Local banking sector needs to reduce paperwork, adopt more digital approach – Brassington

The Bank of Guyana

With Guyana on the cusp of unprecedented economic transformations and major international companies having their eyes set on investing here, there continues to be a push for the country to become more innovative with the use of technology to improve services in both the public and private sectors.

This latest call was made by Guyanese Economist, Winston Brassington, during a recent webinar hosted by the American Chamber (AmCham) Guyana. He was at the time delivering a presentation on the local banking sector and its projected growth in an oil and gas economy.

However, Brassington, who once headed the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) under the previous People’s Progressive Party/Civic Administration, contended that there is a lot of bureaucracy in the banking system that are mostly paper-based at a time when the world is rapidly moving towards a digitalised environment.

“You need to take in original paperwork to the bank. It takes a fair bit of time, the paperwork. Can we reduce this paperwork and do a lot more via the internet, via the computer – submit documents electronically? So, embracing the greater use of IT (Information Technology) and digital technology to beat things. It can help to reduce cost and make it more convenient for the [customers],” the economist posited.

Against this backdrop, Brassington pointed to more advanced economies like the United States, saying that customers conduct similar businesses mostly online and are even able to make wire transfers and cash cheques from their desks.

The Guyanese economist stressed that such level of efficiency should be replicated here.

“We seem to still use a lot of paper in our processes, a lot of manual requirements. The banks say that this is because of AML (Anti-Money Laundering) requirements, knowing the customer and verifying the authenticity, but I think that there is room to move to a more digital approach, a more online approach – an approach that would bring us more in line with one standing banking practice in the US,” Brassington stated.

The current Dr Irfaan Ali-led PPP/C Government has committed to developing Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Guyana given the pivotal role it plays in social and economic development.

In fact, the Finance Ministry’s Mid-Year Report disclosed that approximately $1.2 billion of the $2.3 billion allocated in the 2021 National Budget was expended during the first half of this year to provide continuous connectivity services to Government entities, support for the development and maintenance of ICT infrastructure and for the promotion of ICT literacy.

Further, it was noted that in order to facilitate the strategic development of ICT in Guyana, a National ICT Strategic Plan is currently being developed which will provide a multi-sectoral blueprint that Guyana will utilise to ensure the successful development and deployment of ICT for the betterment of all Guyanese. This will be based on two fundamental pillars; the growth of ICT as an independent dynamic sector and the application of ICT as a cross cutting component in all other sectors to achieve rapid and sustained development.

Meanwhile, only last month Prime Minister, Brigadier (Ret’d) Mark Phillips, who had direct responsibility for the ICT sector, told officials from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) office in Guyana that, “Eliminating the digital divide is a part of development in any country… COVID has forced accelerated digitisation on the entire world and Guyana cannot afford to be left behind.”

According to the Prime Minister, the ICT access and e-services for Hinterland, Poor and Remote Communities project is of extreme importance.

He added that the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the importance of technological advancements and has forced its acceleration.

The e-services project is a collaboration between the Office of the Prime Minister and the UNDP.

Prime Minister Phillips said that the “project has the potential of having us achieve the goal of connecting our hinterland, poor and remote communities and we have identified 200 of those communities to be connected and to benefit from everything that comes under the umbrella of e-governance”.

In response, the UNDP Resident Representative, Jairo Valverde, said that once fully implemented, the project will not only be rewarding but will significantly boost the ICT environment across the country.

“The impact of the project will go beyond what we have been able to imagine, because once those communities have the hubs and once the Government’s e-services are developed, it’s going to improve the integration of all Guyana,” Valverde is quoted by DPI as saying.