Year: 2020

Winner: First Citizens Bank

First Citizens Bank has been able to grow loans and deposits, despite the worldwide upheaval that has been particularly harsh in the Caribbean. It is using technology to guarantee quality services for its customers and, in the long run, grow its brand.

Following are excerpts from an interview with CEO Karen Darbasie, who discusses challenges and opportunities posed by COVID-19 and how First Citizens has used them to take home the Bank of the Year award. The interview has been edited for length.

LF: Loans increased by 7% in the 12 months through June. Where are loans growing?

Darbasie: “We are focused across all segments as a full-service indigenous financial services group. We employ our structuring skills in conjunction with very well defined credit strategies to ensure that we build quality assets on our balance sheet.”

“The last quarter of 2019 was a particularly good quarter for us in the consumer loans space and that ran pretty much into January. From then on, as you would expect because of the pandemic, it has been a mixed bag, without much growth in the loan portfolio.”

“We have been working with customers, providing properly structured incremental facilities to allow them to work through the crisis. We want to ensure that the business we are doing with our customers is part of a long-term relationship that is beneficial to us both.”

LF: Has the pandemic created opportunities for your bank?

Darbasie: “It is a double-edged sword. We are moving on a more expeditious path toward digitization of products and channels for our customers, as well as for deployment of technology internally.

“This was always in the plans, but we are having to do it a time when all businesses are suffering the impacts from COVID. Digitalization was conceived to make us more efficient, but we are also deploying technology to make sure we can maintain social distancing and to do business differently to protect our customers and employees in this new environment.”

LF: What has struck you in this current environment of disruption?

Darbasie: “We are a traditional bank and traditional banks are seen by nature as having strong policies and procedures in place for credit risks, cyber security, etc. These are strength built over time and we work hard to maintain them.”

“This had led to the assumption that traditional banks are inflexible, but I think the experience over the last nine months has shown that financial services are adaptable.”

“This is a time of disruption because we are embracing technology to find new ways of delivering financial services and delivering new services to be delivered. We are incorporating new technology into our business without losing the strengths that we have built over a number of years. We are letting technology disrupt the way we think and the way we do business to make ourselves more efficient and more effective.”

“I would say that we are embracing the future and incorporating all sorts of new avenues that we can to ensure that in the new business climate of today we continue to serve our customers and protect them and our employees.”