From time to time we are reminded, "Bahamians are not savers". The observation originates with Finance Ministers and others knowledgeable about the importance of savings for economic growth and development. They bemoan the spending habits of those who choose to enjoy the pleasurable fruits of capitalism, but perhaps do not appreciate the role of savings in making it possible.
The objective of this letter is not to criticize non-savers for alleged unpatriotic spending habits. Rather, granting that savings are an essential element in a thriving economy, why have laws been passed preventing teenagers from opening bank accounts?
My fifteen year-old grandson has his eye on a super computer that his Dad does not think he needs. His Dad is right Thomas does not "need" a computer that runs at warp speed with "out of this world" graphics. Nevertheless his "want" is sufficient to urge him to save up to buy the computer.
To achieve his goal, the first step is to open a savings account in which to deposit a Christmas Gift cheque. In due course he intends to add to the balance by saving his allowance and the occasional windfall from odd jobs. Thomas is prepared to save and defer satisfaction of an immediate desire until he can pay for the computer himself.
The prospect of owning a bank account was exciting, and a trip to the bank was arranged. Accompanied by his grandfather Thomas took the first step to becoming an entrepreneur.
His dreams were shattered when the bank officer told him that, due terrorists and money launderers, laws had been enacted that included denying bank accounts to persons under 18 years old. If they opened an account for him, the bank would have to pay a stiff fine and possibly lose their license.
If I am an Islamic extremist, or Mafioso money launderer I am not deterred by bank clerks nor am going to disguise myself as a teen-ager. If there is any other explanation for denying a bank account to a young person, then would some one please tell us what it is?
Lawmakers lose credibility and respect when, on the one hand they admonish Bahamians for not saving, and on the other they prevent the young from opening an account in the institutions that make saving possible.
What has happened to common sense? If we expect the young to save and invest change the law and let them have a bank account.
February 3, 2004