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Routing number in place, now TBAS works to set up master account

Territorial Bank of American Samoa president Philip Ware shares with reporters from local media the “Official Notice of Routing Number Assignment” issued to TBAS by the American Bankers Association, during an interview Wednesday. Ware plans to put the notice in a picture frame and display it in the bank’s lobby for all to see.  [photo: FS]
Before full banking service can be offered

Territorial Bank of American Samoa (TBAS) is now at work setting up its “master account” with the Federal Reserve Bank, after getting official confirmation last week that the bank is authorized to establish the account, which is the second step needed for the government owned bank to move forward with rolling out its services and products, says TBAS president Philip Ware.

It’s been more than a year since TBAS, which is not FDIC insured, opened its doors in American Samoa and the bank has worked many months with the Federal Reserve to obtain a transit routing number, which was assigned in December.

TBAS’s routing number was issued Dec. 26, 2017, according to an official notice to the bank from the American Bankers Association, which assigns the number.

During an interview at his TBAS office late Wednesday afternoon, Ware proudly showed reporters the notice, which has the actual routing number on it.

Also needed by TBAS is a master account with the Federal Reserve Bank, which has been working closely with TBAS to get things moving.

“The process is taking a lot longer than I expected and it’s not quite over yet for the bank,” Ware said, but quickly added, “last week we got confirmation that we will be given access to a master account at the Federal Reserve Bank.”

With the transiting routing number in place and now moving towards setting in place the master account, Ware said, “We have now made history in a couple of ways.”

He said, perhaps the biggest way is that “we are the first non-insured government owned bank in the US. The fed did that for us.”

He explained that individuals in the banking industry, such as himself, “understand the significance” of this achievement and “it is a big deal.”

“We’ve been functioning over a year now and just the mere fact that we’ve been functioning without a transit routing number and without a fed account, is amazing,” he noted.  “It’s a compliment to the staff and management of this place. And we have a good team.”

Ware didn’t give a timeline of when TBAS will be able to open the master account and get it in place, but he did say that TBAS is working with the Federal Reserve to get the master account open “and there are a few restrictions on us.”

He didn’t elaborate on the restrictions at this time but asked for the public’s patience as TBAS works with the feds “towards providing full banking service to the people of American Samoa.”

“Because we are in such a unique position, and we’re able to do everything, we do have a couple of restrictions that will be put on us by the Federal Reserve,” he pointed out. “So, I’m going to be very careful, in opening of the master account in such a way so that I don’t make a mistake.”

Utilizing his many years in the banking industry, Ware said, “I’m doing everything I possibly can for the people of American Samoa. And I am committed to doing that, and I will do that.”

He added: “I’m not doing this for my health, or for the money, or for the prestige. I’m doing this for the people of American Samoa. I get so involved in this, that I want it to work.”

Regarding future banking services, once the master account is in place, Ware said, “In order to manage the bank, TBAS is going to roll out products and services in a conservative manner, so as not to put itself in a position, whereby the fed has an opportunity to criticize us.”

He said, “So I’m going to be very conservative and very deliberate and roll these things out, as fast as I can without getting any criticism from the fed, [which] have done more than I thought for us.”

Ware didn’t have on hand the actual number of customers who have opened accounts with TBAS, but he noted that the bank is also offering its loan products, which have been in place for more than a year.

He also said there is a lot of support from the private sector including the Chamber of Commerce, with several of them wanting to open business checking accounts, but it can’t be done at this point until the master account is all set up.

He said TBAS is also working to reinstate its debit cards — for checking and savings — that were terminated late last year.

Ware returned to the territory Monday night following several meetings in the US, dealing with TBAS. The next day, he had several meetings including that with TBAS staff and management on the latest development with the routing number and master account, as well as other matters.

“We have an excellent staff and management at the bank,” said Ware. “They are great people.”