Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce, Reginald Budhan, says the principle of universal access should be adopted by banking institutions, to ensure that customers get the best service and rates possible.
Mr. Budhan said the Ministry was receiving daily complaints about the difficulty in opening bank accounts, which was worse in the case of businesses.
“The level of difficulty that citizens and businesses now face in opening bank accounts, is inconsistent with the modern business environment where (people cannot deal in cash for large transactions, and need banking services),” he lamented.
Mr. Budhan, who was speaking at a workshop on the ‘Promotion of Consumer Protection Project in the Caribbean’, on Wednesday (December 8) at the Wyndham Kingston Hotel, New Kingston, said persons should be able to open bank accounts without the rigours that now prevail.
Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Industry, Industry, Investment and Commerce, Reginald Budhan (left) shares a light moment with (from 2nd left) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Consumer Affairs Commission, Dolsie Allen; Project Coordinator, Consumer International, Candice Ramessar; and Acting Representative, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Juliann Belgrave, during December 8 workshop on the ‘Promotion of Consumer Protection Project in the Caribbean’ at the Wyndham Kingston Hotel.
He said given the sophistication of the business environment, banking is a critical basic service for citizens, and the ability of a citizen to open a bank account must, therefore, be seen as a necessity for citizens.
He stated that, currently, there is an atmosphere of perceived lack of respect for consumers among the banks.
“For example, one of our commercial banks increased by 400 per cent (from $500 to $2,000) the minimum amount that a customer must deposit to open an account at the bank, or is required to have in their account at all times. A monthly fee of $29 is imposed on the customer, if the amount falls below the required minimum,” he said.
He said with respect to small account holders, the banks should look at cross-subsidizing, which is how the principle of universal access and service works.
The Permanent Secretary also noted that consumer protection was essential, both for consumers and for the sellers of goods and services in the Caribbean. For the consumer, he said, protection means combating and eliminating ignorance, being aware of rights and having remedies against unscrupulous marketers.
He said there is need for greater protection, awareness and vigilance on the part of the consumers, as well.
The Promotion of Consumer Protection Project in the Caribbean is a three-year initiative being implemented in Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, focussing on the promotion of consumer protection.
It was conceived against the background of the changing global economic environment, the formation of trading blocks and the consequences and opportunities that they provide for consumers and consumer protection in the Caribbean.
It seeks to deepen regional integration and market reform in the target countries, through the strengthening of consumer protection capacity. It also seeks to re-enforce the capacity of the non-governmental and Governmental agencies that are involved in consumer protection, to be able to more effectively carry out their mandates.