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BSP Fiji highlights plans going into 2016

Continued from Fiji Sun Sunday December 27 Edition Page 8 of the business section After gaining a foothold in Fiji with acquisition of the Colonial Fiji Group in 2009, Bank
28 Dec 2015 12:15
BSP Fiji highlights plans going into 2016
Kevin McCarthy of BSP

Continued from Fiji Sun Sunday December 27 Edition Page 8 of the business section

After gaining a foothold in Fiji with acquisition of the Colonial Fiji Group in 2009, Bank South Pacific (BSP) has established itself as a leading retail bank with the fastest growing market share of the business and international banking sector.

Country Manager Kevin McCarthy explains the bank’s deep roots and extensive network in the region make it the natural choice for any business looking to enter the Fijian market as a base for regional commerce and trade.

Source: The WORLDFOLIO, a major provider of global economic appraisals

 

In Fiji, BSP has fastest growing market share of the business and international banking sector. Fiji has a very competitive banking sector for a country of its size. Quite simply, when corporates are looking for a banking partner in Fiji, why should they choose BSP over your competitors?

Firstly, you’re definitely right. Six banks in a country this size is a large amount, so it’s a hugely competitive market place.

When you choose BSP you get a bank that has a full range of products and services that are equal or better to those of Westpac and ANZ. You get a bank full of experienced personnel who have been on the ground in the region for a number of years.

All our people are long-term Pacific people, whether they be Fijians or whether they be from other countries in the region. We only have two expatriates in management positions here in Fiji. All the rest of our people are Fijians.

We offer stability in our relationship with our customers. You also get a bank that’s more involved in the community. Because our roots are in the Pacific, we give back to the communities that we’re involved in.

We have a very strong programme of community projects that we’ve been doing since we entered the market place here. All our branches and departments get a budget each year to do a community project that must not be a case of just handing out a donation.

It’s a project that’s got to involve a partnership between the branch and the community. Both the branch staff and the community have to work on it, and they have to be committed to it. So there’s a lot of sweat equity that goes into it as well. People give up their weekends to go and work on whatever the project might be.

Is that a policy that was introduced here by you personally here at BSP Fiji? 

This was introduced successfully into Papua New Guinea and we then brought that here to Fiji. It works very well for us.

In Papua New Guinea it’s even more important there, from a law and order point of view, to be a very strong part of the community so you get that community support, but we still want that same enthusiasm to Fiji. In 2015 we’ve done 10 community projects.

We’ve got another four or five that didn’t quite get finished but the major projects really benefit the community.

As an extension of this perhaps, there is a significant section of the population that’s still unbanked. A recent RBF survey showed that 27% of the population has no access to financial services at all. And at the same time there’s a very vibrant micro-enterprise sector of the economy. How are you approaching the task of bringing these people into the formal banking sector?

I think Fiji bats well above its weight in financial inclusion. Let’s turn it around and say three out of every four people do have a bank account. In Pacific terms, even in global terms, this is very high. I’m actually on the board of the National Financial Inclusion Task Force.

We’ve fulfilled the terms of our first five-year strategy plan and we’re now just setting up the new 5-year strategy plan going forward.

In some ways, reaching this final 25% of people who are unbanked at the moment is probably the hardest. In reality you’re never going to get all those people.

There’s people living in subsistence areas and you’ve got households where there might be a number of people in the household, but there might only be one person involved in finance. But we certainly still want to try.

It’s interesting that every bank in Fiji has used a different approach to reach those people. At BSP we have a combination. We have an agency arrangement with Post Fiji.

There are approximately 46 agencies around Fiji that allow people to transact with a BSP account.

This was initially passbook based, but we’ve turned that around the take the passbooks out and put them onto card based accounts. Most of these post offices have an EFTPOS-based solution that allows withdrawals and deposits by card. We’re negotiating with Post Fiji at the moment to allow them to be able to open accounts as well.

BSP has progressively introduced a lot of new mobile banking services. We’ve had a mobile product in place for over four years now. You can check your balances, you can check your last 10 transactions, you can pay bills, you can pay third parties’ bank accounts and you can top-up your mobile phone. These are really important services.

