US, Cuban bankers held historic meeting

Both United States and Cuban bankers got reacquianted with each other in an invitation exclusive two day workshop held in Havana. The meeting was the first from the time the US and Cuba started moves towards normalizing relations between the two countries since December 17, 2014. The Havana held meeting was attended by about 100 people.

Cuba is not new to the US banking system. The Federal Reserve Banks of Boston and Atlanta operated their Cuban branches until the revolution. J.P. Morgan started Trust Company of Cuba in the early decades of the 20th century until the country’s administration went through an upheaval in 1959. Banking ties between the two countries were snapped on September 17, 1960, the time Cuba forcefully took over the branches of Bank of Boston, Chase, and National City Bank of New York on the island.

With things starting to improve, a number of US banks are now interested to set their foot on Cuban soil again. However, there was a problem. American bankers are unaware of the Cuban banking structure. They also had little knowledge of whether the banks in Cuba were engaged in consumer lending and interested to know the main players in the Cuban banking sphere. On the other side, Cuban banks also have a number of questions of their own about banking in US.

Changes in US regulations mean American banks can now support debit and credit cards carried and used by American travelers to Cuba. They can also permit American financing of a few authorized Cuban exports. They also allow Cuban citizens in Cuba to enjoy the advantages of American bank accounts on authorized transactions. Even though the Obama administraion would like to take US banks to take advantage of such a situation, few banks are actually willing to do so. This is the reason the meeting took place.

The Havana meeting between US and Cuban bankers took 18 months to arrange, and was an exercise of managing the bureaucracies of both the countries. The task meant coordinating with Office of Foreign Assets Control and the State Department. The former enforces and administers the embargo placed against Cuba. The Cuban Ambassador to the United States, Jose Ramon Cabanas, wholeheartedly approved the meeting. Consent was also had from Banco Nacional de Cuba, the country’s central bank. The consequent meeting was held with the partnership of Florida International Bankers Association.

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