What sets your company apart?
CHRISTOPHER WILLIAMS Proven is a Caribbean-focused, private equity platform concentrating on financial services and real estate. We are both an English and Spanish-speaking platform but have been operating primarily in the English-speaking Caribbean. The company has been in operation for seven years and started with total assets of USD20 million. Currently, we are just under USD650 million and intend to continue on this path of strategic growth. During that period, our focus and major milestones have been on acquisitions and divestitures, all with the hope of being recognized as a frontrunner in the region. There have been five major acquisitions, including Guardian Asset Management (2010), First Global Financial Services (2014), Access Financial (2014), and BOSLIL Bank in Saint Lucia (2017). We are only just beginning. We are a team and feel that our competitive advantage is the extensive experience and acumen of our collective staff. The company sets aggressive targets, and this early in our evolution, we are still in the growth and acquisition phase. It is my role to find opportunities and execute them and ensure that we are the standard of success for Jamaica and the Caribbean's financial sectors.
CHARLES ROSS The main thing is efficiency. There certainly seems to be an attitude in Jamaica that labor is cheap so some firms hire people instead of using technology. We look at our competitors and most of them have maybe four times the number of people that we do, but it is not as though they have more assets under management. Maybe it is the focus of our business that has allowed us to be more efficient, but that is probably the main difference: we automate our processes as much as possible to try and make our technology work for us with integrated systems between investment management and accounting. We can have a quarter of the staff paid a little better than everybody else and at the same time deliver a good service to our clients. What's more, we have managed a little mutual fund for many years. We want to expand this opportunity and look into equities to expand our managed portfolio, especially outside of Jamaica. We already have a couple of institutional clients elsewhere in the Caribbean and are trying to develop that aspect of the business. We are also looking at private equity-type investment activities in a cautious way. That is where we see ourselves growing in the coming years. In the asset management business, we also hope that it will continue to be a major part of our core going forward.
How much opportunity is there in Jamaica right now?
CW Jamaica is hot, not just climate-wise, but economically. We have been “flat" for so long that it is strange to describe Jamaica in such a positive way; however, the economic transformation that began under the previous government has continued and even seems to be accelerating under this new government. This is a watershed moment in our history of which we want to take full advantage. We are doing several real estate developments and acquisitions in Jamaica. There is also scope for tourism in Kingston. When talking about brand Jamaica, the top characteristics are the sun, sand, and sea but there's also the incredibly rich culture. This is why the brand is unique within the Caribbean, our allure is our culture—there is none other quite like it. We know Kingston will eventually become a London, New York, or Toronto once the infrastructure is properly completed and crime is under control. People are going to gravitate towards Kingston.
CR In Jamaica, the biggest challenge is that our economy has not grown in a long time. For businesses to grow, we need to take market share from somebody else, and the bigger we get the more difficult that challenge becomes on a relative scale. So that is a huge challenge for business here in Jamaica and is why we have to be extremely cautious about how we expand our cost base because there is no guarantee that the revenues will grow correspondingly. That is a huge challenge everybody faces; otherwise, there has been a fall in volatility, which has been extremely welcome, certainly in the financial sector. Without growth, we wonder when the next bubble is going to explode or when the next bout of instability is going to arise because of things getting out of whack. Apart from that, in the financial sector another global challenge we face is regulation. Accounting rules are always changing with regulations coming and going. These do not always make it easier to do business or even understand our own business in terms of the accounting rules and gymnastics that you have to go through. That is a global issue.