Category: Conversations

Interview with the New President of the Barbados Economic Society – Shane Lowe

Today’s interview is with the new President of the Barbados Economic Society.

Congrats on becoming the new President of the BES. When was the official start date of your term?

Thank you. December 19, 2017.

I know that you’ve been in the press a bit and I saw the last BES press release on your thoughts about the economy. I think everyone accepts that we’re in a precarious position. One of the things people ask me all of the time, and I assume that they will ask every economist, is should we devalue. What are your thoughts?

No. Why? Because I don’t think it adds any material benefit to us. I think that clearly we’re a very import-dependent economy and devaluation would just increase the cost of those imports because we don’t have the excess capacity to produce what we currently import. Not in any meaningful way, at least. On the export side, it’s not like we have lots of hotels that are empty. The hotels are very much doing well, at least in the tourist season. So, making the currency “cheaper” would not necessarily bring additional benefits to Barbados without improving the current capacity.

People have been talking about going to the IMF. What are your thoughts on that?

Yes, we should go to the IMF, and not because the IMF can solve everything. But simply because we have a balance of payment deficit that is getting worse every year. The reserves have been declining at a faster rate every year since 2013/2014 and part of the reason is that government’s debt has become so high and the credit ratings have become so poor that government has to pay external debt out of reserves. We need to be at least able to match those outflows in order to stabilise the reserves and give us time to make the necessary adjustments on the current account – which would be imports and exports – to stabilise the reserves even further and put them on an upward trajectory.

But if we go with the IMF, the IMF obviously has their prescription, usually involving devaluation.

Sometimes, it might. In 1991/92 we didn’t devalue and we were in an IMF programme then. What it means is that we’d have to make further cuts and adjustments on the fiscal side. Either way, the prescription is going to be to restore the balance between inflows and outflows of foreign exchange. The IMF might suggest devaluation and we might suggest a fiscal adjustment, and I suspect a fiscal adjustment would need to be even greater if we reject devaluation.

So what is the difference then between going to the IMF and what we’re already doing? There are a number of economists that have said that we have our own almost home-grown adjustment programme, so what is the benefit in your view of going to the IMF when we’re already allegedly implementing measures now?

There are two things. The IMF provides the foreign currency that we need right now to stabilise the reserves. It’s all well having a home-grown programme, but we don’t have the time or enough of a buffer from a foreign exchange perspective to allow us to make the adjustments sustainable without running out of reserves first. The IMF provides the FX.

The second thing is that the IMF provides credibility once you’ve passed the tests. Too often we’ve set targets for ourselves and we have failed to reach the targets without any real consequences, so to speak. The IMF puts benchmarks in place, where if you pass the benchmarks, if you meet the standards, then you get financing. So there’s a carrot and stick situation. And that additional credibility is favourable with the credit rating agencies and the international investors, and that might help to restore access to the international financial markets.

The argument of going to the IMF for credibility was used for Jamaica, and Jamaica still missed their deadlines. The programme came to a halt and they had to redo the entire programme and that sent the economy into a further decline. In addition to missing the deadlines and the obvious implications of that, the credibility factor was lost as well. So my fear is that if we’re not doing well at execution now, what makes people believe that the IMF coming will necessarily make us any better at execution?

I think that’s where a credible plan needs to be put in place; not just a plan with quantitative targets, but how are we going to get things done. Part of the reason why there is a Barbados Sustainable Recovery Plan, and this whole process of trying to get the social partnership back together and an oversight committee in place, is to make sure that we have an implementation plan as well as macroeconomic targets. So, I think it involves consultation with other members in the private sector and the unions, which may be in a position to help with the implementation. Many of these issues may require some adjustments to the size of the government’s labour force, and obviously the unions can determine how easy or difficult these adjustments can be achieved.

I remember when the social partnership attempted to meet last year, in the discussions they were very much, on the private sector side, anyway, trying to get the unions on board and agitating for the government and the unions to reach a final position with respect to civil servants’ wages. That to me never happened. And, if it’s not happening in this current environment, where it is fairly obvious why you need an agreement on the way forward, why would the IMF coming change that dynamic? 

