THIS 2021 Conference Launch - Sponsor Remarks by Derwin Howell (Republic Bank Limited)

Good morning everyone.

Over the past year, the global community has become familiar with so many buzzwords - pivot, digital transformation, e-commerce, contactless, virtual and the list goes on - this, in addition to our burgeoning pandemic jargon.

As a result, there are myriad references that tout the virtual space as our new global reality. The fact that we have gathered in this forum virtually is proof of that now ubiquitous online existence. For some of us, this may be a welcome reality, for others, understandably the opposite.

Humans are interactive, social creatures; we value being in the company of others. Since March 2020, we've been forced to ‘shelter in place’ in various forms, as we seek to create an environment that is less hospitable to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Fortunately, technology has come to our rescue to bridge the gap between friends and family, between home and work, between consumers and businesses and between governments and citizens.

Not unlike many other businesses across the globe, Republic bank has had to focus on making the "virtual" a deeper part of our reality.

While baffling to some, it's well-known that some customers like to come to branches to complete their transactions, but more importantly, to interact with other customers and employees with whom they have become familiar. And that's a common feature of banking culture in this part of the world, really.

So, the claim that "virtual" is our new reality was and is more of a cultural shift. In the context of the pandemic, the face of banking has changed. Face to face is becoming less and less the reality – and when it does, that face better have a mask on it – the ultimate irony. Banking and other businesses now exist online or as much as our local landscape will allow, but how do we encourage the national community to accept that reality? Not just for banking, but for every facet of life.

In this context I use the term “local landscape” to encompass the local payments system, businesses’ ability to accept and fulfil client requests online, and importantly, government’s ability to transact in an online world.

Several gaps in this landscape have prevented us from pivoting as quickly and as completely as we could to live in this new paradigm and therefore require immediate attention.

The saying ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste’ is apt. We should be using the challenges brought on by the pandemic to take a critical look at our local landscape and to bootstrap our various systems to allow for a more efficient society in the post-Covid era; whenever that may be.

Our aim should be rapid national implementation with cross-sector cooperation. No consumer, business or government department should be left behind due to hesitation, lack of resources, or lack of knowledge. And most importantly, the virtual shift should not be viewed as a chore, but as a valued amenity; indeed a national necessity.

For most businesses there are three (3) main aspects that need review:

1. Ordering;

2. Fulfilment; and

3. Payment.

And each comes with its own level of complexity and challenge.

In the case of the government and government agencies, on the payment side there exists legislative hurdles that must be overcome.

I was heartened to see a recently issued circular letter from the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago advising of its consultation with market players on a draft policy proposal document for a payments systems bill for Trinidad and Tobago. Such consultations and the realization of the resulting legislation cannot come fast enough.

Truth be told, though, even in the absence of these legislative enablers for government payments, across the region and here at home, all manner of businesses, small and large, have answered the call to adapt to this new reality, and with varying levels of success have introduced a layer of technology to meet their clients’ needs.

While computer-based technology has been at the forefront of a lot of these changes, I must also mention creativity and innovation are key to some of these approaches even when they don’t involve technology. I am sure that we can all remember the concept of “deconstructed doubles!”

Another example that we at Republic Bank are particularly proud of is the local design and construction of several Isopods by local company Laser Solutions Limited for the country’s Regional Health Authorities.

An Isopod is an Individual Patient Isolation System that helps transport patients who have an infectious disease. While during the pandemic they will largely be used to transport Covid-19 patients they can be also utilized for cancer patients and even burn victims. The key is a willingness to re-think our businesses and come at things from a different direction.

On the services side, I am sure that we have all by now experienced the convenience of the likes of FOODDROP, WiEat and Skip D Line. You can now order groceries for curbside pick up or even home delivery. Even sporting goods store have introduced home delivery of exercise equipment and gear. And for a shameless plug, more recently we would have seen Republic Bank introduce the contactless payment solution ENDCASH and I hope that all of you here have already signed up!

While these changes may be a survival method for most and a knee-jerk reaction to the pandemic for others, it proves that Trinidad and Tobago has the potential to make “virtual” a bigger part of our reality. ‘Virtual’ has infiltrated our workplaces, our schools and even our places of worship. For those who may be sceptical and suspicious of a virtual workplace, we should see the digitising of operations not as a threat to employees but as a way of freeing them to do more rewarding work in interacting with our clients. Consumers should see it as a way to save time which they can divert to doing more of the things that they enjoy. Businesses and governments should see it as a way of enhancing employee skillsets and creating a more capable workforce. It is not about removing the human element, but enhancing it by investing in alternative work options, ease of doing business, digital and contactless business solutions and models.

At this weekend’s Ministry of Health briefing on Covid-19, I heard Minister Deyalsingh speak to the spinning up an online system for registration for appointments for the Covid-19 vaccine. Immediately I saw that opportunity for that to be extended to a mobile-based vaccine record system which will allow vaccinated citizens to display a certified record of their vaccination status on their smartphone. Let’s not let a good crisis go to waste and find a way to introduce systems that can have life after the pandemic.

The steps we have taken as a national community towards technological diversification are small and growing, and they represent the willingness and ability to strengthen Trinidad and Tobago's tech ecosystem, to improve the overall efficiency of our society and ultimately to grow our local economy.

Republic Bank stands with AMCHAM and other sponsors to make "virtual" a deeper part of Trinidad and Tobago's reality and it is once again our pleasure to be associated with the TECH HUB ISLANDS SUMMIT!

I thank you.

THIS 2021 Conference Launch - Sponsor Remarks by Laurence Modeste (Digicel Business)