Like a steady neighbour constantly there when you need it, Cayman National has been servicing the needs of the people of the Cayman Islands for 35 years this year. Business Editor, Lindsey Turnbull looks at the history of this great Caymanian icon and finds out what the future has in store.
The early Seventies found Cayman National creator Mr Peter Tomkins quietly planning to launch a bank and trust company that would be a truly Caymanian organisation – run by the people for the people. Gathering together a group of prominent local businessmen and drawing on them for support, Tomkins created a strong board of local directors and incorporated Cayman National Bank and Trust Co in 1974, becoming the company’s first president.
Tomkins says although the primary aim was to create a trust company, they decided to apply for a full Class A banking licence at the same time. He explains, “This gave us the opportunity to service retail customers and therefore provide banking services to local people in Cayman. This turned out to be a wise move as locals quickly embraced the notion of banking with a completely Caymanian-owned bank.”
Tompkins says that while the bank “didn’t set the world on fire” in its first year, this was deliberate and in line with policy set down from day one that growth would be slow and steady. It did, never-the-less, make a profit in its first year, even if the sum was small.
Mr Benson Ebanks has chaired the Board of Directors since the corporation’s inception in 1974 and says, “I could see the need for a bank dedicated to the people of Cayman and said to Mr Tomkins that if he went the whole hog and set up a retail bank as well I would be on board with this project.”
Ebanks says the directors and operators of the bank and trust company ensured proper management from day one, as he confirms, “We had limited capital but we were looking for measured growth. We were determined not to let greed prevent proper management and the Board began meeting (as it still does today) twice a month, to ensure we kept Cayman National on the right track.”
A few years into operation saw the organisation open up its shareholding from the original band of investors to the Cayman public in general. In February 1977 Cayman National Corporation Ltd. offered 100,000 shares to the public, resulting in a broadening of ownership to approximately 150 members.
Tomkins confirms, “Part of the original plan for the company was to offer a percentage of shares to the public. We didn’t do this straight away as we wanted to get ourselves established properly so Caymanians would be happy buying into a viable profitable business.”
The new injection of cash allowed the organisation to broaden its horizons and open up services on the Brac, as Mr. Tomkins confirms, “We didn’t feel we could truly call ourselves Cayman National Corporation without a branch on the Sister Islands.”
The bank was also able to diversify its structure and subsequently split into three separate entities: Cayman National Trust, Cayman National Securities and Cayman National Bank, while the opening of the Isle of Man offices was a further diversification of the company’s business. Caymanx became CNC’s first venture overseas, setting up shop in March 1985.
The following year Cayman National produced record profits for the thirteenth consecutive year, pushing the balance sheet over the CI$100 million mark.
The next few years saw a period of rapid expansion for the organisation, with the opening of a satellite operation in the Galleria Shopping Plaza on West Bay Road and the membership of CNB of the MasterCard and Visa organisations with a view toward issuing its own credit cards, among many other milestones of the late Eighties and early Nineties, culminating in 1999 with the celebration of 25 years of successful operations.
In 2004 the organisation changed hands, passing the Presidency from Mr Eric Crutchley to Mr Stuart Dack, (the current President & CEO).
Dack could not have taken over his position at the top of Cayman’s foremost local financial services provider at a more difficult time in the Islands’ recent history, in 2004. Just settling into his new role, he was faced with Hurricane Ivan’s onslaught in September of that year, putting his leadership abilities to the test from the onset.
Dack says the economic fallout to Cayman National was to wipe off $45 million from the books which at a stroke curtailed any immediate ideas they may have had for expansion.
He confirms, “Hurricane Ivan caused us to look at issues from a completely different perspective. Some may have thought the issues we faced then were insurmountable but we had the confidence to realise that they weren’t. We took a step back to view the economy as a whole and could see that the $1.2 to $1.5 billion injection from insurance payouts would do nothing but strengthen the economy and we were proved correct.”
Ormond Williams, Cayman National Bank’s President says of that period in time, “Ivan tested who we were as an organisation.”
Williams says that Hurricane Ivan caused management at CNB to look at the organisation from a different perspective. Still remaining true to its conservative ethos ingrained from the very beginning, the Bank looked for diversification to “ensure not all our eggs were in the same basket.”
True to this ethos, Cayman National embarked on a series of international expansions, Opening up a presence in Panama in 2007 was a significant step for the organisation, says Dack. “Panama is the perfect gateway for Latin American business and with the deployment of Mr Carlos Guzman at its helm, Cayman National’s Panama representative office is well poised for tremendous success.”
Dubai was the next location for scrutiny by the Group, with operations beginning there this year. Other jurisdictions that Cayman National is carefully considering include even further afield locations in Asia, such as Singapore and Hong Kong. The Turks & Caicos islands are another important step for the organisation’s broadening of its service offering within the region.
Yet Cayman National has also grown locally as well. New branches in West Bay, Edwards Street in George Town, the Countryside shopping complex and Savannah and at Camana Bay have all helped to broaden CNB’s offering further to ensure that they reach as many customers as possible, with one more branch possibly to be opened in the future.
The West Bay branch in Centennial Towers, which opened in 2003, has now outgrown its premises and the organisation will be building brand new premises there in the near future.
Banking in Cayman is now a tough business, with more competition that is aggressive and keen for its slice of the financial pie. But this does not faze Dack. He says, “Competition is an important stimulus that keeps you on your toes. Our level of service and product offering sets us apart from the rest, and that is at all levels – international clients as well as local residents.
We are professional at all levels. Without a doubt our staff has been our greatest asset.”