- 01 JUL 2020
Prime Minister’s Remarks at The Launch of The UTC Flagship Investment Center
Ladies and Gentlemen, a very good morning to you all.
I am extremely pleased to be here this morning at the launch of the UTC’s Flagship Investment Centre. As we continue to battle the health and more so the economic ravages of the COVID 19 pandemic, this launch is a true testament to the resilience and adaptability of our local financial sector.
Despite the current restrictions that are in place regarding travelling and gathering, occasions such as these have become increasingly important, especially given the global events that have taken place in the first half of the calendar year 2020.
With over 10 million infections, and tragically, a high mortality rate of now over 500,000, this virus is very different to previous pandemics. This a worldwide health crisis. The World has changed beyond recognition. To protect citizens, the global economy has been put on hold. Businesses have been shuttered and freedom of movement has been severely curtailed. The health crisis is now intertwined with an economic crisis. Even as we gradually return to some semblance of normalcy we are ever mindful that the pandemic is a very real and present danger.
In the midst of the resulting uncertainty, the financial sector remains crucial to our economic recovery and pivotal to our turnaround and development post-COVID to this end the Unit Trust Corporation stands out as an organization of and for the people and as such must be central to our financial rebound.
In the 1960s the country began its transition to Independence, and apart from the democratic arrangement which allowed persons to vote, the financial system was a major priority. Trinidad and Tobago looked to London as a centre for placing and raising capital, but it was known that this system could not remain viable for long.
Policies and systems needed to be created for the general public, not only to have access to more economic opportunity but also to shoulder the responsibility of paying the country’s way in the world.
As the country evolved, during the 1960s, there were numerous discussions among policymakers about the need to increase the savings rate in the Trinidad and Tobago economy.
Approximately 20 years later, the Trinidad and Tobago Unit Trust Corporation (UTC) created by an Act of Parliament in 1981 (Act No.26 of 1981) began operations in 1982. It represented an important milestone in the development of a vibrant financial sector in Trinidad and Tobago, and was created to serve two purposes: firstly, to mobilize the savings of the community to channel them into desirable investments; and secondly, to provide persons of modest means a facility for owning shares.
Even in the face of objections and resistance from some quarters, the Corporation and the country celebrated the successful execution of this critical public policy, as within only a month of its launch it had recorded 8,000 unitholders, sales of $36 million and $42 million in Funds under Management.
However, this success was almost immediately eroded by a macro-economic environment, characterized by relatively high levels of unemployment and inflation, coupled with contracting GDP and import cover.
Nevertheless, from its humble beginning in 1982, the UTC has weathered all storms and redefined the financial services sector. The Corporation now has over 617,000 unitholders and now has $22.6 billion, in Funds Under Management.
The UTC ignited a culture of saving and investing in which everyone had an opportunity to invest in the assets of Trinidad and Tobago’s economy. Today, the company provides all investors with the opportunity to participate fully in the returns of traditional investments such as stocks and shares and in some instances, alternative investment vehicles. The Unit Trust Corporation has facilitated the transformation of the Financial Services Sector and equity ownership and participation by the little man and woman in ways not anticipated by many at the beginning.
The Current Position
From its embryonic stages, to an organization that is now considered the leader in the regional mutual fund sector, UTC commands approximately 40 percent of the market which not only validates its significance but more importantly, displays the immense level of trust reposed in the institution by its over 617,000 unitholders.
A far cry from the total distributions to unitholders in 1983, which was a mere $2.6Mn, as a testimony to its growth and strength, the Corporation in 2019, paid a total of TT$265 million in distributions to Unitholders, earned Net Income inclusive of all its Funds of $1.1Bn and also has a solid cash position of TT$3.3 billion.
Starting with only one investment centre, the Corporation now has a total of 9 investment centres, 9 online agencies, and over 894,000 accounts, all managed by 527 team members.
Some of the Pivotal milestones of the UTC include
|· 1982 :||Growth and Income Fund was established (First Unit Scheme)|
|· 1992 :||Individual Retirement Unit Account|
|· 1997 :||Universal Retirement Fund|
|· 2004 :||Visa Debit Card|
|· 2014 :||National Insurance Board (NIB), National Enterprises Limited and UTC jointly acquired 10% stake in Phoenix Park Gas Processors.|
|· 2015 :||Establishment of the Calypso Macro Index Fund|
|· 2019 :||Launched UTC’s first Mobile Office in Mayaro and Tobago|
|:||“High” Caribbean Credit Rating Agency’s (CariCRIS) rating|
|· 2020 :||Reaffirmed “High” Caribbean Credit Rating Agency’s (CariCRIS) rating|
|:||The Financial industry’s first Live Digital Annual General Meeting|
|:||Activation of the Business Continuity Plan to manage a global Pandemic|
Systemically Important Financial Institution (S.I.F.I)
Because of the Corporation’s dominant market position and the important role, it plays in the Financial Services Sector, UTC, was declared a Systemically Important Financial Institution (SiFi) by the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago. This decision was largely influenced by, inter alia, the institution’s size, the importance of its products and services, as well as its local and regional financial system inter-connectedness.
