Soon-to-be executive director at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Robert Le Hunte wants to improve the lives of this country’s citizens.
And also, those of the region.
“This appointment is an opportunity to give back to the region by serving,” Le Hunte told the Business Guardian.
And as he prepares to take up his new posting on July 1, in Washington DC, Republic Bank’s former executive director for Ghana said the goals of the IDB are very much aligned to that of his own which are people-centric.
The current managing director of ANSA Bank will assume responsibility for the Caribbean constituency comprising the five English-speaking Caribbean countries that are members of the IDB—Barbados, Jamaica, Bahamas, Guyana, and T&T.
Delving further into what the job means for this country, Le Hunte said the IBD’s focus is on digitisation among other offerings.
“My role will be to ensure the different agendas of the different countries within the region achieve their objectives as best as possible,” he said.
But the IDB is much more than just a financial institution which lends money.
According to the former public utilities minister, it offers a host of transformational solutions.
“The IDB also provides consultancy services to help resolve issues. They are not just about giving money. However, the IDB also has a lot of requirements and checks and balances to ensure that the money is properly utilised for what it’s borrowed for,” Le Hunte added.
And with the goal to develop a more advanced region, Le Hunte advised there must be an active private sector; one that is not only large but one that could also take on board meaningful projects.
For instance, Le Hunte referenced that diversification is often bandied about but he said this cannot be achieved solely by governments.
“It must also be driven by the private sector,” Le Hunte emphasised adding, “And then there’s the question as to what you diversify into?”
Hence, with his vast expertise in commercial banking, Le Hunte said he could, therefore, assist the private sector within the region to look at different types of initiatives and help in structuring financing from the IDB to develop plans to diversify away from “a present, single focus.”
“Whether it’s in Trinidad with oil, whether it’s in Barbados whose focus is primarily on tourism; how could we then ensure that our economies in the region move away from one simple focus and have a more diverse income stream and the role that the private sector could play in that I see as critical,” Le Hunte further explained.
Additionally, his work at the IDB will also examine how the private sector could expand by using some of the services from the financial institution, adding that there are also small business opportunities within that window.
Noting that SMEs remain critical to any economy, not only regionally but also internationally, Le Hunte said this sector continues to employ a number of people.
“Employment generation is critical to the region. Therefore, in the small business window of the IDB it is something that I will want to actively look at and how it could also support that particular growth,” Le Hunte added.
Focusing generally on the region, Le Hunte said most of the member countries that he will be called upon to represent often have similar-type problems like the challenges they continue to face from COVID-19.
Also, Le Hunte explained that the amount of money needed to deal with the pandemic was way above what was expected and this particular challenge came at a time when a number of countries were not financially prepared to deal with such a situation.
“So, it’s like you got a calamity when you yourself are not financially secure to deal with it. A lot of the region, the level of debt that we are carrying was fairly high,” Le Hunte said.
Additionally, Le Hunte identified that Caribbean countries continue to face a host of infrastructural problems which must be addressed.
“For example, in T&T it may be water while in other parts of the region it might be roads,” Le Hunte said.
And while these problems differ, they remain the same.
“All of these things I will be looking at. The job requires me to work closely with the governors of the regions and most of them are the ministers of finance. In T&T’s case, it’s the Minister of Planning. I will be working closely with all of them to use the resources of the IDB to help them go to another level,” Le Hunte added.
to another level
Le Hunte leaves ANSA Bank with confidence all is in place to ensure it is transformed from a traditional commercial bank to one that is technologically and digitally driven.
“What we are really doing is to provide banking services at a different level. That project is close to completion as a lot has already been done. I am just making sure that we knock up all the loose ends and ensure that project will be able to glide in by the third quarter,” Le Hunte explained, as he described his 18 months at ANSA Bank as “very rewarding and exciting.”
According to Le Hunte, his focus was two-fold; managing the legacy bank with all its constraints and ensuring the viability of the institution.
“When we bought Bank of Baroda no money was spent on technology and on services in that bank.
“So, we had to manage the legacy bank and we had to turn it around and ensure that it was able to survive, compete and provide services,” Le Hunte explained.
Saying that a “tremendous job” has thus been accomplished, he said for instance, the loan book has almost tripled in size as well as its customer base.
Additionally, Le Hunte said delinquency has been brought down from about 20 per cent to about three per cent on loans.
Baroda, an Indian state-owned financial services group, began operating in T&T in October, 2007.
But in 2019, ANSA Merchant–a member of the ANSA McAl Group–signed a share purchase agreement for 100 per cent interest in Bank of Baroda T&T Ltd.
And while much has already been done to stabilise the legacy bank that however, was not its future.
“We also had to build an institution that would have been able to compete in the banking industry and the banking industry in Trinidad is dominated by a few big players. So, if we needed to compete, we needed to do something different.
“We needed to be a disruptor in the banking sector and we needed to look at banking from a different perspective,” Le Hunte explained.
Hence, parallel to running the legacy bank a team was developed to create “the bank of the future” whose work is well advanced and the fruits of that work will be revealed when the bank is launched in September, Le Hunte said.
But it has not been a one-man show.
“It has been the work of an entire team who worked tirelessly. That’s why I could leave at this point in time with the project and speak with confidence as to what we will be launching,” Le Hunte who will be at the IDB for two years said.
So what’s next upon his return?
It’s to continue along the course of service.
“I am fairly confident that I am working very focused on the two years in getting what I want done. I am also anxious to come back to T&T to continue to contribute and use my knowledge at the IDB for the betterment of the people and the country,” Le Hunte said.