By Judith Green, IFC Country Manager for the Caribbean, covering the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and the English-Speaking Caribbean
Access to credit is the engine for private sector development, and yet, it is one of the Caribbean’s most pressing challenges. A growing number of women and youth entrepreneurs operate small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and are at a significant disadvantage because they lack credit histories, banking relationships or the collateral required to support financing.
Current legal and regulatory frameworks in the Caribbean and most emerging markets, for example, require specific assets – such as land or buildings (including personal property) – as acceptable collateral for banks to provide financial support. If these barriers were appropriately modernized, the region could unlock access to a wide variety of credit products that could assist small businesses thrive and encourage the formalization of this largely informal sector.
Numerous examples around the world have shown the effectiveness of accepting movable assets – such as inventory, machinery, crops, livestock, or even intangibles such as patents – as collateral. In the first two years after the launch of Colombia’s collateral registry, over 1.3 million registrations were received of which approximately 25 percent were SMEs. Similarly, after the first year of implementation in Mexico, 97 percent of the registrations were supporting loans to this segment; while in Costa Rica, SMEs represented more than half of the registrations.
Some Caribbean countries have also taken steps in this direction. The Jamaican government enacted a secured transactions law at the end of 2013 as a condition of its Extended Fund Facility with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Thereafter, in 2017, an online collateral registry (National Security Interest in Personal Property Registry) was established, administered by the Companies Office of Jamaica. As of December 2019, it listed over 258,000 transactions that represent financing of US$120 billion, of which approximately 66 percent was directed to SMEs.
The Central Bank of Haiti started the development of a credit bureau to stimulate lending, as part of a wider effort from the World Bank Group to create a credit reporting system based on generally accepted international best practices and the General Principles for Credit Reporting.
Santa Lucia’s Government recently gave the green light for the development of a new policy framework that will soon be presented for the Parliament’s approval. The framework is based on the Secured Transactions and Collateral Registry Program provided by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), following international standards of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL).
Belize, Dominican Republic, and Trinidad & Tobago also received technical assistance from IFC to conduct diagnostics and prepare legislation on this subject.
What if the Caribbean could work together, instead of implementing individual, country-focused regimes? A harmonized legal framework for the region would reduce the cost, and shorten the time, of implementing separate regimes in each country. Through the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB), as the monetary authority of OECS countries, governments in this region can lead the charge by creating a regional registry, that can be customized to manage each country’s specific needs. Regional cooperation and aligning regulations with international standards could also generate more opportunities for cross border trade.
As opportunities increase for women, young entrepreneurs and SMEs – the most important source of employment in the Caribbean – a modern legal framework can also provide banks and non-bank financial institutions with viable lending opportunities in the SME sector, increase market competition, and promote credit diversification and financial inclusion. A properly implemented collateral registry will register assets, making it easier to ensure that there are no prior pledges against assets being offered as collateral. This will also enhance the regulator’s capacity of auditing and monitoring.
With effort from stakeholders in both the public and private sectors, a common framework for secured transactions and collateral registries could have a dramatic impact in the Caribbean’s economic development and strengthen its financial stability. Creating a regional collateral registry in the OECS, by building on the platform being pursued in St. Lucia, could be another step towards increased support for SMEs but also regional collaboration.