|The Bahamas Investor Magazine
September 1, 2019
September 1, 2019
A career in banking was not top of mind for Deltec Bank & Trust chief executive officer Odetta Morton when she entered university at age 16. Morton’s earliest ambitions involved becoming a paediatrician, but the best-laid plans often buckle in the presence of weightier interests. In Morton’s case, it was an internship in the finance department of a local company in her hometown of Freeport, Grand Bahama in the summer following her sophomore year that shifted the budding physician’s passion to finance, and ultimately earned her a spot on a short and distinguished list of Bahamian female banking chief executive officers.
Taking the helm at Deltec Bank & Trust Ltd on April 1, 2019, Morton assumed responsibility for the flagship company of the Deltec International Group (DIG). Headquartered in The Bahamas, DIG is a diversified independent financial services group, providing through its member companies a range of private banking and fiduciary expertise, fund administration, investment management, digital asset financial services, insurance solutions, and corporate and merchant banking capabilities.
Building on this foundation, Morton is concentrating on taking the bank to the next level. “I’m focused on the business strategy for the continued differentiation and growth of Deltec Bank,” she says. “The priority is to leverage our strengths as we continue to invest significantly in digital and innovation strategies to deliver more value to our clients.”
At the beginning of her career, Morton landed a job as an associate in the Atlanta office of Lindquist Avey, a forensic accounting firm later acquired by global financial intelligence, investigations and advisory firm Kroll. It was here that she received the foundational training in forensic accounting (specifically cases involving money laundering) and due diligence that would anchor her balanced approach to financial services.
“The world of forensic accounting provided me with a solid foundation, particularly enabling me to sharpen my analytical approach, which has served me well during the course of my career.”
After three successful years in Atlanta, Morton decided to return to The Bahamas.
“I figured ‘your gifts will make room for you.’ I appreciate that there are tonnes of opportunities in the US, but I believe in The Bahamas and I felt like I could achieve great things if I came home. I didn’t feel as though I was doing a disservice to my career by moving back.”
Her parents, both local church pastors, gave her the solid foundation to which she attributes much of her success, and remain her closest confidantes and mentors.
“My dad is my voice of wisdom. I call him up a lot for advice. And who better to give me advice than him? He knows me best,” she says.
She adds that although they are traditional in many ways, they raised her to know that she had no limitations, and to think outside the box. In fact, she said they supported whatever path she chose. She returned home to take a role in the Audit and Assurance department of Deloitte where she qualified as a Certified Public Accountant and continued to work closely with financial services clients.
Morton had been with Deloitte for three years when the position of assistant financial controller at Deltec, then still a relatively small private boutique bank, became available, and she was offered the role.
A few years after joining the bank she was promoted to chief accountant and then six years later, she took on the added responsibility of chief financial officer of Deltec Bank & Trust and later, CFO of DIG.
In April this year, she was tapped to become Deltec Bank & Trust’s CEO.
When she was approached with the opportunity to take on that demanding position, the wife and mother of a two-year-old felt it was an incredible opportunity but acknowledges that she momentarily struggled when considering work-life balance.
“I knew I had in Deltec a company that is like none other in our space, and I knew we had extraordinary talent that extends across our organization; our success has always been because of the people who work individually and collectively to drive Deltec’s accomplishments. I would have their support and the opportunity to navigate Deltec through one of the most interesting times in financial services history. How could I turn it down?”
Not your traditional private bank
The fact that she clearly loves Deltec made that decision even easier to make. When Morton started at the bank in 2003 it had a team of 27 people and approximately $1 billion in assets under management and administration. Today, The Bahamas-headquartered company has 162 employees and group wide assets under management/ administration/ custody stands at $12 billion.
Morton says most of that growth was a result of a strategic decision in the past six to seven years to shift the bank’s business model from a well-run operation with minimal growth ambitions, to embracing a real plan to grow the business. Growth occurred initially through the development of a number of strategic relationships, and was accelerated by the acquisition in 2016 of The Bahamas’ private banking activity of Société Generale Private Banking and resultant expansion of its service offering to corporate clientele. The acquisition marked a significant milestone in the implementation of Deltec’s ongoing global diversification strategy, which was firmly anchored by its private banking presence in The Bahamas.