I guess the challenge is that the IMF probably won’t change that. We need to change that ourselves, which requires strong leadership on all sides. I don’t think it is an easy fix, but we have to get to a stage where people fear for the Barbados economy’s long-term health enough that they will make the necessary decisions and changes that they need to make. But I don’t think the IMF can force those changes.

Do you think people have a clear understanding of the consequences of the decisions we face? One of the questions that we get asked is what happens if we run out of reserves. We’ve never run out of reserves as a country, so this is not a ‘real’ scenario in most people’s minds. They have never lived through a situation where there are no reserves. So, just to help clarify this issue for the people that will be reading this, in your view, what happens if we run out of reserves, if the reserve cover actually gets to zero?

Two things. The reason why we have a 2:1 peg is because the central bank guarantees that rate if the commercial banks come to the central bank [for foreign exchange]. If the commercial banks go to the central bank and the central bank has no reserves to guarantee the rate, then the rate is set basically by whatever the market determines. So the first thing that would happen is that you may have a devaluation, if commercial banks set the rate at a much higher level than it is today.

The second issue is that sometimes because of the seasonality of foreign exchange inflows and outflows, we have to use the reserves to pay for food and medicine and construction materials and so on. If we run out of reserves and the commercial banks aren’t getting enough FX from tourism and international business, and we have to dip into reserves and we have none, then essentially we go for a period without being able to import food. It is then that the average person would certainly feel the impact of having no reserves.

Part of the challenge that we have in the country is that we’re not earning enough foreign exchange and we have sizeable FX expenses, which is why the reserves are being drawn down. One of the questions that we get asked is what do we need to do to actually earn more foreign exchange. All of the measures that the government has put in place have been along the lines of retaining what little we currently have. What would you suggest the country do to actually earn more foreign exchange?

Earning FX and saving FX are kind of similar. Alternative energy, for example, is not an earner of foreign exchange but it achieves the same thing. So, moving more towards sustainable energy, whether it be wind or solar, would help. I think that back in Q1 2015, the central bank reported that Barbados produced an external current account surplus, which in my lifetime has been a rarity. The reason for the surplus was that oil prices had fallen so low that our inflows of foreign exchange more than matched our outflows of foreign exchange, at least on the current account. If we can replicate that over time, we can have a significant growth in the FX reserves.

The second thing is building out capacity in other areas. For example, we do really well in tourism but I think we can do more. If you look at Aruba, Aruba gets about 1 million stayover arrivals every year and we get about 600,000. Their economy, the size of their population, the size of their country, is much smaller than ours. Is there perhaps room for us to grow significantly more in tourism given what Aruba has been able to accomplish? And then there’s international business. International business is a favourite of mine because it is a weightless export. We have lots of professionals here and I often say, why can’t a Barbadian set up an international business in Barbados, an accounting firm, for example, and offer their accounting services to Canada or the UK, because we do the same professional qualifications and we can probably charge a slightly lower price for the same value. Those are just examples of how we can earn more foreign exchange.

The other area that I think we need to go into over the long term is being able to earn FX from income as opposed to being a net payer of income to other countries. So if you look at the current account, you’d see that we earned as much from exports of goods and services as we paid in imports of goods and services in 2017. The reason why the current account was in deficit is because the income that we earned from non-residents was significantly lower than what we paid. And part of that is because we have to pay dividends to non-residents, people that invest in Barbados, as well as to pay interest on debt. If we can somewhat reverse that so that we’re investing more externally and we’re earning dividends from overseas then we can close that gap in the current account and earn more foreign exchange as well.

To me what you’re pointing to is an opportunity for the private sector.

 Maybe yes, it possibly is.

