We talked to Luigi Wewege, Senior Vice President and Head of Private Banking at Caye International Bank, about offshore banking challenges during the pandemic. This is what he had to say about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Luigi Wewege: It has been a challenging year having to navigate working from home (sometimes nonstop), but we are all doing fine, thanks, and have been able to spend more time together, which has been great.
Tell us about you, your career, how you joined Caye.
Luigi Wewege: I form part of the Executive Management of Caye International Bank, headquartered on Ambergris Caye island in Belize, Central America. Outside of the bank, I serve as an Instructor at the FinTech School in California, which provides online training courses on the latest technology and innovation developments within the financial services industry. I am also the published author of The Digital Banking Revolution, which is available in audio, Kindle, and paperback formats throughout all major international online bookstores and is now in its third edition. Previously, I helped complete a pilot study for the Federal Trade Commission during one of the most serious financial times for the American economy. The primary focus of the study was to examine and determine the accuracy of credit bureau information, with the research I conducted ultimately providing the impetus for a report that was presented before the United States Congress under Section 319 of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003.
How does Caye innovate?
Luigi Wewege: Caye supports its bank clients by always sourcing and implementing digital, innovative products that help them manage every element of their personal or corporate accounts remotely. We are currently undertaking new projects related to the client services, compliance, and operations departments, which will greatly enhance the usability of the bank from a digital standpoint.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Luigi Wewege: Our bank clients, regardless of whether they are from the USA, Europe, Panama, New Zealand, or the Middle East, are all facing similar concerns during COVID-19. But the main differentiator in how they have responded is the size of their portfolio. A small diversification client may need a big chunk of their cash right now, whereas a larger investor may simply be switching asset classes or make speculative moves. At Caye, we are fortunate that our liquidity ratios far exceed minimum requirements, and we can weather this storm as we did with the prior financial crisis around 2008.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Luigi Wewege: We decided from the very beginning of the pandemic that we did not want any dismissals or salary cutting. Thus, if we were to get through this current crisis, then we would do it together as a team. We understood that it would be backbreaking work to change a nearly two-decade-old bank working from a central command point to completely digital, i.e., online and staff working from home in just a few days. What we learnt is that potentially insurmountable changes that we thought would take years could, in fact, be achieved in a fraction of the time when receiving buy-in from all stakeholders of the bank.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Luigi Wewege: Zoom video calls became almost a daily occurrence for a period with the bank’s governance and management. With staff to become more connected, we became heavily reliant on secure messenger apps throughout the entire day. Before the pandemic, we were rigid with our clients on the communication medium but going forward, we decided to become receptive to whichever they preferred to communicate, be it Skype, Telegram, etc. and this has allowed us to develop not only closeness with clients but able to respond to their needs much quicker.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Luigi Wewege: Our biggest competitor, I think, would be the ongoing appeal for offshore banking, and investors from all over the world gained a lot of respect for jurisdictions like ours in Belize, where our banks were largely untouched by the previous financial recession. I believe they certainly remember what happened to some large banks in Europe and the United States at the time and thus feel the writing is on the wall, whether it is indeed the case or not. Although I cannot predict accurately what the state of the global banking system will hold, especially in Western countries, I do see a clear shift towards diversification and the start of more deposit inflow at offshore financial institutions like ours in Belize.
Your final thoughts on change and how to be a leader during this pandemic?
Luigi Wewege: There are two ways of dealing with rapid change. One way is through reactive protectionism. This is often through trying to stop the bleeding when change is forced upon you. This can be done by tweaking costs here and there to still be in the black for each quarterly budget. The other is a nimbler, proactive approach. Knowing that most changes are not short-term, recognize that the first inkling of any change is a signal of potential opportunity. Leaders who are able to develop an adaptive vision and implement responsive systems to meet clients’ new needs are the ones who will be the most successful. Often the big breakthrough successes come from leveraging disruptive change. It’s important to note that getting to this point also requires helping employees develop skills to deal with this rapid change and as always, communicating “what” and “why” is critical to success.
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