What is it like to be the first US bank to do business in Cuba?

Here is an interview of David Seleski, CEO of Stonegate Bank which became first such bank. The interview reveals how a bank both gets trapped in bad relationships between two countries and also shapes them:

Gilmore: Coming on to close to a year and a half since the bank was approved by U.S. authorities to begin this relationship with Cuba, what would you say have been the most significant hurdles for the bank to overcome?

Seleski: I think the most significant hurdle is simply that you are caught up in the politics between two countries. There are new executive orders that come out, general licenses, and a lot of it is directed towards banking. So you’ll put together a mousetrap basically to figure out how to, let’s say, move money between the U.S. and Cuba, and then all of a sudden a new executive order comes out and you basically have to start all over again.
I say it’s more just being a very fluid situation and having to have approval from both sides for anything you do. It’s more time consuming. It’s a slower process. But I think everybody’s moving in the right direction.

Gilmore: It must be fascinating being on the cutting edge of this.

Seleski: Fascinating and frustrating.

Gilmore: Do you see additional U.S. banks following in Stonegate’s footsteps anytime soon?

Seleski: I would hope so. We think there are going be opportunities, and we do believe the embargo will go away. The Cuban people identify more with people in the U.S. than Mexico, Puerto Rico, Spain, or anywhere else. I think what’s going to happen is—once the embargo is lifted—the commercial ties between the two countries are going to be much more extensive than people realize. As other banks get involved, the opportunities will be there to make money and to service their clients. And I do believe as more American companies get engaged down there and do business, they’re going to put pressure on the financial institutions to support them. I think time will tell, and I think more people will get involved over time.

Historically too, banks/financial institutions have been centre to such relationships. They have financed wars, governments and have been flexible in their approaches. They could be financing A country in this war and B in the other. Then they could be financing war reconstruction efforts in B first and then A later. So, it keeps moving in circles.


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