That is one of my pet peeves. One of the reasons why AE exists it to support the private sector. Economists traditionally have supported governments and society at large and we feel that, while there is more we can do, it is on the right track. So you do have a situation where for big decisions government entities, development banks and certain types of NGOs know to come to an economist for support. They know to ask for help. They know they need forecasts, they need scenarios, they need estimates and so on. But in the private sector a lot of decisions are still based on what essentially boils down to gut. And while that is useful, and I’m completely supportive of the instinct that business people develop for their field and industry, one of the challenges I think we have, and why Barbados is lagging behind some of the other islands with respect to our private sector, is maybe because there isn’t enough information to ground decisions in fact.

Which brings me to another set of questions around the economics profession generally. The BES is probably one of the quietest associations for professionals. Just so that the readers understand, to be a member, do you have to be an economist?

No you don’t. We have members from various industries and professions.

Do you think that we have a situation in Barbados where people do not understand what it is that economists actually do? 

I think it’s possible. People often see economists as related to government, as you implied, and that is why those that are a part of the private sector may not look to economists because they may not be as interested in what is going on in the public sector. I also think that they see economics as very much an academic field. Lots of models, forecasts that aren’t perfect. So from their perspective it is not very practical. I think, as you said, changing that is very important.

I’ve never seen that as a mandate of the BES. To me, the BES has always had a focus on overall macroeconomic development. During your presidency, will you continue to focus on supporting the entire economy and the initiatives that are going on at the national level?

We definitely want to play a role on the macro side, but also on the private sector side. One of the things we’d like to do is to offer training courses to private sector organisations; it could be a simple training course on how to create a regression in Excel, because the average person will not have EViews or Stata or one of the other modelling programmes. So how do you create a simple regression in Excel? How do you interpret the results and how can you use it for forecasting? My experience working in the private sector suggests that there are many questions that people have that can be answered with economics or econometric tools; things like marketing, for example, or how you allocate resources most efficiently, which is central to the area of economics. So that’s what we want to do if we have enough resources and time this year.

Your term is one year only?

Two years.

I know you had said you wanted to support the macro economy; is there a facility right now to allow you to do that?

There are a couple of ways that we can do that. One of the things that we would like to do is to speak in the press and have our various sessions to discuss these issues. Ultimately, the insights do get filtered up to the various politicians and decision-makers. What we’d like to do as well is, given that we have so many consultations on the sustainable recovery plan and where do we go from here, whether we go to the IMF or not, we want to have a seat at the table as well. It is something that we have discussed as an executive and certainly it is something I have queried already, maybe as a private sector organisation, because we are not public sector and we’re not a union.

Is there anything that you’d like the private sector to do to support the work of the BES? Is there any support that you need from the private sector?

Data is always important, if that’s available, because making recommendations and estimates without the appropriate data is always quite dangerous and personally I like to have my facts before I go speaking on things. I also find that often our decision-making doesn’t seem grounded in much modelling or fact. It’s like, let’s do this and have this outcome when clearly it seems as a professional looking in from the outside, you’re not going to get the outcome you wanted or there will be issues. So I think the private sector can help in terms of pushing for a rigorous approach and a fact-based approach to policymaking.

Thank you very much Shane for taking the time to talk to me today.


A little bit about Shane:

Shane Lowe is the current President of the Barbados Economics Society. He has a keen interest in and working knowledge of Caribbean economies having worked as an Economist at both the Central Bank of Barbados and in the private sector.  He has published both independent and co-authored empirical research papers in the areas of fiscal policy, financial stability, external competitiveness, tourism sustainability and economic development in peer-reviewed journals and as part of the Central Bank of Barbados’ Economic Review and working paper series. More recently, his research has focused on understanding the drivers of consumption volatility in small, open economies as well as on applying optimisation techniques to determining appropriate solutions to existing economic policy problems. Shane is currently a PhD candidate and graduate of the University of Glasgow where he earned his Master of Science in International Financial Economics with distinction. He previously obtained a Bachelor of Science in Economics and Accounting from the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, and is also a holder of the Global Association of Risk Professionals’ Financial Risk Manager certification.

