First Global Bank Limited, a subsidiary of GraceKennedy Ltd., has earned the distinction of being one of Jamaica’s most dynamic banks. It started off in 1970 as The First National Bank of Chicago (Jamaica) Limited, was later renamed Trafalgar Commercial Bank Limited, before becoming First Global Bank Limited in 2002. FGB prides itself on offering its customers a wide range of products and services while making the best use of any and all cutting-edge digital tools at its disposal. With eight branches, five satellite MoneyLink mini-branches and one banking agent in place, FGB is committed to greatly extending its reach across the island within the next few months.
International Banker was pleased to be joined by Mariame McIntosh Robinson, President and CEO, and Norman Thompson, Vice President of Corporate Banking, for this interview.
Thank you very much for being with us today….
Mariame, First Global Bank (FGB) recently became the first bank in Jamaica to officially establish agent banking. For what reason(s) did you decide to launch this service?
Mariame: We decided to launch agent banking in Jamaica as a way to strategically expand the bank’s network, particularly into underserved rural communities, while also supporting the Government of Jamaica’s push for national financial inclusion. Having a bank account is one of the first steps towards greater financial inclusion. Through banking agents, we are able to facilitate the maintenance of bank accounts by local community residents to allow deposits and withdrawals of funds, checking of account balances and making loan payments. Agent banking is special because it leverages existing local businesses that community members already know and trust to offer regulated financial services at a high quality. FGB is known for being a leader in innovation. Launching agent banking in Jamaica puts us ahead of the game in the continuation of a series of first-to-market products and services.
And what do you hope to achieve from agent banking, Mariame?
Mariame: FGB intends to be the banking service provider of choice to the average Jamaican. Our mission is “To empower people to get ahead in life and business”. We believe that assisting more Jamaicans to participate in the formal financial-services sector will allow for greater access to products and services that can both help them to achieve their goals in life and help FGB in achieving its mission. We will continue to roll out our agent-banking locations with a target of 30 locations by the end of 2019.
Can you briefly explain some of the main functions of First Global’s Risk Management and Compliance Unit, and how this unit contributes to the bank’s overall performance, Mariame?
Mariame: One of the core objectives of First Global Bank Limited, and the wider GraceKennedy Group, is to ensure full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. In this regard, FGB’s Risk Management and Compliance Department is responsible for the management of various types of risks and ensures, through independent oversight, that these risks are identified, assessed, mitigated and reported within the established risk-management framework.
Some of the main functions of the Risk and Compliance Department include:
- Development and maintenance of the risk and compliance framework,
- Creating a culture of compliance that is pervasive across the FGB network,
- Performing risk assessments of customers, products, services and delivery channels, and developing commensurate controls,
- Continuous improvement of control environments to predict, prevent and quickly address control breaches should they arise,
- Assessing and reporting on the effectiveness of existing controls to mitigate risk exposure,
- Updating policies and procedures in response to changes in the legislative and regulatory landscape and international best practices,
- Developing the capacity of the team on legislative changes and industry trends,
- Providing guidance and support to staff in relation to matters including but not limited to anti-money laundering and counter-financing of terrorism, and
- Managing, in a proactive manner, the resolution of any matter that presents the likelihood of exposing the organization to the risk of breaching any internal or external requirement.
The unit creates the framework in which FGB can safely and effectively meet its strategic objectives. Through the contribution made by the Risk and Compliance Department, First Global Bank Limited has managed its exposure to reputational, financial and legal risks, which has collectively resulted in our stakeholders having continued confidence in us.
As I understand, First Global Bank aims to provide both consumers and businesses more features for self-serve than any other bank. Do you have any examples of such self-serve facilities for corporate-banking customers, Norman?
Norman: Through our online banking platform, Global Access, our corporate / business customers are able self-serve more of their banking needs than with other banks. From the comfort of their offices, they can execute straight-through processing for international wire transfers, internal payments, official cheques, bill payments, credit cards and other domestic account transfers and bulk payments—including payrolls across banks; all of which are facilitated using our two-factor authorization and in keeping with the mandate originally signed by the customer. Of importance is that once the receiving accounts are with FGB, including credit cards, the value is immediate even outside of banking hours.
