American and Cuban bankers hold historic meeting
Post on August 10, 2016, 4:05 pm by the-victoria-law-group 0 Comments
When South Florida banking consultant Fernando Capablanca recently spoke about the Cuban banking system — the pre-1959 Cuban banking system — he was surprised at the compliments he received.
That the perspective of someone with his long years in international banking might be appreciated isn’t too surprising. But the venue was Havana and the compliments were coming from Cuban bankers.
Shortly after the United States and Cuba announced they were working toward normalizing relations on Dec. 17, 2014, Capablanca thought it was also time that Cuban and U.S. bankers, banking regulators and government officials from both countries sit down and get reacquainted. It was a long-shot to be sure, but Capablanca, the president of the Cuban Banking Study Group, persisted.
The result was a two-day, invitation-only workshop, held in Havana in mid-July that was attended by about 100 people.
Even though the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta and Boston operated branches in Cuba at one point, J.P. Morgan established the Trust Company of Cuba — the largest Cuban bank at the time of the 1959 revolution, and U.S. banks once flourished on the island, there hasn’t been such a cordial meeting between U.S. bankers and their Cuban counterparts in well over half a century.
The U.S.-Cuba banking relationship was severed on Sept. 17, 1960, when Cuba confiscated Chase, National City Bank of New York and Bank of Boston branches on the island.
But Capablanca said that “when things started improving [with the rapprochement], I thought it would be a good idea to get to know the banking system in Cuba better.” Many U.S. bankers didn’t know much about how banking in Cuba is structured, whether Cuban banks did consumer lending or who the main players were. On the flip side, Cubans bankers also had plenty of questions about banking in the United States.
“It’s been a closed door, and there really weren’t interactions between Cuban and American bankers in so long that you almost had to start over with the basics,” said David Seleski, president and chief executive of Pompano Beach-based Stonegate Bank, the one U.S. bank that has taken advantage of new opportunities for the U.S. financial sector opened up by the Obama administration.
“The real logic for the workshop is we have a lot of Cuban Americans in South Florida and one day the embargo will go away, so banks are exploring future options,” said Seleski, who attended the Havana workshop.
Already, U.S. regulatory changes allow U.S. banks to support credit and debit cards used by U.S. travelers to Cuba, permit U.S. financing of some authorized exports to the island, and allow Cuban nationals in Cuba to have U.S. bank accounts for authorized transactions.
The Obama administration would like U.S. banks to act on this opening, but so far they’ve been reluctant to engage. Organizers said the get-acquainted workshop was a necessary first step in the process.