Ron Johnson, MD Blueprint Creative Inc, on Customer Experience in Barbados

Ron Johnson is the Managing Director of Blueprint Creative Inc, a brand development firm based in Barbados. Blueprint Creative Inc and Antilles Economics recently collaborated to survey consumers about Customer Experience in Barbados. The following interview with Ron provides his perspective on the results.

We have just released the results of our Customer Experience Survey for Barbados. Did the results surprise you?

Because there is very little first-hand information on customer experience in the Barbados market, we weren’t sure what to expect. We viewed this survey more as a ‘starting point’ to form hypotheses about the impact of customer service on consumer behaviour. I can say, though, that we are very pleased that the survey uncovered a number of very useful insights about consumer behaviour in Barbados. This is exactly the type of research which Barbadian companies can use to better understand their customers and improve their customer service.


What made you reach out to Antilles Economics to conduct a national survey of customer experience for Barbados?

The study was driven by the need to provide our clients with Barbados-specific data on customer behaviour. Prior to this study, much of the data on customer experience was gleaned from other countries. We recognised that due to cultural differences between consumer markets, extrapolating data from one market to another may have resulted in incorrect assumptions about consumer behaviour on the island. We understood that conducting a national survey would help uncover insights about consumer behaviour that are specific to the Barbadian market. We also knew that these insights could be used to help our clients with their branding initiatives, so we were very excited about the project.

We specifically reached out to Antilles Economics because we recognised that the company has the industry experience and insight to conduct such a survey. In addition, Antilles Economics has an excellent reputation for professionalism and efficiency in all areas of research, market intelligence analysis and forecasting, so that also influenced our decision to partner with Antilles.


In your work on brand development, have you found a strong relationship between brand perceptions and customer service? Expand.

Yes. Generally, we’ve found that consumers that have experienced poor customer service tend to have a poor perception of the company providing that service. We’ve found this to be true even in cases where the service provider exceeded other customer expectations such as providing reasonable pricing for their products and services. In other words, in the eyes of customers, having a competitive pricing policy is no excuse for providing poor customer service.


How can companies improve their customer service perceptions in the eyes of consumers?

There are a number of ways in which companies can improve the levels of customer service across the organisation. An important first step is for companies to proactively launch initiatives that help them to truly understand their customers’ service expectations, preferences and pain points. Many customer service professionals refer to this as understanding the voice of the customer. Depending on the size of the company and the industry in which it operates, companies can use initiatives such as face-to-face interviews, focus groups, surveys, mystery shopper programmes and Information Technology (IT) solutions to better evaluate their levels of customer service. The options for listening to your customers are limitless and can be both qualitative and quantitative.

Another important step is to demonstrate to customers that the organisation is serious about customer service. If your initiatives reveal that customers have a legitimate customer service concern, acknowledge it and fix it. Once you’ve made a commitment to fixing the challenge, be sure to follow through. If you reassure the customer that you will improve the situation, but then do nothing, your brand reputation will take an even worse hit.

I also believe that it is also very important for companies to benchmark and emulate global organisations that are known for consistently delivering amazing customer service. You can simply run a Google search for “best customer service stories” and you’re sure to find some heartwarming and inspiring stories from some of the global leaders in customer service.


One of the findings of the survey was that a large percentage of consumers felt unable to switch from a company that they were not happy with. How do you believe this affects the company’s brand development and customer service activities?

Brands with customers who are unhappy and feel trapped should pay close attention to their customer service activities. Simply because they feel trapped, some consumers may become very critical of the company as they discuss the brand with their friends, family members or colleagues and may be able to influence their purchasing decisions. This can have a severe impact on the reputation of the brand. With companies who have monopoly status, there is also the possibility of a mass exodus of customers if the market eventually opens up.

There may also be another group of “trapped” consumers who simply throw their hands in the air in acceptance of their situation. This group may believe that since they are already locked in a long-term contract, their service provider may not feel the need to improve service to them and that their voices won’t have any impact. In this scenario, it may be more difficult for a business to improve its customer service if they are not receiving any upfront, honest feedback.

