De-risking discussed at conference of Caribbean accountants in Belize

Roughly 300 accountants attended the 34th Annual Caribbean Conference of Accountants which was officially opened today at the Ramada Belize City Princess under the theme: “Call to Champions: Breaking Boundaries in the Marketplace”. The event was organized by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of the Caribbean (ICAC), which has a membership of 3,700.

The region-wide challenges faced by indigenous Caribbean banks in accessing correspondent banking services in the US and other foreign jurisdictions, and the tectonic shifts in the financial landscape, have also impacted the sector, whose clientele have been hard-hit by the phenomenon—some to the extent that their businesses could no longer survive.

Shawn Mahler, conference chair, and alternate director for Belize on ICAC’s board of directors, told journalists that they are “feeling a huge impact,” because of the challenges posed by de-risking and delinking by foreign banks, which, she said, have significantly impacted their ability to guide clients on expanding their businesses due to the limitations they now face.

Her hope is that ICAC can get the region harmonized on the issue and and can start the process of charting a way forward. On day 2 of the conference, Trevor Brathwaite, deputy governor of Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, was billed to speak on the topic at a roundtable with members of the local domestic banks. Other speakers for the roundtable are Alicia Nichols, Foreign Trade and Investment Consultant, and Filippo Alario, deputy CEO of the Belize Bank.

Mahler said that putting in place all the measures required, in the context of foreign banking relations, is too costly for them.

“I think we have to begin to prepare ourselves in the hope that certainly it doesn’t go to the point where there is that complete delink from the country—that would be disastrous,” said Jose Coye, Belizean accountant and member of the Institute of the Chartered Accounts of Belize (ICAB), a member of ICAC.

Coye said that accounting professionals can play a major role, along with the private and public sectors.

He said that Belize needs to be able to give assurances that it is prepared to take action to mitigate and hopefully to prevent money laundering, and the role of accounting professionals is to help build that confidence. What has to remain unchanged, he said, are the principles of the profession.

According to Mahler, over the past few months, ICAC has been working with governments in the region to help implement the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS).

“The Prime Minister had mentioned that Belize is adapting the IPSAS…. ICAC has taken charge in actually fostering a relationship with the region’s governments in order to get them trained on how to implement IPSAS throughout the region,” Mahler explained.

Jasmine Y. Davis, ICAC president, said: “I think that we in the Caribbean are being impacted by the global rules that have been put in place. For instance FACTA [the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, implemented by the US], where it is that American citizens are now required to report on all of their investments and saving regardless of where it is housed and I think that that has contributed to the shrinking in the banking and the financial services sector.”

However, Davis said that the region must now adapt. Davis said that the Caribbean has to take the opportunity to look for new prospects and new ways of doing things.

She added that, “…while it is that the banking and the financial services sector may have been the core business within the Caribbean in the last few decades, we see a shift. And so that may now no longer be the case.”

“And so it’s not necessarily reassessing to go ahead and keep and grow the same business, but reassessing to see if we need to ensure that we’re looking to other business strategies that are there,” she commented.

She also spoke of the need to address cyber security, especially in light of developments on the global landscape, such as the recent hacking of a bank in Bangladesh. News reports say that US$81 million was stolen by hackers back in February from that country’s Central Bank.

“There are so many things that are changing within the world and I think during my opening presentation, I talked about cyber security, the impact that terrorism has had in the marketplace, women and gender biases in the boardroom and of course corporate governance,” Davis told the press.