The topic of "de-risking" came to the fore in the last couple of months when regional banks began closing correspondent banking relationships with indigenous banks in the Caribbean, and Belize was no exception. The hammer came down hard when Bank of America, which had long-established relationships with several banks in Belize- cut its ties with two local banks - Atlantic International was one of them. This was a major problem for them since they deal solely with international banking clients.
At the root of this problem facing small banking sectors is US Treasury Department and its new measures designed to curb money laundering and the financing of terrorism. Today we had a chance to speak with the CEO of Atlantic International, and he told us that it has been a struggle to get back on their feet since losing their only correspondent banking relationship.
Ricardo Pelayo, CEO, Atlantic International Bank Ltd
"We have been affected like all the other banks in the country. In Belize we have 5 domestic banks, well 4 now that Heritage has bought over the operations of First Caribbean. And we have 5 offshore international banks as well, and to some extent or the other, all of us have been affected by de-risking. We use to have for instance, Bank of America as our main correspondent bank up to last year May. Since that time, we have been able to get another correspondent bank called Bancredito out of Puerto Rico. They have been moving funds for us albeit in a slower, less efficient way but we still have been able to move money for our clients which is very important for an international bank. Initially we did have a clamor from our client base, but we were actually only without a correspondent relationship for one month and we were able to get that relationship very quickly because we were very proactive. We didn't sit back once Bank of America told us that they would be closing the relationship, we went out and we found another relationship. That has worked quite well for us, we did lose some business but that business has come back and we've continued growing since that time."
As a means of finding a more sustainable solution to their banking problems CEO Pelayo says they are now turning their attention towards Europe where de-risking is less of an issue. As far as we know Scotia Bank and the local Atlantic Bank continue to be the only banks in Belize that maintain a stable correspondent bank with the US.