Can you briefly explain what First Global MoneyLink is, Mariame? And how does this facility promote financial inclusion in Jamaica?
Mariame: To support the national goal of financial inclusion, First Global Bank has expanded strategically into community banking, which takes regulated financial services directly into underserved communities through mini-branches and banking agents called First Global MoneyLink. First Global MoneyLink mini-branches are small-footprint branches, typically costing less than 10 percent of the setup and operation costs of a regular branch. First Global MoneyLink agents are third parties appointed by the bank to conduct specific transactions on our behalf. In most cases, agents are businesses that have been operating in the community over time and have earned the confidence of the community. MoneyLink tends to be more attractive to local communities as no fees are charged for the services; there is easy access to a registered, reputable and credible financial institution within communities, eliminating the time and expenses associated with having to travel long distances to other towns or cities; and we offer customized financial products, such as easy-to-access, low-cost loans and savings accounts for community residents who often do not meet the qualification requirements of traditional banking products and services.
In what main ways do you consider First Global’s customer service to be superior to that of other banks in Jamaica and/or the wider Caribbean region, Mariame?
Mariame: While Jamaica’s banking sector has a negative NPS (Net Promoter Score) rating, FGB is one of a few banks to enjoy a positive NPS rating of over 40. Excellence in customer experience forms one of the core values on which First Global Bank stands; and to this extent, the management, staff, our systems, products and services are all designed to ensure we meet that objective. First Global Bank is proud to be among the first in Jamaica and the region to provide technological solutions that make banking simple, cost-effective and convenient. To be able to stay in the comforts of home, office or any other space defined by you, send and receive money from anywhere in the world using your FGB account, means that First Global Bank stands on par, and in some cases above, any leading financial institution in the world in delivering banking solutions that customers value.
Achieving excellence in customer experience means selecting the right people with the right attitude, who choose to share their gifts of knowledge and their love for service excellence. First Global Bank is proud to be among the leading companies in Jamaica and the region that incorporate consistent training and development as a part of their mandate. A knowledgeable and engaged team member is seen as a conduit to achieving excellence in customer experience. Team members are trained on how to communicate effectively, how to identify customer needs, how to negotiate and how to be good corporate citizens. Team members are also encouraged to share their insights and articulate their visions for the bank. A First Global team member, therefore, stands ready to not just deliver but surpass customer expectations on every interaction.
As far as corporate banking is concerned, Norman, what do you consider to be First Global’s greatest asset—for example, its people or innovation or perhaps a certain product or service?
Norman: Our greatest asset is our people. The corporate-banking unit is a team of professionals with excellent industry knowledge, who are keen on seeing our customers succeed. The passion and drive to serve is very high as we partner with customers in making their plans a reality.
If I’m not mistaken, Mariame, First Global currently operates eight branches in Jamaica. Are you satisfied with this level of coverage? Are there plans for more branches in the near future?
Mariame: We currently operate eight branches, four in the Kingston area and one each in the urban centres of Mandeville, Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Portmore. We also have an additional five satellite First Global MoneyLink mini-branches (Cross Roads, Santa Cruz, Linstead, Hopewell and May Pen) and one banking agent. Our data has shown that we currently have customers in all 14 parishes. Our vision is to ensure that all of our customers, irrespective of where they are, are within 30 to 60 minutes of an FGB location. We have targeted an additional 30 agent locations to be opened across the island in 2019, with a longer-term goal of hitting 100 locations in celebration of our parent company’s (GraceKennedy’s) 100th birthday in 2022.
What do you consider to be the most important factor or quality that a bank/relationship manager must possess in order to successfully develop and maintain long-term client relationships, Norman?
Norman: A strong corporate banker should have an entrepreneurial mindset and strategic thinking; he or she takes the time to understand the customer’s business and the industry in which the customer operates in order to better bank and serve the customer as he or she grows. The corporate banker should also be technically sound, which helps with accurate and timely responses to the customer; the banker must be “quick on the feet”and an excellent communicator—to articulate clearly and concisely to customers.
The bank describes itself as having the “Best Caribbean Online Banking Experience” on its website. What are a few of the main ways in which this statement holds true, Mariame?