The UTC is conscious of its impact on the society and environment. As such one of its core commitments is continuous engagement in communities, and strengthening of its corporate social responsibility capabilities. Therefore, to streamline the Corporation’s strategic and philanthropic goals, the UTC Foundation was established in 2017. The pillars of the UTC Foundation are:
- Financial Well Being
- Environmental Citizenship
Some of the Foundation’s initiatives included:
- SEA Scholarship Program,
- the Schools Investment Games,
- conservation drives and
- Financial Wellbeing Seminars,
all aimed at building awareness and core competencies within communities to promote positive and sustainable change across Trinidad and Tobago. This is UTC’s way of holding itself accountable to its social mandate to make a positive difference in the lives of the people it serves.
The Future: Continuous value for unitholders
UTC distinguishes itself by being resolutely committed to providing an enhanced customer experience, competitive investment returns and staying true to the foundational concept of preservation of Unitholder’s investments.
UTC maintains its competitive edge within a very competitive sector, by rigorously focusing on robust corporate governance and investment decision making frameworks. Added to that, technological advancement has been a major part of its strategic focus.
COVID 19 tested the aforementioned, but the Corporation saw it as an opportunity and a conduit to drive the technological advancement that is already in motion. The inauguration of new technological platforms, a Digital Strategy Unit, the availability of online and electronic solutions, all established to serve the changing needs of the customer, but also the demands that have now become apparent due to the COVID 19 pandemic.
Enhancement of Savings
Ladies and gentlemen, our current health and economic challenges have created economic uncertainty for all – from global giants such as Apple which rely on global manufacturing operations in China and elsewhere as well as on global markets, to the small mom and pop shop which would have had to close or would have suffered the loss of some of its customers and/or income during the lockdown. It is even more important now to be financially prudent – to invest and save rather than consume and waste.
There is no doubt that this pandemic has wreaked havoc throughout the world – many have lost their sole source of livelihood, suffered loss of income and assets. Even as we re-open the local economy, uncertainty prevails and caution is imperative. While T&T has done well to manage the crisis so far, we all are faced with an uncertain future as we still don’t know, seven months after the virus reared its head, how much longer it will continue to rule our lives.
To a large extent, T&T was spared from the worst of this scourge and has some leeway to continue to exercise caution. This is due in no small measure to the health of our national savings – the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund. Similarly, on an individual level, even as businesses closed down or scaled back, hopefully only temporarily, as we faced job and/or income loss, those of us who in the past lived by the motto of our parents and grandparents to put something, however small, aside for a rainy day, were able to rest a bit more comfortably than others.
This should have taught us all the importance of national and individual savings. We need to get to a place where the national savings rate in T&T is once again a priority. Where a sizeable number of people who earn money are setting aside part of that money for a rainy day.
Government as a leading partner in the thrust to provide support to all citizens in this ongoing pandemic
This Government will spare no effort in providing economic support for the most vulnerable in our society, including a targeted and sizeable financial support programme as a safety net for the most vulnerable households and businesses. Among the measures taken to date are:
- Social Assistance Programs including Income Support and Upgrading of Public Assistance and Disability Assistance Grant and School Feeding programme
- The Salary Review Grant
- Funding to Faith Based Organisations for Food Support
- Expediting of VAT and Income Tax Refunds
- VAT Bonds and
- Fuel Relief Grants
- Small-Business Grant Facility through NEDCO
- Soft Loans to Credit Unions members
- Soft Loans through Commercial Banks for the Small and Medium Enterprise Sector
- Special Import Foreign Exchange Window
As we use these measures to keep the country afloat and to support the most vulnerable, the Roadmap to Recovery Committee continues its work on phase 2 of its mandate, which is focused on rebuilding a more robust, diverse and all-encompassing economy based on food import substitution and export expansion while fostering greater entrepreneurship and individual self-sufficiency. But we cannot do this without the full involvement and commitment of the entire population. It requires of all of us:
- Honesty and self-sacrifice as we assess whether and to what extent we need to draw on the State’s scare resources under its various relief programmes
- Productivity and commitment to give of our best as we continue to work and operate under restrictive conditions and even past that time
- Reasonableness from the employer as he assesses the issue of job preservation as against profit maximization
- A reprioritization of our focus as we put the needs of the many above our own wants
- And above all a commitment to country above self.
And in today’s context it also requires a tempering of our “living for the moment” approach but instead, it calls for a commitment to saving for a brighter future,
UTC as leader in savings
The UTC is a premier financial institution in Trinidad and Tobago and the Government is of the view that it has and will continue to contribute to overall development of the financial sector and by extension the broader economy. It has and must continue to engender that commitment to savings. The UTC contributed significantly to the acceleration of this country’s domestic savings to record levels before and we must do it again, and prioritize personal saving and investing.
In fact, the savings mechanism at its core level is in step with the principles embedded in the Heritage and Stabilization Fund at a macroeconomic level which is significant to our overall stability.
As I see it, that’s what this Flagship Investment Centre of the UTC in the City of San Fernando represents. This Investment Centre is not just a structure. It’s a call to action. A call we have to answer if we want to have the kind of future and quality of life to which we aspire and to which we must all contribute if we are to ensure success. It is saying to San Fernando and the South that we have boundless faith in our destiny and we must truly all be in this together.
As I close permit me to draw upon the words of the revered American Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, who said, “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
In times like these and in situations like these what is called for is leadership. Leadership that is visionary, competent and trustworthy. To this end, UTC is helping us along the way. On behalf of all the rest of us I say Thank You to the Board, Management and Staff.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you.