce the flight of foreign exchange that will occur with the usage of the international Visa or MasterCard debit card,” Minister Sutherland said.

The Minister also stated that he was happy to hear of the initiative being undertaken by the Barbados Cooperative Credit Union Limited and Capita Financial Services Inc. to launch an international debit card by June 2020, which will offer some mitigation to the impact of the closure of the existing CariFS network in September 2020.

Currently, there are 33 credit unions, including Lifetime Co-operative Credit Union Ltd., formerly known as the Barbados Shipping and Trading Employees’ Co-operative Credit Union Ltd.  It was founded in August 1989, and services the savings and loans needs of almost 6,000 members.

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