Both of the groups mentioned above can impact a brand’s development and the success of its customer service efforts. Organisations with customers who may feel trapped should be sure to embark in a number of proactive activities that will engage their customers and assist the brand in gathering the information relevant to improving its customer service experiences.


How does your organisation use this type of research?

As a branding company, we understand that consumers’ views on a company’s level of customer service can have a significant impact on its overall brand. The national survey uncovered a number of very useful insights into consumer behaviour in Barbados and consumers’ expectations on customer service. We plan to use these insights in at least two ways. Firstly, we will use the information to build a stronger Blueprint Creative brand. We will also use the insights to help our customers build stronger brands.


What are the main takeaways from the results that you would like Barbadian executives to be aware of?

A main takeaway for Barbadian executives is that dissatisfied consumers have a tendency to “leave brands without saying goodbye”. The survey uncovered that while a significant number of consumers are likely to switch to a competing brand due to poor service, they are less likely to register their dissatisfaction with management. This may lead to a scenario where customers have already switched to a competitor before management even realises that it has a customer service issue. This could be potentially devastating for companies as it may eventually lead to an exodus of customers before the company has had a chance to address the deficiencies in service. Management teams who are more proactive in monitoring their company’s levels of customer satisfaction may find themselves in a better position to use customer experience as a competitive advantage.

A second takeaway is that Barbadian consumers are highly likely to tell their friends, family members and colleagues about their customer experiences. Businesses who maintain high levels of customer satisfaction can benefit tremendously from (free) word-of-mouth marketing. At the other end of the spectrum, businesses with low levels of customer satisfaction will likely have to contend with having a brand that is tarnished in the marketplace.

To really benefit from these results, executives will need to remember that customer experience goes much deeper than activities such as employees being pleasant during interactions with clients. For instance, customers also want to interact with employees who have a deep understanding of the products and services being sold by the brand and who are empowered to solve customer problems without excessive red tape. Many other factors such as product pricing, after-sale follow-up and return policies can all influence customers’ opinion of the brand.


How would you advise executives to incorporate these findings into their customer service strategy?

These findings provide clear insight on how Barbadian consumers respond to high levels of customer service and also how they respond to low levels of customer service. The level of an organisation’s customer service can have a tangible impact on the organisation’s brand, and by extension, on its profit potential. For companies that value customer service and provide customer service training for employees, the findings can provide clarity on exactly why customer service is important to the organisation and why employees need to provide high levels of service.

Additionally, rather than seeing customer experience as a ‘bolt on’ module, leaders should incorporate their customer experience strategy into their overall business strategy. Every employee has a role to play in helping an organisation to constantly improve its levels of customer service. The company’s management should provide clarity on exactly how each customer can provide exceptional customer service. For this reason, customer experience needs to be championed at the organisation’s highest levels of leadership and should be cascaded and reinforced throughout the organisation.


Interview: Electric Car Rentals

Introducing Electric Car Rentals

Electric Car Rental Primary LOGO(blue wheels)-01 copy

Today’s post interviews Kieshelle Mcknight-Cummins from Electric Car Rentals, a new car rental company in Barbados with an ambitious mission: to be the regional leader in green transportation by providing 100% eco-friendly vehicles for rent to tourists and residents.  The company only offers electric or hybrid vehicles with zero or ultra low carbon emissions.  This is a game changing move in a region that is embracing the ideas of a green economy and sustainable tourism.


Congratulations on the launch of Electric Car Rentals. Tell us a bit about your company and what gave you the idea to launch an electric car rental company.

The Electric Car Rentals dream was born while considering the amount of fossil fuels we consume as a small Island nation.  We spend approximately US$400M in fossil fuels each year.  This is a big and worrying number for an economy as small and open as ours.  Our natural response would probably be to say “that’s the Government’s problem…not ours”.  However, it’s a national problem that needs to be addressed by all of us.

Transportation is a big contributor to consumption and we thought that we should address this sector.  Electric Car Rentals seeks to make a dent in consumption by renting electric or extremely fuel efficient cars.