My wife is from Kadavu and I’ve spent time in the village with her family. Their village is probably about an hour’s boat ride from the nearest postal agency in Kavala. So if you want to top your phone up you have to jump in a boat and use fuel and time to get around there to top up your phone.

But with our service you can top up your phone without leaving the village.

Mobile phone coverage in most areas is generally pretty strong but it is challenging in some areas. I know of one agent who has to walk into the sea to get a signal! When the customer wants to pay with a card he actually has to walk in water up to his knees before he can get a signal.

This agency network and technology, in my view, is the best way to empower people and provide them with financial services.

Aside from personal banking, how are you applying these lessons to micro-enterprises?

It’s an area that’s quite challenging. We’re in the process of bringing in a new product that’s been working in Papua New Guinea for some time now, called Smart Business. It gives people a transaction based account and a savings account initially.

We encourage them to bank what they’re earning and not spend it all at once, so they can invest their savings in expanding their business. After 12 months, they have quasi-financial statements based on their bank statements.

We’re taking the Papua New Guinea model and we’re adapting it for what we see are the differences in the Fiji environment and then we intend to take that to the market place.

Earlier this year BSP moved over to a new core banking system in Fiji. What are your main priorities in terms of growth and expansion in this country going into 2016? 

Going back to the core banking change, one of the side effects that came with that was we really had to freeze out any major changes for over 12 months before that happened. Since we implemented it in September this year, we’ve had to go through a period of stabilisation.

We have a lot of new products and services that we’ve been waiting to implement. We’re going to have an internet-based online savings account, which will come out soon. We’re moving into smartphone and tablet apps.

The penetration of smartphones is growing quite tremendously as they’re becoming more affordable and the people here are quite reasonably tech savvy, so coming up with a set of apps that are properly built for smartphones and tablets is certainly one of our priorities.

The core system was really important for us. BSP does about 1.1 million ATM transactions a month here in Fiji. It was really important to build something that could handle a strong increase in the volume. We’re going to have a very stable system going forward that will allow for new products and further growth.

You have been the country manager of BSP in Fiji since shortly after the acquisition of Colonial Group, and therefore you are the face of the company that everyone knows in Fiji. What attracted you to the challenge of establishing and growing BSP’s presence here in Fiji? 

I had 31 years at Westpac before I joined BSP. When I joined BSP I was hired to look at expanding in Fiji but initially the acquisition opportunities weren’t there.

They asked me to stay in PNG and I ran the retail bank in PNG for four years, which was an amazing experience because I traveled the length and breadth of the country, visiting every single branch.

It was really the Colonial acquisition in Fiji that created the opportunity for me to come down and run what was a decent sized business.

How does Fiji rank as a place to live, work and do business?

It’s great. Every place I’ve worked in the Pacific has been a great experience and each one of them has different quirks and cultures.

When I worked in the Solomon Islands from 1990-1996, it was a tough place to live. The roads were bad, the power was bad, the water was bad, but it was a great community of people and we had a great time. PNG as well. Fiji is an excellent place both to live and work.

What would be your final message to someone who may be looking at Fiji as a potential place to do business?

Fiji is just such a wonderful destination. There are no language difficulties here. English is very well spoken. We’ve got a great group of people that have come here to semi-retire.

There’s a lot of US investment in Savusavu and Taveuni and other places. For a retirement lifestyle, it’s very easy place to live in. From a business perspective, you’ve just got to look at the growth rates.

It is a very competitive business sector and you can’t expect just to walk in and people will lie down at your feet. You’ve got to find your niche.

We have some very skilled business people here that are looking for opportunities all the time, so you’ve got to bring you’re A-game here to succeed in this marketplace.

I think Investment Fiji and the government are really making positive changes to try and facilitate the process. Government approvals can be challenging but they have a lot of agencies now working together to make those initial approvals happen much quicker.

The fact that Fiji is the hub of the Pacific gives you an opportunity to establish something here and then take that to the broader Pacific marketplace as well.

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