Basseterre, St. Kitts, October 20, 2016 (SKNIS): A recent Electronic Payments Conference and Workshop aimed at promoting broader usage of electronic payments in the Eastern Caribbean and the possibility of reducing the usage of cash was held at the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) Headquarters in St. Kitts on Monday, October 17. The workshop was hosted by the ECCB and VISA School of Public Policy.

Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Dr. the Honourable Timothy Harris, noted that the workshop was timely and important. He congratulated the ECCB for taking the initiative to host such important discussions.

“It is for us in the sub region, a time where we can be considered to be at a critical juncture and so we need to assess where we are now and where we need to position ourselves in the development of the financial services sector,” said Prime Minister Harris. “It is therefore important for all stakeholders to keep abreast of global developments in the financial services especially those developments related to E-money, virtual currencies and other innovations that have significant implications for the business environment in our Currency Union.

The finance minister said that there needs to be some sort of measure to get more people involved in utilizing the financial services.

“It is estimated that about two billion people around the world do not have access to basic financial service,” he said, while noting that the issue of financial inclusion was discussed during his recent meetings in Washington D.C. “Part of that discussion was how do we enable and empower more people across the world to become involved in the formal systems. Luckily for us in the Currency Union we have a different lived reality in that our people, the large measure, are not at the periphery of engagement in the financial services sector but are very active participants in that sector.”

Prime Minister Harris praised the ECCB for its continued efforts in ensuring that the proper systems are in place.

“To date, the Central Bank as part of its mandate has managed to ensure that the appropriate systems are in place to allow for the proper management and supervision of our payments systems,” he said. “With the introduction of timely upgrades, the ECCB has successfully maintained the Real Time Gross Settlement System that supports the electronic capturing and processing of financial transactions from the point of initiation to the final settlement. This has allowed our citizens and residents to benefit from faster and more efficient processing of their business and personal transactions while using our banking system.”

Dr. Harris said that financial institutions have made notable contribution to the development of the financial services sector in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU). He added that important strides were made with the introduction of credit cards and online banking services.

“In fact, electronic payments were successfully introduced into our financial services since the mid-1990s and are now widely used by many of our citizens and residents,” he said, while adding that stakeholders in the Federation can attest to the fact that the services have introduced more convenient and efficient payment alternatives over and above the offerings of traditional banking. “These changes have also helped to reduce transaction costs for financial institutions and hopefully for their customers. We have taken great strides over the years to expand financial services. Generally, the financial institutions and the ECCB have met expectations in the past with the introduction of new products and services and the maintenance of a reliable and accessible payment system which have served us well. Mobile banking has taken root and is already transforming the way we conduct business on a daily basis. In some cases vast improvements are noted in comparison to the traditional banking which required a physical visit to the bank with various pieces of documents to complete a transaction.”

Prime Harris said that in facing the realities of the region’s current status in 2016, all stakeholders in the economic space of the region including ECCB, the regional governments and the financial institutions must realize that there is no place for complacency. He said that all involved now, have a duty to become much more proactive in building the financial architecture of the region.