From the website it seems that you are aiming at tourists, can residents of Barbados also rent electric cars from you?

Absolutely!  Our cars are available for anyone who wants to experience something different.  They are not only fuel efficient and environmentally friendly, they are fun to drive!


I know it’s still early days, but how has it been received so far?

It has been a very interesting experience.  We anticipated some level of curiosity and maybe some scepticism.  However, our product has been greeted with great enthusiasm.  Watching some persons drive an electric car for the first time is like watching a kid at Christmas!  We hope this level of interest sparks a change in the way people think about the environment and what they can do to make a difference.


On electric cars

We’ve been hearing quite a bit about electric cars in recent years but I still find it a bit confusing. Do you plug in the cars? How does this work?

The two more recognisable types of electric cars are those powered by an external electrical power source (Plug-In) and those powered by an on-board electrical generator (Hybrid).  We are now beginning to see plug-in vehicles being more accepted by the market – The Nissan Leaf is a popular brand.  However, people are more familiar and accustomed to the Hybrid.

Toyota Prius C 2013

The Hybrid uses a combination of battery power and the conventional internal combustion engine to power the vehicle.  The vehicle alternates between electric power and engine power depending on your driving style or the terrain.  What’s fascinating about the Hybrid is that the combustion engine powers the battery, which means that you NEVER have to manually charge or plug-in the car.  Once driven the battery is charged automatically.  Hybrid Synergy Drive by Toyota takes it even further by capturing the energy from braking to also charge the battery.  Efficiency at its best!


What do you see as the advantage of renting electric cars compared to renting conventional cars?

The immediate benefit to people is the very noticeable savings on gas.  For the Plug-In, you don’t need gas at all and for the Hybrid you need very little of it!  With gas prices being as volatile as they are, it pays to drive an electric vehicle.

However, the longer term benefit is your impact on the environment.  For a tourism based economy, we depend heavily on the beauty of our environment to earn foreign exchange.  The moment our air quality deteriorates to the point where people have difficulty breathing, we will have a huge problem on our hands.  Electric cars offer zero or ultra low emissions.

In summary, you can help preserve the environment, save money, and drive a cool Prius all at the same time!


Are there any other differences that you believe people need to be prepared for when they first drive an electric car?

It’s extremely quiet.  You seriously need to remember that the car is turned on!


On a Green economy in Barbados

Electric cars could be seen as being aligned with the current government’s goal of creating a green economy in Barbados. What is your view on how a green economy operates and do you think that there are sufficient enabling conditions in place to foster its growth?

What has been done in the last year or so with the incentives on alternative energy has been very encouraging.  For decades, solar water heaters led the way, saving an estimated US$100M in foreign exchange in 2002.  We need to take that next step and we hope to also see incentives in place to make electric vehicles cheaper to import and more accessible to all.


I have always wondered if people only paid lip service to the concept of becoming more environmentally conscious, and at the time when a purchase has to be made, they will continue to choose their familiar, less environmentally conscious options. A good example would be in the area of organic produce. Informal discussions suggest that people support the idea of organic produce but are not willing to pay the required premium. How do you believe that obstacles such as this can be overcome to increase the demand for green products?

I believe people only see what’s in front of them.  Being environmentally conscious for many is some abstract concept that can be ignored when convenient.  However, if we are able to clearly articulate the immediate economic benefits, I believe we would be more successful in getting people on board.  There is definite and very real economic benefits to driving an electric car and people are quickly realizing it.  The Prius is expected to outsell the Corolla is some markets! That’s a big shift and an encouraging development.


Barbados has slipped in the 2014 Doing Business rankings. The main weaknesses are in the areas of registering property, protecting investors, paying taxes and enforcing contracts. Did you face any major stumbling blocks related to policies and procedures when trying to start Electric Car Rentals and are there any areas that you believe must be improved to encourage small businesses to enter the green economy?

