Curtis Dickinson, the Wall Street investment banker who transitioned to Bermuda politics
Curtis Dickinson, a career banker who transitioned to politics in 2018, brought substantial private sector experience, particularly overseas, to his career as finance minister under the Progressive Labour Party.
One of his top roles as minister was using that background for the restructuring of Bermuda’s debts.
Mr Dickinson came to the island’s private sector in 2006 after 14 years in the financial services industry in the US and the UK, including Wall Street.
He spent nearly 12 years at Butterfield Bank, starting as senior Vice President of corporate management.
News of Mr Dickinson’s resignation as minister fell less than four years after he was unveiled as the PLP’s candidate in the June 7, 2018 by-election for Warwick North East.
Mr Dickinson won the seat against One Bermuda Alliance candidate Justin Mathias with 375 votes to 300.
Speaking on the night of the victory, Mr Dickinson did not rule out a Cabinet position but said: “I am here to serve, and serve as best as I possibly can.
“I will leave to the Premier to decide what form that service takes.”
Sworn in as finance minister on November 1, 2018, Mr Dickinson highlighted his top jobs.
“The Budget is next on the agenda,” he told The Royal Gazette. “I am looking at the economic substance issues around the European Union which is topical, and I’m looking at the debt situation. Those are the three biggest priorities.”
Mr Dickinson was also handed responsibility for the casino gambling industry later that month.
David Burt, the Premier, took over handling the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission in June 2020.
Mr Dickinson’s public service before political life included a stint as chairman of the Bermuda Hospitals Board, where he stepped down in 2019.
Mr Dickinson was also appointed chairman of the education board in 2012.
In a candid 2018 interview, he shared with the Gazette the impact of his humble background.
The father of three came from a North Hamilton childhood in a single parent, working-class home.
He recalled: “I was aware of how tough it was, but in other ways we never wanted for anything”.
“We were presentable, we were clothed well and my sister’s hair was neat. You would never have known that our mother was struggling to hold it together.”
Mr Dickinson credited his work ethic and commitment to higher education to his mother’s example. Avoiding college was “never an option”.
He studied finance before moving on to business school, followed by the executive world of New York.
Mr Dickinson said his tough childhood left him with “a fire in the belly” to get ahead and serve others.
He was executive vice-president and head of private banking at Butterfield when he made the switch to politics.
An early bombshell for Mr Dickinson as minister was the failed Caroline Bay resort development at Morgan’s Point, which was backed by a $165 million government guarantee committed by the OBA.
In September 2019, the loan – which Mr Dickinson had warned was a potential liability for taxpayers – was called in by investors.
Mr Dickinson negotiated bank loans to pay $165 million back to the lenders.
It also meant he had to raise Bermuda’s debt ceiling by $250 million.
The advent of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020 posed further challenges, including drafting a novel unemployment benefits scheme from within the Government, with help from the private sector, to provide millions in emergency cash to those put out of work by the pandemic.
Mr Dickinson’s contacts and experience overseas came into play from early in his ministerial career as he led the refinancing of Bermuda’s debt.
In June 2020 Mr Dickinson returned to the capital markets to refinance more loans with longer-term debt.
The restructure entailed buying back hundreds of millions’ worth of the Government’s bonds from investors, and selling new debt.
Dealing with the closure of the Fairmont Southampton Hotel, and negotiations with its owners, Gencom, featured prominently in Mr Dickinson’s work after the resort closed in October 2020.
The resort owners were left with $11 million in redundancy payments to hundreds of laid-off workers – which Mr Dickinson had to authorise in November 2020 using the Government’s funds.
The move took flak from the Opposition, but Mr Dickinson framed it as a moral obligation on the Government’s part.
He said in the aftermath: “Action was required, and the Government of Bermuda decided that it was unacceptable to allow this situation to continue unaddressed.”
He confirmed in February 2021 that Gencom had repaid the public purse.
Mr Dickinson switched constituencies for the 2020 General Election, running in the seat formerly held by PLP MP Rolfe Commissiong: Pembroke South East.
On October 1 he took 432 votes against 125 for Gavin Smith, the Free Democratic Movement contender.
A PLP insider said at the time the party was “determined” for Mr Dickinson to keep his seat.
Mr Dickinson’s resignation comes just ahead of the delivery on February 25 of the 2022-23 budget. Last December he warned of “serious choices” ahead for the country, with more debt refinancing to come.
Mr Dickinson has also emphasised he would stick to a budget deficit target of $124.7 million, with government reforms and a tight rein on capital spending.