Karen Darbasie

‘normal issues’

with changeover:

Karen Darbasie

IF your source of funds is a “sou sou”, you will not be ­allowed to deposit your stash of old $100 bills into your bank account or exchange them for the new polymer bills.

This is according to Karen ­Darbasie, chief executive officer of State bank First Citizens and pre­sident of the Bankers Association of Trinidad and Tobago (BATT).

Darbasie was responding to questions from the Express yesterday after concerns were raised by a banking customer about the bank’s policy in allowing deposits of sou sou money.

A sou sou is an informal, co-operative loan system in which each person contributes the same fixed amount weekly, monthly or at speci­fied periods.

The whole amount is taken by a different member each time until all members collect a “hand”.

The practice is popular in Trinidad and Tobago and throughout the ­Caribbean.

The customer recounted her experience on social media yesterday, saying she had tried to deposit a large sum of money last year, after collecting her “hands” from two sou sous.

The customer said she was asked about her source of funds, and was told sou sous are not recognised as a legitimate source of income by banks and, as such, she would not be able to deposit the money into her account.

The customer asked if people who collected sou sou money in old hundred-dollar bills would be allowed to deposit or exchange them for the new polymer bills if they are honest about their source of funds.

Difficult to verify source

Bringing some clarity to the matter yesterday, Darbasie said while each bank has its own policies regarding the issue, generally banks will not ­accept sou sou money as a legitimate source of funds.

She said this is because it is difficult to verify.

“It is not something that we can independently validate. While we have a responsibility to collect source of funds, we also have a responsibility as a bank to ensure that the information that is put on the source of funds looks like it is consistent with the ­client’s behaviour historically and that it is coming from a real source,” she said.

“From a banking perspective, it is impossible for us to validate a sou sou.”

Darbasie said while she could not speak for all banks, First Citizens will not accept sou sous as a valid source of funds, especially if it is an unusually large sum of money.

“If someone says they got $100,000 from a sou sou we wouldn’t be able to validate it. That wouldn’t be something that the bank would be able to accept on a source of funds form.”

Darbasie however said she recognised that sou sous were a big part of local culture and said banks can put something in place to be able to accommodate this.

However, she said in the midst of the $100 changeover, there is nothing that can be done.

“Especially this month, that would be something very difficult to put in place. I can’t think of something that I can even recommend to my people to try to validate it.”

Darbasie said she would be giving the matter some consideration for the future.

Large, unusual cash transactions

She said while a number of large and unusual transactions have been brought to her attention since the rollout of the new polymer $100 notes, she has not yet seen any concerns about depositing sou sou funds.

“But that is not to say that it has not happened,” she noted.

Giving an update on ATM machines being configured to dispense the new $100 bills, Darbasie said roughly half of all First Citizens ATMs were now dispensing the new notes.

She said the bank is continuing to work overnight to bring its other systems up to date.

By tomorrow, she said all in-branch ATMs would be dispensing the new bills and then the bank will begin working on other external ATMs.