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Oct 21, 2016

Central Bank Begins Revolution in Bank with APS3

Faster collection of your pay? Quicker cheque-cashing and depositing? Shorter stay at the bank, or not having to go at all? If you think it’s all a dream, then wake up and open your eyes, because it’s here and it’s happening as we speak. As correspondent Aaron Humes reports, today the Central Bank has introduced a new tool that will make traditional banking go the way of the dinosaur.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

Belize’s monetary authority, the Central Bank of Belize, along with the local community of bankers, is introducing a new Automated Payment and Securities Settlement System (APS3) that they promise will revolutionize the payment of money in Belize. For the first time, Belize’s major banks and financial institutions will be connected, ensuring that both cash and cheque payments will reach you more quickly than ever before.

 

Sheree Smiling-Craig

Sheree Smiling-Craig, Director, Project Management, Central Bank of Belize

“We will have increased access points for electronic inter-bank payments and transfers. We will have cheques cleared at the end of the next business day, rather than three to seven days of waiting. We have ability now to send instant funds transfer, twenty-four-seven to a payee at another bank. Dependent on the bank’s infrastructure, we will be able to do it from the comfort of our home or from the counter of a bank. We will have the ability, and mostly businesses will be impacted by this, to complete large-value special clearings electronically through their bank. Currently, this is a manual procedure where the commercial bank would call into the Central Bank to execute and process a large value payment; now the commercial banks will send those transactions to ATS or APS3. And for Belizeans who are businesses similar to the Government; they can send one payroll file for onward transmission to ATS, and the accounts will be processed at the different banks.”

 

The Central Bank partnered with world-leading designer of payment systems for central banks and financial institutions, Montran, to build only the second such system in this region, behind the Dominican Republic. A working group established six years ago and including many stakeholders worked to facilitate the reform of the national payment system, supported by key legislation to be introduced in the House of Representatives later this month. Today’s launch, according to new Governor of the Bank Joy Grant, is a triumph of technology and efficiency.

 

Joy Grant, Governor, Central Bank of Belize

“I firmly believe that any country to develop has to embrace technology and this is a way for the financial system in Belize to embrace technology so that we become more efficient and hopefully, that the cost to the consumer over time will decrease for transactions that they do now without thinking, but that are important for the running of this economy.”

 

Reporter

“The investment that was placed into this project for the past six years: is it worth it, what we will get out of it?”

 

Joy Grant

“Well, we didn’t say the figure, but I could tell you that it is millions of dollars for the equipment and for staff time. But to echo what the chairman said it’s not a choice. We have to move into the future and to do that we have to make sure that we have the systems in place. For example, if you were waiting five to seven days to get the funds in your account and now could get it in one day that means you could do more with that money over time. For the small transactions on an individual basis, it probably doesn’t seem like much; for large value transactions, there is a lot that can be done with those funds, if they are available in a much shorter period of time.”

 

Joy Grant

The APS3 is intended to guard against attempts at money laundering, and Governor Grant told us that security remains key as well when it comes to attempts to hack the system.

 

Joy Grant

“The system itself will alert us to a large payment, which we will then have to do the checks on, to make sure that it’s legitimate. But however, we have the Financial Intelligence Unit and we work very closely with them, and of course their role is to take the investigation further, if we suspect that there is some transaction that needs further analysis. In electronic systems there is always that possibility, and if you look in the news for the past few months, you know there’ve been – they hacked the bank in Bangladesh, and I could go on and on. So initially they got to a stage when they were ready to roll out, but they took the extra time to make sure that your information will be secure. But I’m going to be the first to say that this is not something that’s static; we have to be constantly reviewing our security systems to make sure the information is one, protected; and two, that your funds will not somewhere where it shouldn’t.”

 

The new system went online at eight-thirty this morning after exhaustive training of bank employees, and the Central Bank’s Director of Information Technology, Rabey Cruz, details how they and the banks got ready:

 

Rabey Cruz

Rabey Cruz, I.T. Director, Central Bank of Belize

“The commercial banks can receive payments or request for payments or transfers at their counter, and I think they have done exhaustive testing about how they can do these transactions, so that they can effect transfers from one bank to another bank. Some of the banks have also started modifying their Web interface, so their online banking – some of them may have already provided a facility so that you can do it online, in this case you would need the account of the counter party. But you can expect, we can expect that you can go to a bank and we can make transfers from one bank to another bank and from one account to another account as of now. In terms of the online bank, it depends on how fast the commercial banks are enabling their environment.”

 

But the best endorsement of the system, as the Central Bank’s Deputy Governor responsible for Operations, Marilyn Gardiner-Usher, told us, is from the customers.

 

Marilyn Gardiner-Usher

Marilyn Gardiner-Usher, Deputy Governor, Central Bank of Belize

“The primary goal of the National Payment System therefore, is to enable the circulation of money. This goal emphasizes the fact that the National Payment System is an enabler of economic activity, by providing the circuits for effecting payments. The main broad objectives pursued by the Central Bank are: to provide effective mechanisms for the exchange of monies between connecting parties; to enable the management, reduction and containment of systemic and other payment-related systemic risk; and to promote systems that effectively contribute to the country’s stability, economic growth; and financial inclusion.”

 

This is the first step in a series of reforms to the national payment system. Governor Grant also noted that regionally, Belize is participating in efforts to streamline payments in both the Caribbean and Central America. Aaron Humes Reporting for News Five.

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