IMTC CUBA 2016: a breakthroughThe first ever Remittances & Financial Services Conference in Cuba

Coming back from the first ever Remittances & Financial Services Conference in Cuba my initial feeling is one of deep gratitude towards everyone that trusted IMTC and decided to embark in this journey with us. Trust has been a major factor of the success of this conference.

The trust of our Cuban partners, Banco Central and the all the Financial Institutions, Bank and Non-Bank, in Cuba was paramount. And it took many meetings and exchanges in the months leading to the event to build the trust and the confidence that moved us from zero to opening day, this past Monday, June 27.

The trust of the international financial sector, mainly all major remittance companies that have been coming to our conferences, was based on the belief that we could put this together, even if many hours were spent on the phone answering doubts and fears. They knew that we could bring together everyone in a spirit of collaboration, colleagues that even competing among themselves, can share a space and a time to build as an industry, a common future. I thank each and every one that came, a list that you can check here, and I value all the comments and warm words that we have been receiving for this historic event.

From the get go, I shared with all the participants that both, Cubans and the Remittance industry, face the same challenge: access to the major banking rails. I mentioned the words that the ex-GAFI head, Leonardo Costa, who was present at the event, said in Sao Paulo earlier this year: We are being asked to trade our old cars for very new state-of-the art cars, we have to pass all the emission tests, we are being required to get the most stringent vehicle driving licenses… and the banks are not allowing us to use the highway. I also mentioned that we need to support and encourage the banks, such as Stonegate Bank in the case of Cuba (see Tania Fernandez interview here) and Wells Fargo, in the case of remittance services, persevere in the will to move forward and join the efforts to bring fairness to the migrant communities that need speed, transparency and reasonable fees. European, Canadian and Latin American companies that have been working with Cuba for quite a while, came to IMTC CUBA and expressed openly and publicly the significance of the event for them too.

• Presentations & Meetings

The presentations at the conference, which you can download from here, is just a small glimpse of the subjects that spearheaded the meetings and talks that came about and lay the ground to the many meetings that took place in the conference – and the many scheduled meetings that are now planned in the months to come. Through the 3 days that unfolded so rapidly, the openness and friendliness grew exponentially. The frosty atmosphere of the first morning session melted away and by the last session a true collective feeling of hope emerged, an optimism that we will surmount the challenges ahead and accomplish together the common objective to help migrants support their families and use remittances as a source of financial inclusion and development.

• Interviews, News and Media Coverage

Here are some of the interviews we were able to record during IMTC CUBA 2016 and some of the news coverage. We hope to receive copies of the many local interviews and new stories that the local TV stations and news outlets published during the event. We were swarmed by journalists in the spaces that were set up during the event for media attention. Some of the articles that are found online are here. Major news were released during the event by Mastercard, Stonegate Bank and the Central Bank with regards to the first ever use of US issued cards in shops and ATMs in the island. An upcoming high level meeting of financial institutions was also discussed and planned. Many Remittance Service Providers from the US and other countries initiated the steps to draw contracts with Cuban Institutions and perform the needed regulatory and compliance due diligence procedures, followed by technology integrations, to start operations soon.

• MTCC Compliance Course

The MTCC Compliance Course at IMTC CUBA 2016 was attended by more than 20 Cuban financial institutions and our instructor and IMTC advisory board member, Connie Fenchel commented after the course and the passing of the test by the students: “It was indeed a great experience. All the participants were very attentive, asked very good questions and I think I was able to add more information to the training they have received previously from the Central Bank. We had a great translator and my colleague Zory Muñoz helped me tremendously.” More courses and training sessions are being discussed for the coming months and we will tailor them to the specific needs of Cuban financial institutions.

We learned about Cuba and we were all surprised by the professionalism, the consumer and growth-driven spirit as well as the corporate spirit of the Cuban representatives. They learned from us the complexity of the industry and the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead of all of us, especially the fintech challenges that digital payments represent to all.

We can’t finish this brief note without mentioning the help and leadership of Irma Margarita Martinez, First VP of Banco Central who made everything possible and with her team made sure that we could overcome some of the organizational challenges that we faced and the how-to-cuban-protocol that we didn’t know. As the event progressed, the guidelines eased up and their team and ours became one, with one purpose only: a flawless success-driven organization. I am sure other conferences in Cuba will follow. More photos can be found in our Facebook Cuba Album.