First Global Bank Limited (FGB), headquartered in Kingston, Jamaica, is renowned as one of the country’s top commercial banks. It launched in 1970 as The First National Bank of Chicago (Jamaica) Limited but later, under new ownership, was renamed First Jamaica National Bank Limited. In 1993, Trafalgar Development Bank and Grace, Kennedy & Co. Ltd. (which later became GraceKennedy Limited, one of the Caribbean’s largest conglomerates) teamed up to transform it into Trafalgar Commercial Bank Limited (TCB). In 2000, GraceKennedy Ltd. bought out Trafalgar Development Bank’s shares, and TCB became a GraceKennedy subsidiary. Two years later, the bank was given its current name, First Global Bank Limited.
First Global Bank has earned the reputation of redefining Jamaica’s banking experience by providing revolutionary financial solutions that stress convenience and accessibility along with the highest customer-service standards. The bank offers a comprehensive suite of exceptional banking products and services, including savings and chequing accounts and loans for individuals, small businesses and corporations. Services include seamless online and mobile banking as well as local and international wire transfers. FGB has been credited for introducing several innovative firsts to the Jamaican financial market, including the nation’s earliest mobile-banking app, a VISA debit card with chip and PIN security features and video teller machines.
FGB prides itself on its responsive and engaged staff, who number more than 200. The bank operates full-service branches in the island’s major urban centres, while First Global MoneyLink mini-branches are available in communities across Jamaica. In 2018, FGB introduced the country’s first agent-banking service.
Guided by its mission to help its customers get ahead in life and business, FGB has carved out a leading position in Jamaica’s financial-services industry.
International Banker was pleased to be joined by Ms. Mariame McIntosh Robinson, President and Chief Executive Officer, and Ms. Arlene Williams, Vice President, Personal and Business Banking, to discuss some of the bank’s recent achievements and challenges.
Ms. Robinson and Ms. Williams, thank you for speaking with us today.
The bank’s stated values are captured by the acronym CITOC: Caring, Innovation, Teamwork, Ownership and Customer Experience. Mariame, can you briefly expand on what Ownership means in this context?
Mariame: At First Global Bank, we emphasize the notion that our team members should think and act like owners. This empowered way of working allows us to make the best decisions for our customers—and the business. We share best practices as an organization as well as lessons learned. Ownership goes hand-in-hand with team engagement; once your team is high performing and engaged, the business will achieve its full potential. Ownership also implies a high degree of accountability, which is important in delivering our vision, strategy and budget each year.
Last year saw the bank’s loan-automation system go into production. Arlene, do you expect this system to deliver dramatic improvements in convenience and efficiency over existing loan-application processes?
Arlene: Yes, we do expect to see continuous improvements in convenience and efficiency as byproducts of our loan-automation system. Since the official rollout last year, we have received numerous commendations from customers who are pleased with the work we are doing. The transition to this centralized system has facilitated a reduction in errors and the need for rework, quicker credit decisions and an overall adoption of industry best practices, including accuracy in the loan-approval process. Also, on the point of business efficiency, we have drastically improved the turnaround time for the approval of personal loans, which has directly translated into a notable spike in our disbursements over the last year. This has truly proved to be a significant milestone for First Global Bank as we are better able to compete within the retail-loans market and, more importantly, within this fast-changing financial industry.
It’s been almost 18 months since First Global launched agent banking, and if I’m not mistaken, you remain the only bank in Jamaica to offer this service. Would you say that the service is achieving its objectives thus far, Mariame, particularly in regard to accessing underserved rural communities?
Mariame: Our financial-inclusion strategy has been successful so far as we have doubled our footprint across Jamaica in a cost-effective manner while bringing community banking to underserved areas. Our success has primarily been driven by two things: our innovative loan and deposit products and our on-the-ground promotions strategy. In a country where more than 30 percent of the population is under- or unbanked, it is important to demystify banking and invite more people into the banking sector to access its benefits. We are still the only bank in Jamaica to offer this service successfully, and the feedback from customers and bank agents has been positive to date. We look forward to the continued partnership with customers.
As I understand, the bank continues to expand its geographic reach through a series of mini-branches called First Global MoneyLink in communities across the island. What services are available at such mini-branches, and what advantages do they hold over a regular branch, Arlene?
Arlene: Our MoneyLink locations are instrumental in the widening of our footprint across Jamaica, especially in our aim to reach the unbanked and underbanked population. At these mini-branches, customers are able to open accounts, make withdrawals and deposits, apply for and make payments on loans and credit cards, and make account enquiries.
Our mini-branches boast the unique advantage of longer working hours—giving more people access to services on a daily basis. This is also the case for our banking agent locations which are open until 6 PM during the week and 7 PM on the weekends. We also have one location open on Sundays, which is not a usual business day in Jamaica.
Mariame, can you briefly explain what Global Cares is? And what are some of the key ways in which Global Cares is helping communities across Jamaica?
Mariame: Global Cares is FGB’s corporate-social-responsibility arm that is widely supported by our team members and funded solely by the bank. The initiative was launched in 2016 and is focused on nation-building through early-childhood education (literacy and numeracy), youth empowerment and financial literacy. Our signature program that we have supported over the last decade is Music-Perfect Pitch for a Sound Education, where musical instruments are used to teach math and English in under-resourced primary schools. So far, 17 institutions have benefited from this initiative. We work in conjunction with the Ministry of Education to identify these schools and monitor the impact. The programme has been a success as we have achieved 100-percent improvement in the literacy and numeracy rates of our student participants.