“I like to think of us as ‘not just your traditional private bank’,” she says. “A bank can get stuck offering middle-of-the-road solutions that aren’t very inspiring to today’s clientele. Clients want something smarter, a bank built for the future rather than one trying to squeeze more out of
Morton says that this philosophy extends to all areas of the business and she coaches her team to be different and think differently. “Disruption is rapidly impacting the financial services industry across the globe, and Deltec is nimble enough to adapt and ensure that the bank can thrive in the face of this paradigm shift. Change is inevitable but it also presents exciting new opportunities. We have to be different. We have to be innovators. And that is Deltec’s spirit. We have a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship.”
You need only look to Deltec Bank and DIG chairman Jean Chalopin to understand why the company might approach things in such a unique way.
He was the creative force behind some of the biggest names in Saturday morning television cartoons between the mid-1980s and early 1990s. Inspector Gadget, The Care Bears, The Littles and Dennis the Menace are just some of the characters he made famous as a writer and/or producer.
“Jean is a visionary. So again, he’s not your traditional banker,” says Morton. “What sets him apart is that he is also an entrepreneur. In an environment that is experiencing such a dramatic shift, it helps to have a chairman who challenges us to be forward-thinking. We have a great partnership. Jean thinks outside the box and appreciates the concept of positive disruption that is driving the financial industry right now. He also gives me and my executive team the freedom to weigh, assess and analyse his ideas and translate them within a banking framework so that they make sense for the bank.”
Morton recently replaced Chalopin as CEO so he could devote more time to the broader vision and strategy for the group’s development. Chalopin, the architect of the modern Deltec, has spearheaded the group’s recent expansion into new and emerging businesses, including digital asset financial services, merchant banking and insurance, and is the driver of the group’s technology roadmap.
Deltec is evolving into a Fintech friendly bank whose spirit of innovation is grounded by sound principles of risk management, client service and a belief in people as one of its strongest assets. Morton says it is the focus on technology in particular that helps them stand apart and stay ahead of trends.
“We are squarely entrenched in a digital age and in order to meet the needs of multiple generations and geographies represented among our client base, we have to make sure that our tools and processes are driven by technologies that mimic the ‘mobile-first’ efficiencies that our clients are accustomed to in their everyday lives. As an organization, agility is key for us as we evolve,” she explains.
“The financial services sector is also facing a rapidly changing regulatory environment. Deltec has responded with a heavy investment in regtech platforms. We are also investing capital to ensure that we give full consideration to the place that disruptive AI and other technologies have in enhancing AML-related risk management, governance and controls, and client experience.”
Committed to The Bahamas
Deltec has been headquartered in The Bahamas since 1959 and Morton says there are no plans to move.
“We are committed to The Bahamas. We are here to stay. We’re a private bank breaking with convention in that we want to build our headquarters here and develop our talent pool locally,” she says.
At the Deltec Annual Conference held in Nassau in March, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest pledged the government’s focus to ensure the jurisdiction can support the more technological advances that are required for ongoing financial services success.
“For us, this is not a choice; this is an imperative. We are an international financial services centre and Fintech is one of the fastest growing and innovating industries,” he said.
Morton is optimistic. “There truly is no alternative. We must embrace the rapidly changing landscape and position ourselves as a jurisdiction to capitalize on this evolution.”
Deltec’s commitment to The Bahamas spills out of the boardroom and into the community. Its corporate social responsibility programme, directed through the Deltec Initiatives Foundation, was designed to foster an environment that empowers young Bahamians to drive positive social impact through the power of arts, entrepreneurship and education.
Since 2013, the foundation has discovered, launched and mentored many talented, motivated and driven Bahamian artists, artisans and entrepreneurs. The Deltec Initiatives Foundation comprises three pillars: The Initiative for the Arts, The Initiative for Young Entrepreneurs and The Initiative for Scholarship & Education. Morton also serves as a director of the Foundation on a volunteer basis.