Mariame: Since inception, Global Access, our online banking platform, has changed what convenience banking means for our customers. Our straight-through processing concept ensures that once the client has approved the transaction, it is routed to the beneficiary without any additional human input from the bank. What this does is increase the integrity and accuracy of the transfer. To bolster this feature, however, we had to ensure that the transfer was secure, and we achieved that with our two-factor authentication.
Now, what do we mean by offering true convenience to our customers through online banking? Our customers are able to do all the below from Global Access; most institutions have now adopted some—however, we maintain that there are unique transaction types in our list below:
- Ability to view their full suite of products including linked third-party accounts—savings, chequing, term deposits, loan and credit-card balances;
- Ability to transact between these products. Credit-card payments are reflected immediately;
- Ability to do FX (foreign exchange) transfers between FGB and their own accounts—increase availability to funds;
- Bulk-file processing for our corporate customers. Ensures that our corporate clients have control over their payroll processing and batch payments.
FGB Mobile is First Global Bank’s mobile-banking platform. Can you briefly explain some of this app’s most exciting features, Mariame? What separates this app from ones being offered by other banks?
Mariame: FGB Mobile is very user friendly. As one of the only local mobile-banking platforms that is native to the device, we offer ease of navigation and a wide range of banking services to our customers who are constantly on the move. The app sports a dashboard that displays your assets (savings and chequing-account balances) and your liabilities (loans) as combined figures. It then allows for easy navigation to popular actions such as “Pay Credit Card”, “Pay Bill” and all the transfer types allowed (own account, internal domestic and international). The app also sports a service menu from which you can do a couple of service requests, such as “Stop Cheque”. Our app can be found in the Play Store, the App Store and BlackBerry World.
Global Access is First Global Bank’s online banking system. Are you satisfied with the system’s current capabilities? What additional features, if any, are you hoping to add to this system in the near future, Mariame?
Mariame: Global Access is considered to be among the best online platforms presently available on the market. It is already feature rich and particularly liked by businesses and individuals who are heavy online-banking users. But we are always pushing the envelope when it comes to convenience and ease-of-use and widening the appeal of our services to more customers. And, therefore, we are actively working with our platform suppliers to do just that, with the plan to go live with a new version in 2019.
Norman, how much benefit are the bank’s corporate-banking customers experiencing from FGB Mobile, First Global Bank’s mobile-banking platform, and Global Access, its online banking system?
Norman: Time is of great value to our customers, and our award-winning Global Access platform was a first for Jamaica with facilitating cross-bank transfers, while providing alerts to our customers on transactions on their accounts including credit-card transactions. Our two-factor authentication brings a sense of safety that’s needed on the go, and for many corporate executives this feature is of value as banking remains possible while on the go in Jamaica or overseas.
Mariame, as I understand, the last few years have seen First Global Bank sponsor the exclusive event the Monday Club. What is usually involved in this event, and why have you chosen to provide support?
Mariame: The Monday Club is held monthly in Jamaica’s resort centre of Montego Bay, and it attracts many business executives and professional males. The community is very important to FGB, and this meeting is one opportunity for us to say thank you to the business community and to network and learn from prospective customers. Additionally, it’s an opportunity for our executives across the GraceKennedy Group to interact with our valued customers while reiterating our combined offering from the Group—covering insurance, banking, remittance, bill payments and capital markets.
How do you expect corporate banking to change in Jamaica over the next few years, Norman? In which specific areas of corporate banking do you expect First Global to be a regional leader?
Norman: Corporate banking in Jamaica remains quite dynamic; the country is experiencing growth, and business confidence is up, coupled with a positive macro-economic outlook. We find that businesses are looking to expand as well as retool, and in doing that, are very keen on pricing. As such, many are looking to the equity and bond markets for funds. The success of a corporate bank in this environment is dependent on how purpose-direct the solution that’s being offered to the customer is. FGB is a part of a financial group that delivers banking, insurance as well as capital-market solutions to better serve customers. This integrated approach is key as we engage and dialogue with our valued customers and will be how we lead and win in Jamaica and across the region in the future.
It sounds as if you are making the best use of any and all opportunities to best serve your customers. Thank you for your time today.