MSMEs lash bankers at PSOJ workshop
CEO of Chocolate Dreams, Michelle Smith, lambasted the banks for coming up “empty” with regards to the MSME sector. (Photo: Marlon Reid)
Members of the Jamaican banking community received a verbal lashing from owners and operators of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) - at a Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) workshop - who blasted them for the poor service and treatment offered over the years.
MSME owners, who gathered at the first staging at the Terra Nova Hotel in Kingston, were not impressed that the workshop was set up by the PSOJ, which comprises members of the banking fraternity and was part of the process to help address the MSMEs' longstanding problem of getting access to funding.
CEO of Chocolate Dreams, Michelle Smith lambasted the banks for coming up “empty” with regards to the MSME sector.
Smith shared her experience of receiving funds from the bank in January, three months after getting her loan approved. She said this left her unprepared for Christmas and Valentine’s Day, the two biggest periods of her business.
She said bankers over the years have failed to understand MSMEs and need to get the working knowledge of the operations of the sector.
“So next time you invite me, invite me to something where you are going to give me that blue bag full of money to go and invest in my business so I can feed the people of my country,” she said to loud applause from other MSME operators.
Another MSME operator, Mark Gayle said it took him eight weeks to open a normal business account.
Gayle said he struggled to conduct business, which involves transferring funds from his business US account to the Jamaican account online, while not being able to get a credit card using the business' cash.
Michelle Coulton of SoHo Boutique lashed the banks for not listening to the MSMEs.
“I have been a gladiator in the business sector for about 30 years and I have gotten no help from the banks. The banks have failed us. You (banks) need to hear it, register it and understand it," she said.
“We are not bad people, but decent people who want to live here. I have a blue passport and a house in Miami and have choices but choose to be here and do business under disgusting and hard conditions,” she said.
“You need to listen because you are in an air-conditioned office and you look at files and you don’t realise that it is people with blood,” she said passionately.
JMMB CEO Keith Duncan
Gariel Ferguson, consulting chef at Rib Kage Grill, took the banks to task for not reinvesting some of the money earned each year, into their core business of banking.
“What about their money? Their $9 billion per quarter profits? How about giving us a break off a little bit of that and take a little more risk on your money?”
In trying to allay some of the concerns of the attendees, JMMB Group CEO, Keith Duncan told the audience that filled the Venetian Room at Terra Nova that the purpose of the workshop was to discuss the issues faced by the MSMEs and the bankers.
Duncan, who also serves as co-chair of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee, said the aim was to bring all the partners to the table to find solutions and to lead the small enterprises to where they can access loans, instead of going to the banks for loans.
PSOJ workshop II
Click the slider for more photos from the workshop by Marlon Reid
Government senator Aubyn Hill, who previously served as NCB’s Managing Director, also tried to ease some of the tension, noting that government was not getting the deserving ire from the MSME sector.
He said the high-interest rate of the earlier administration resulted in the banks only being interested in government papers.
According to Hill, it should now become easier for MSMEs to get loans because of current government policy to not borrow from local banks.
For his part, President and CEO of Scotia Group Jamaica, David Noel said banks have been hearing the concerns of customers, and are aware that certain of their practices were no longer sustainable.
“We want to hear all of your stories because even though it is not pleasant to hear that we as bankers have failed in this area if we don’t openly listen to what you have to say and start making changes, we are going to be having the same conversation in a few years,” said Noel, who also serves as president of the Jamaica Bankers Association.
“The reason we can’t afford to lose this opportunity is that the economy is now in a place that we really can make a difference in Jamaica. The government is not borrowing as it had an insatiable appetite to borrow from us. We could lend to the government, do very little work and earn huge returns. That’s not the Jamaica we are in now,” he said, adding that it was now in the interest of the banks to change the way they operate.