Although it was said before in many different ways, Stephen King put it best in his 1982 collection of novellas Different Seasons: “There is no harm in hoping for the best as long as you are prepared for the worst.”
The statement rings even truer today, as the world is in its third year of battling covid19, something any ordinary person would admit they hadn’t anticipated in their wildest dreams.
With new disasters looming such as a war in Europe and the correlating economic shocks already adding pressure to economies, industries and people trying to recover from covid19, it is more than ever necessary to prepare for the next disaster.
This was the thinking of newly appointed CEO and secretary to the Trinidad Building and Loan Association (TBLA) Christopher Lewis.
Lewis qualified as an accountant and became a member of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) in 2004 and an affiliate in 2009. He became a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of TT (ICATT) in 2016. He also has MBAs in telecommunications and in finance.
In an interview last week Monday, he said TBLA, with 131 years of history, was able to manage its way through two world wars and is now managing its way through its second pandemic. He said through the company’s family-oriented business module and low cost financial products, TBLA can help people prepare for whatever comes next.
You better save that money
In TT, where many people live day to day and paycheque to paycheque, the pandemic came as a total curveball – one which ate up most people’s savings.
Now as the world seems to be emerging from the shocks of the virus, one question looms: what happens after covid19?
Lewis told Business Day that even after a disaster such as a covid19, people will still have to take care of their families and maintain themselves and their homes, just as they did over 100 years ago.
“Historically, the Spanish Flu (1918-20) came just after WWI (1914-18). After that, the world didn’t end. But when WWII (1939-1945) came around, no one saw that coming. So it seems that we came full circle for the past hundred years.
“When we emerge on the other side of these disasters, you still have your family to see about and you have commitments to meet. Instead of spending money vie-ki-vie, now is the time to invest and save.”
Lewis said saving money comes down to a mindset, and advised that people sit down, track their spending and have a comprehensive plan for the month or even the quarter.
“People would tell you they have no money, not even $100 to spare – but you can almost guarantee that on a weekend you can find them with a box of fried chicken or a beer. Can they not, for one week out of the month, invest that money, and in the other three weeks enjoy themselves? People have to ask themselves, ‘Yes, I have a salary, but how do I spend that salary?’”
Lewis said with TBLA, people can save money in investment plans that bring huge returns. One product, for example, the subscription shares product, is a nugget of investment that can be started with payments of as low as $100 a month.
When the policy matures in 13 years, customers with that $100 premium can cash out $25,000.
If you save $100 over the same period you may only be able to garner about $16,000, Lewis said. The return on the investment adds up to about 45 per cent. He added that as the premium goes up, so does the return.
“That gives you a picture of how the TBLA works and the kind of returns you can get with your investment.”
He added that TBLA – located on Queen Street, Port of Spain – also has mortgage plans as well as renovation savings plans that would help people achieve their goals as homeowners, which include equity payments and downpayment savings, where someone could save up to make a downpayment on a home in the future.
TBLA wants to be your financial trainer
Just like when someone goes to the gym and speaks to a physical trainer for their physical health, TBLA wants to be the one customers go to for their financial health.
“Every month we can help you work on your savings as your financial trainer,” Lewis said.
Established since 1891, the TBLA provides mortgage financing for home ownership, credit facilities and wealth-creation products for its members and customers.
Business Day was told the association’s purpose is to influence its members’ standard of living through savings and investment plans, which would ultimately lend to contributing to national development.
As the association is incorporated under the Building Societies Act, it is also able to treat with people whom other institutions would consider unbankable.
“Once institutions see that you are working with TBLA, lending becomes much easier. Even if you have issues, we actually delve deeper to see how we could work with you and bring a turnaround in your finances. We have actually worked with several people that were borderline ‘can’t work with the bank.’”
The association, despite growing for more than a century, was still hit hard by covid19. In 2020, at the height of the pandemic the association realised a 21 per cent decrease in revenue compared to the year before, earning $1,921,628 in 2020 as compared to 2,453,603 in 2019.
“Right before covid19, things were going great,” Lewis said. “But like any other institution, covid19 impacted us.
“However, what benefited customers at TBLA was our harmony with them. We put them first and treated them like family.”
Lewis said TBLA engaged with all its customers to find out what financial burdens they had and found ways to assist, whether through moratoria, small loans based on shares or other means.
Getting the word out
Coming out of covid19 the association is now positioning itself to improve the quality of service it provides to customers and members and improve its reach to new customers.
“The way we interact with customers has changed overnight,” he said. “That is why we want to bring more awareness to people.
“Before, we were comfortable working through referrals from internal customers, because we had that family atmosphere, but with the digital transformation we want to do more. The only way to do that is to get more awareness outside.”
Lewis said that was one of the reasons he was appointed CEO. He said through his leadership the association will use all means available – social media, traditional media and physical engagements to get the word out to customers and potential clients.
“We need to reinforce the returns to customers while keeping that family atmosphere, We are in constant contact with people, reminding them of what they have and how it’s growing.”
He added that the association will differentiate itself from other financial institutions by keeping the conversation of financial responsibility going.
“Other institutions may come up with a campaign to educate people, but that would go on for a quarter. After that they go silent. For TT citizens, if you do not stay in their faces, they will eventually forget you.”
He said the association is going to keep reminding people of what they need to take care of themselves and their families.
“We are not a new company. This is not a DSS. We have had many customers in our 131-year history with even their children, grandchildren joining. We have had a legacy of family at this association and that legacy will continue with us.”