Conceived as a small consumer finance company by the late Sir Roland Symonette, The Bahamas’ first premier and his partner Peter Paul Saunders, former head of the Canadian Laurentide Financial Corporation, Commonwealth Industrial Bank began as a single desk operation with three employees. Bahamian Earle Sands was recruited as the first head of this new enterprise along with Lionel Albury and Juanita Grant. The Bank’s initial clients represented the accounts receivable, acquired from the Home Furniture Company. This new venture, which continued to operate as a subsidiary of Canadian-based Laurentide Financial Corporation Limited, quickly filled a financing void created by the big multinational banks; by making available an alternative avenue for the average Bahamian wage earner to have access to financing for furniture, home improvement, travel and other consumer needs.
The first years of the 1980’s saw some dramatic changes for the Bank. In Canada, a series of economic downturns resulted in the ownership of the Bank passing to the National Bank of Canada. While in the Bahamas, the death of Sir Roland in March 1980 saw the minority interest pass to Lady Margaret Symonette, Sir Roland’s widow. With the Canadian economy still in turmoil, the National Bank of Canada decided to divest its holding in this small Bahamian bank. In 1983, Lady Margaret Symonette, the widow of the late Sir Roland and her stepson, businessman Robert H. ‘Bobby’ Symonette, spearheaded the Bank’s Bahamianization. Despite what many financially astute people told them, Lady Margaret and Bobby Symonette put together a group of 24 Bahamian investors, who were resolute in their efforts to prove that Bahamians could successfully run a bank. They were determined to start one of the most ambitious business ventures of that time and to do it with local resources, local personnel and local capital. On Wednesday, February 1, 1984 the new Commonwealth Industrial Bank, an all Bahamian-owned financial institution with $15 million in assets was formed. As the Bank for “Bahamians with places to go”, Commonwealth Bank’s history takes off from the new era of Bahamian ownership. Robert “Bobby” Symonette, the Bank’s first President, along with a new Board of Directors and Officers, guided the Bank’s progression by pioneering the concept of community banking, branch network automation and launching the first Bahamian credit card – SunCard. The Bank focused on improving its branch locations, expanding its Plaza and Freeport offices, moving its Dunmore Lane Branch to a renovated 610 East Bay St location in 1986 and building its first branch at Oakes Field.
As times and conditions changed, so did the paradigm of the Bank. Our products and services had evolved over the years along with our name. Commonwealth Industrial Bank would shorten its corporate name to Commonwealth Bank Limited in 1988. Through this era of change, Commonwealth Bank would grow from strength to strength and the institution’s continued expansion would allow for its customers to grow along with it. At the end of the 1980s, the Bank evolved into what was essentially a small savings and loan institution servicing savings accounts and certificates of deposit in addition to financing consumer purchases.The 1990s heralded an era of history making firsts that involved technological advancement, physical expansion and the introduction of the first “Flagship Branch”– the Mall Drive, Freeport, Grand Bahama. During this decade, the Bank made history by becoming the first Bahamian owned financial institution to achieve Clearing Bank and Authorized Dealer status. This achievement completed the Bank’s transformation from a savings and loans institution to a full service bank offering an array of personal banking products and services.
At the dawn of the new millennium the upgraded computer software paved the way for the Bank’s Automated Banking Machines (ABMs), international credit card services and the launch of its web site. In 2000, the success of the Bank was recognized in the tremendously over-subscribed Initial Public Offering IPO for Commonwealth Bank common shares. This has resulted in the Bank being the largest most successful Bahamian public company. Toward the end of the first decade of the new millennium, the Bank celebrated the opening of its eleventh branch on Prince Charles Drive and introduced full service Saturday Banking to The Bahamas.
ANNUAL REPORT 2009
Although the Bank looks vastly different from its humble beginnings, it is our commitment to our founding values that allows us to continue to perform at a level that places us among the best and highest performing banks in the country. Not only do we measure performance in financial goals but also in our pledge to assist our communities, whether it be in the aftermath of a hurricane, lending support to our education system or helping our customers affected by the economic downturn.
We expect this anniversary annual report will help to demonstrate the evolution of Commonwealth Bank Limited as a high performing and diversified organization. With pride in our history and our unwavering commitment to service excellence, the Bank will continue to strive to build a greater organization, with the accomplishments of the past 50 years as the foundation for our future success.
Thank you for choosing Commonwealth Bank as your financial partner.