The managing director of Bank of The Bahamas (BOB) revealed an Internet banking network for businesses is ahead of schedule and could roll out in the next month.
Paul McWeeney said BOB is working "heavily" with its credit card processing entity and is testing the system for business accounts. He told Guardian Business that the trouble-shooting process has gone faster than anticipated.
In late February, McWeeney speculated it could be six months before BOB launches its e-commerce initiative. It now appears the bank may accomplish this feat in half the time.
The announcement comes shortly after a recent presentation by BOB at the Bahamas Hotel Association's (BHA) annual general meeting.
McWeeney said hoteliers and other tourism stakeholders are excited about the release of the e-commerce service and are taking advantage of the opportunities the Internet has to offer.
"It will be a first for the country in terms of a service for the Bahamian market," he said. "The BHA is particularly excited about the opportunities for smaller hotels. A number of other wholesale clients are also interested in applications for the network of retail stores they represent. It opens that part of the world to entrepreneurs here and makes business more efficient."
The managing director is also planning a seminar with the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) once the service is ready to go.
He noted the e-commerce initiative is part of BOB's long-term strategy to improve non-interest revenue, with less focus on interest revenue to drive the bottom line.
Stuart Bowe, the president of the BHA, told Guardian Business that many of the smaller hotels, particularly on the Family Islands, are not realizing their booking potential because consumers cannot book transactions online with a credit card.
The absence of a Bahamian-based bank with infrastructural support, along with high fees by travel agents and inconsistent or unreliable telecommunications services, have prevented these businesses from achieving full growth.
"Bank of The Bahamas representatives have presented solutions to the first two issues," Bowe said.
"Coupled with an online booking solution that the Ministry of Tourism is working on, we're confident that easy and cost effective online transactions are imminent."
According to recent data collected by the BHA, the vast majority of small hotels surveyed from eight islands did not accept credit cards online. Unreliable telecommunications is also a major contributor to the problem.
Bowe told Guardian Business the BHA and the Bahamas Out Island Promotion Board (BOIPB) recently met with officials at the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) to discuss the issue.
"BTC provided a status report on the upgrade plans, and we were pleased to see the Family Island infrastructure calendar on track for installations over the next four months. It is important to note that the BTC telecommunications upgrades compliment the Bank of The Bahamas credit card solutions, as well as the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation website infrastructure necessary to facilitate online transactions," he explained.
McWeeney said the new e-commerce service will not allow prospective online retailers to just "walk in" and open an account. A screening procedure will be put in place to ensure the security of everyone involved.
Local analysts estimate Bahamian businesses are missing out on millions, if not billions of revenue through Internet sales and marketing.
The Nassau Guardian
Published: April 12, 2012