In addition to our music programme, a Global Cares plan is developed and executed during the course of each year. Key activities done annually include Read Across Jamaica Day, Labour Day project at schools within the bank’s local communities, International Beach Clean-Up, National Tree Planting Day and various quarterly service events. In 2019, Global Cares partnered with Food for the Poor to build and donate a house to a family. Global Cares also makes several donations to schools and other community initiatives throughout the year.
First Global’s online-banking system Global Access seems to be a comprehensive digital-banking platform. What has been the customers’ feedback for this service, Arlene? And do you plan to introduce any exciting new products and/or features on this platform in the near future?
Arlene: Global Access, when introduced, allowed our clients best-in-class service to conduct banking transactions that would normally require them to visit a branch. Our customers have been responding positively to the platform and the level of convenience it facilitates as it allows for banking any time and wherever there is an internet connection.
In this era of digital revolution and in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which encourages remote work, customers have been highly utilizing the numerous benefits of this convenient banking, which facilitates the viewing of account balances and bill payments from the comfort of their homes or wherever they are. We are working on making the platform even more competitive and comprehensive with additional features—an upgrade that is to be available to customers this year. The upgrade will include enhanced login-authentication options, such as biometrics for mobile-app logins, additional payments and credit-and-debit-card security options. A more user-friendly, current and attractive interface coupled with the list of new features will ensure that Global Access continues to play an integral role in the day-to-day financial transactions of our customers.
If I’m not mistaken, Mariame, the bank managed to reduce its staff-turnover rate to just single digits last year. To what main factors do you attribute this successful reduction?
Mariame: Yes, we did. In addition to reducing FGB’s staff turnover in 2019, we also improved employee engagement over the prior year. At FGB, we believe that if we have highly engaged team members, the results will follow. To drive employee engagement, we focused on some key initiatives in 2019:
- Continued frequent and proactive communication with the full bank team. We do this via CEO roadshows (quarterly), one-on-one “Tea Time with CEO”, Ambassadors program (a team member from each department is responsible for sharing key messages on an ongoing basis), department meetings and various videos/emails. Even with COVID-19 upon us, we continue to do these meetings via Zoom, which has been powerful.
- Increased focus on reward and recognition through initiatives such as our annual staff-awards function, quarterly business-leader awards, Sales Blast-off and Employee of the Quarter program.
- Annual firm-wide events to continue to break down barriers, including Values Day and firm-wide retreat/beach day (this was a big hit with the team).
- The launch of a mentorship programme and an enhanced career-development programme, My Path, for all team members.
- Expanded team training via digital platforms. We have expanded our training to be digital and mobile-friendly to allow team members to be well prepared to execute their functions and interact with customers.
In addition, we developed a rallying cry in 2019 to “buss di budget!”, which means “we will exceed budget!” in our local dialect. Everyone was pumped up and used this phrase in every-day meetings, emails and conversations.
I believe these factors, along with an inclusive work environment, have helped to reduce the employee-turnover rate.
Almost a year ago, the bank launched SME Hub, aimed at helping small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across Jamaica. How satisfied are you with this initiative since its launch, Arlene? And what are some of the notable offerings that are available to SMEs through the Hub?
Arlene: The FGB SME Hub has proved to be an extremely efficient and essential service in Jamaica as it has become the gateway to some much-needed help for SMEs, where access to financing and relevant information to improve financial literacy is concerned. It also gives entrepreneurs an opportunity to consult professionals who can help to steer them in the right direction and help them to make better decisions to grow their businesses. The Hub was developed on the basis that a significant portion of these businesses in Jamaica do not have access to funding based on internal shortcomings in areas such as tax compliance and that many do not have the know-how in terms of business operation. We at FGB are extremely happy to give these businesses the edge for success by moving them from where they are to one step closer to success. The offerings under the Hub are industry specific. We wanted to be very targeted in our approach, and so among our most notable offerings made available to SMEs through this Hub are our Hospitality Expansion, Plant Expansion, Livestock, Fleet Expansion, Farm Expansion, Distribution Expansion, SME Credit Line and BPO Expansion loans.
Mariame, the bank’s stated vision is “to be the best retail bank in Jamaica with an enviable culture”. Do you believe you have achieved this vision yet? If not, how far off are you from achieving it?
Mariame: We developed our vision as a team in 2017 “to be the best retail bank in Jamaica with an enviable culture by 2020” as defined by what our team members say about us via our employee-engagement score; what our customers say about us via our Net Promoter Score (NPS); and the value we create for our shareholders via our efficiency ratio. We are on track to achieve our vision in 2020, as we exceeded our targets in 2019 on all three metrics—employee-engagement score, NPS and efficiency ratio—with the best results since 2002. As we go through COVID-19, we still expect to achieve our vision as we show care for our team members and customers. While there will be some fall-off in revenue, we also expect to reap cost savings as we manage the efficiency of the bank. This unprecedented crisis has brought out the best in people, and we expect FGB to continue to rise to the occasion.
If I’m not mistaken, Arlene, you were appointed Vice President, Personal and Business Banking in October 2018. What do you consider to have been your toughest challenge during your almost 18 months in the role? And what has been your proudest achievement?
Arlene: I knew assuming the role of VP, Personal and Business Banking would be a challenging task that would inspire personal growth, especially given the dynamic landscape of the banking sector. I was eager to undertake each task that came with the role and highly anticipated contributing to the growth of others. Thus far, I believe my toughest challenge and what I would deem as my proudest achievement coincide with each other. In this high-demand and ever-changing market, what is proving to be most challenging and, at the same time, most fulfilling is ensuring that my team remains engaged and motivated to carry out the bank’s strategic objective. The result of this effort is evident in the bank’s Engagement Result of 67 percent in 2019, which almost doubled that of the industry’s rate of about 35 percent.
The results of FGB’s hard work are certainly evident in numerous ways. Thank you both for your time today.