Davids and Goliaths

Sep 1, 2004

The Caribbean is becoming a battleground where small, but nimble local banks face off against powerful international competitors.

Battle headquarters: Port of Spain.
If it weren't for his impeccable manners and the dripping heat outside, it would be easy to think Suresh Sookoo, chief operating officer of Royal Bank of Trinidad and Tobago, was talking about life on Wall Street. "You cannot stand still," he says. "If you stand still, you run the risk of being taken over or losing your competitive edge."

Such is the intensity of banking competition in the Caribbean today. Its indigenous banks, led by the Trinidadians, have spread across the region through a relentless series of acquisitions in the last two years. Now they are gearing up for the second phase of consolidation. Some think only a handful will survive.

There are no reliable statistics on the size of the banking industry for the Caribbean. Much of the business is in corporate and retail bank loans. Outside of offshore centers like the...

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