We could definitely improve on the turnaround time for licenses.  Every day lost is a loss of possible foreign exchange earnings (and savings) and employment for our citizens.


Let’s switch gears now to the more practical elements of managing a young, innovative company in a mature sector.

The car rental market is a mature industry in Barbados. What do you believe would be your main sources of competitive advantage? 

It’s a cool car to drive!  It’s different and persons are beginning to recognize that these cars are now a very viable option.  People can make a statement about who they are and how they are making a difference just by driving a car.


Small business owners and entrepreneurs have constantly lamented that getting financing for their business is very difficult in Barbados. They argue that it is difficult to find investors/lenders willing to take on the risk and, when they do, the financial costs are ‘unreasonably’ high. Did you face any challenges raising the finances necessary to launch an unproven product and what advice would you have for other small businesses looking to raise money in the current climate?

I’ve been fortunate in that my business required Asset Financing.  This concept is something that our banking system understands very well.

However, I must note that it is also important to clearly articulate your value proposition and how you intend to pay them back.  This is the area I believe a lot of young entrepreneurs fail.  Not everyone will understand what you are trying to do right away.


What are the next steps for Electric Car Rentals?

To see one of every 10 rentals, being an eco–friendly rental.  Small steps…small steps


Thank you Kieshelle and we wish Electric Car Rentals every success.


Why not drive a rental car today! To find out how to reserve your car from Electric Car Rentals, you can visit their website at or call them at 1-246-243-8970.

If you’d like to pick Kieshelle’s brain even further, she can be contacted at  

Interview with Jeremy Stephen, New President of the Barbados Economics Society

Jeremy Stephen, President of the Barbados Economics Society

Jeremy Stephen, President of the Barbados Economics Society

At 29 years old, Jeremy Stephen is perhaps the youngest President of the Barbados Economics Society since it was formed in 1983. That does not mean, however, that he lacks experience. Jeremy is a frequent guest speaker on the popular morning talk show, Good Morning Barbados; owns his own consulting firm; has worked as an advisor with the Barbados Entrepreneurs’ Venture Capital Fund; is on the board of a number of Barbadian organisations, including the Barbados Agricultural and Development Marketing Company (BADMC); and, is a part-time lecturer at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.

He took a few minutes out of his hectic schedule to share his thoughts on the future of the BES, the Barbados economy and the role of economists.


On the Barbados Economics Society

Thank you for agreeing to chat with us, and congratulations on your successful bid to be the new President of the Barbados Economics Society (BES). Tell us more about the role of the BES.

Our motto is “to Educate, Inform and Build”. We see ourselves as a society whose mandate is to ensure that:

  • the pubic at large is educated about basic economic issues and how they impact on their personal and professional lives
  • they are also informed about economic activity in a non-partisan and professional manner
  • we work along with prominent public and private stakeholders in building coherent policies. On this point we wish to ensure that proposals are sound and represent the best interests of the public

What do you hope to achieve in your presidency?

I see my role in a slightly different light from my predecessors. Whereas they were chiefly responsible for public relations and driving the research produced by the society, I have chosen to include those responsibilities as part of my agenda, but not necessarily spearhead them. I wish to introduce a new structure and methodology behind getting things done. We will resume the economists’ survey and have put measures in place to have that in place very soon. In my mind, our organisation has enough social capital and influence where it should be structured similar to ICAB (Institute of Chartered Accountants of Barbados) for example. They have a major advantage over us in numbers. Therefore, we will be continuing to focus on increasing membership within and throughout different professional disciplines. We have come up with the right benefits to encourage such.


On the economics profession in Barbados

Since the global financial crisis, the economics profession has taken a beating internationally, with many critics questioning the role economists played in the lead up to the crisis. Here in Barbados, do you think that the profession has lost some of its respect?

The local profession has been called into question. There’s enough of a media trail to show. Ironically, this profession is also being held responsible for driving us out of the economic slump. We are being asked constantly to bring new ideas to the table. So, inasmuch as the local profession has lost some of its respect in the public’s eye, we still have a major opportunity to prove our value.

I believe that there is a general acceptance of the need for economists in macroeconomic decision-making, but it is less clear whether corporate Barbados also sees a need for economists. Do you think that the BES and economists in general currently play a pivotal role in corporate decision-making in Barbados?

Yes, we sure do. You only have to look at how larger organisations operate when there is a competitive environment versus a more monopolistic/oligopolistic environment. I personally find that when such organisations become price-takers as opposed to their original price-maker role, they have a more difficult time understanding the dynamics of the marketplace and the macroeconomy. The market, as it stands now, is one where customers of such companies are deferring many decisions that they previously made without much hesitation. Most of our larger local corporations, as a result, are finding it difficult to deal with this new customer activity and they no longer are sure how to get customers to spend or where new customers are, for that matter. In my view, this is the perfect timing and opportunity for economists to prove their worth to said organisations.

What value do you think economists could offer corporate decision-makers?

The list is long, but, we as economists can analyse and interpret how the economy will affect their corporate strategy, no matter the duration of their horizon. We are, after all, the best trained to use quantitative techniques – econometrics, for example – that makes sense of all the noise produced by an economy on a monthly basis. Also, if the client is a large corporate body, I am sure that an economist could best assist in the creation of strategy. Here, the large client does have the potential to significantly impact economic activity based on its chosen strategy. An economist should surely provide informed impact analysis along with the long-term repercussions on the company’s customer base, if that is the wider society.

Do you think the economics profession in Barbados needs to evolve? If so, how?

We all have been told and taught about the different fields of economics, such as Transport Economics and Industrial Economics. I wish for the profession here in Barbados to embark down a road where there’s just not more pertinent research in these areas, but active practitioners. At that point, I think we, as economists, will be leading Barbados in the right direction.

I also wish for economists to see ourselves as more than public servants and academics. We can be entrepreneurs and pretty strong strategy and economics advisers to the private sector.


On the Barbados economy

We all recognise that the Barbados economy is in a slump. Our own work here at Antilles Economics suggests that it may be another 2-3 years before the country resumes growth above 2%. What is your view on the future trajectory of the economy?

We believe that the economy will take some years to resume positive growth, but that depends very heavily on recovery in our source tourist markets. These are expected to recover in line with your analysis. In the meantime, we would wish to encourage the private sector to continue exploring new markets where growth could bring about a faster, balanced and more sustainable recovery.

What is your view of the recent budget presented by the Minister of Finance? Will it put the fiscal accounts on the right track? And, what do you believe will be the impact on the economy?

We believe that the budget can achieve its intended purpose, which was to bring the fiscal deficit under some measure of control. Considering the size of the deficit, we do understand why the government saw it necessary to make those rapid changes. We expect that government’s finances should fall in line with expectations in the medium term. But the problem can persist if the larger issue at hand is not dealt with, and that has to do with the recovery in economic activity as a whole. The measures proposed in the budget will temporarily dampen activity once the timing of government’s expenditure cuts come just before the anticipated recovery in some of our source markets. The slowdown can be protracted, however, if government gets the timing wrong.

There have been a number of calls for the private sector to play a greater role in driving the growth and evolution of the Barbados economy. Do you think that the country is well positioned for private sector-led growth?

We believe that private sector-led growth is the only way out of this slump, and the drive towards encouraging entrepreneurship in Barbados is a step in the right direction. We have heard some major successes in the small business sector. There are persons who have found new export and services markets. Moreover, there are new industries, once thought to be either impossible to access within a small island state, that are slowly becoming convention. Access to technology has provided the means through which we are able to explore these avenues. So, to answer your question more specifically, we currently might not have the systems in place for explosive private sector-led growth, but the evidence is showing that we are heading towards that.

What advice would you like to leave with companies on decision-making in the current economic environment?

I would encourage them to engage economic specialists where applicable and the BES is always willing to assist.


Thank you Jeremy and all the best as the new BES President.

You can find Jeremy on Linkedin.

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