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UPDATE: BoH agrees to delay

Announcement comes during U.S. Federal Reserve Bank public meeting
fili@samoanews.com

Bank of Hawai’i has now agreed to American Samoa’s plea to extend its local operations for 12 months, allowing time for a full U.S. chartered bank to open its doors in the territory, while the locally based Community Bank of Amerika Samoa (IO) is hoping to be fully chartered within this time frame.
 
Lolo’s executive assistant Iulogologo Joseph Pereira said from Honolulu yesterday afternoon that BoH president and CEO, Peter S. Ho had contacted the governor Monday night seeking a meeting, which was then set for 9 a.m. yesterday.
 
The governor, along with Congressman Faleomavaega Eni attended the meeting with Ho and his key staff. At the meeting Ho informed the governor and Faleomavaega that BoH will extend its departure from the territory for 12-months.
 
BoH had initially announced an extension of 90-days from Mar. 15, saying that the Tafuna branch will close as scheduled, while the Utulei branch will remain open.
 
Supported by the Congressman, the governor’s initial appeal to BoH was for a 12-month delay from Mar. 15.
 
Iulogologo told Samoa News via telephone from Honolulu yesterday that the 12-month delay starts from this Mar. 15th, and that the delay will be for the Utulei branch only, while the Tafuna branch will close as planned.
 
“Governor Lolo wanted to make sure that there is a U.S. chartered bank still in the territory while seeking a U.S. replacement bank,” said Iulogologo in the brief interview.
 
During the meeting with BoH, the governor and Faleomavaega “expressed the appreciation of the people of American Samoa to Mr. Ho for his great sensitivity to our needs.” Ho’s staff “is developing the MOU to be reviewed by the governor defining the parameters guiding Bank of Hawaii's transitioning out seamlessly from the local market with the hope that a U.S. Bank will take its place,” said Iulogologo, in a media statement.
 
He also says that the governor expressed his deep gratitude to Faleomavaega “for lending solid support in advancing his efforts to compel the Bank of Hawaii to please provide sufficient time to accommodate local efforts connected with finding a U.S. replacement Bank.”
 
BoH’s extended stay in American Samoa was revealed by Lolo during his testimony before the public meeting in Honolulu organized by the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. 
 
The public meeting was heard in the territory via teleconference, which was set up at Sadie’s by the Sea and attended locally by some 20 people, including local BoH manager Hobbs Lowson, officials of the Community Bank (IO), the Chamber of Commerce chairman, and First Lady Cynthia Moliga, who watched from the audience.
 
American Samoa was disconnected twice during the teleconference, and it was during the governor's testimony, a brief interruption with static on the phone line made it difficult for those in attendance to clearly hear what was being said. It was at that time that Lolo was saying that BoH had agreed to delay its complete departure for 12 months.
 
In his remarks, Lolo said he wished “to acknowledge with appreciation the sensitivity and compassion shown by Mr. Peter S. Ho, evidenced by his decision and that of his Board of Directors to delay Bank of Hawaii’s departure from American Samoa for a maximum period of 12 months.”
 
“This decision certainly has lifted a heavy burden from my shoulders. It also demonstrates the spirit of aloha for which Hawai’i is well known around the world,” he said. “This generous and kind gesture will certainly help smooth what would have been a difficult transition.”
 
Lolo says he respects and honors BoH’s decision to leave the territory. “My humble plea was to delay its departure by 12 months to give me a fighting chance to realistically find a US replacement bank to serve the needs of Americans living in American Samoa,” he pointed out.
 
“I thank God for Mr. Peter Ho and the Board of Directors of the Bank of Hawaii for showing compassion and obvious demonstration of moral responsibility by generously deciding to extend its stay in American Samoa by 12 months,” he said. “I am humbly touched by this spirit of aloha and I am reassured that the interests of small Pacific communities do matter more than bottom lines.”
 
On behalf of the people of American Samoa and Faleomavaega, “I extend to you our most profound gratitude for granting us our humble request…,” he said.
 
Ho, a member of the Federal Reserve board, recalled that the notice about BoH’s closing local branches went out right after last Thanksgiving. “I think the transition was complicated by the fact that we had an outgoing gubernatorial administration” and the incoming Lolo administration, he said.
 
Ho further noted that he certainly understands the overwhelming task now faced by the new administration. He recalled his meeting with Lolo two Fridays ago wherein Lolo had laid out the reasons that the BoH departure would be “problematic for his community of American Samoa”.
 
At that meeting Lolo asked for a one-year extension and “we began discussion of a shorter period of time”, said Ho, who noted that it was early last week that he phoned Lolo in Honolulu putting forth the 90-day extension.
 
Also discussed during that phone conversation was BoH offering its assets in the territory to the American Samoa Government as part of BoH’s exit from the market, and further offering to help ASG expedite, or support any new operations replacing BoH, said Ho. He noted that other issues discussed were remittances from Samoan families in Hawai’i to their relatives here.
 
Ho then revealed a meeting earlier in the day with the governor, saying that “I am very confident that we will have a solution in place that will accommodate all parties involved.” He also noted that both Lolo and Faleomavaega had sought a 12 month extension.
 
Prior to testimony given by Ho and the governor, Faleomavega was the first to provide testimony, talking about the impact that BoH’s departure will have on American Samoa, especially that there will be only ANZ Amerika Samoa Bank on island. He reiterated that ANZ is a foreign owned bank, based in Australia.
 
Faleomavaega went on to point out that Samoan bank customers are different in that they prefer dealings face-to-face, instead of over the phone or via the internet. “In fact most residents do not have access” to internet for “online banking,” he said.
 
He also noted that since the 2009 earthquake and tsunami disaster along with the departure of one of the two tuna canneries, “American Samoa’s economy is… fragile”. Additionally, the Lolo administration took office in January this year and “inherited a government that was deeply in debt” and the new administration is in the process of making necessary budget changes.
 
“However, Bank of Hawai’i’s closure will directly and indirectly affect these changes,” he said and thanked Ho for the meeting earlier in the day. He said he is “very, very pleased” that all parties are able to “reach a satisfactory agreement on how we can best transition the needs of our people in American Samoa” with the assistance of Mr. Ho and BoH.
 
He said the meeting revealed “some positive results” but didn’t elaborate further.
 
See separate story in today’s edition on testimony given by Samoans here and in Honolulu during the public meeting, which completed by 11:30 a.m. yesterday, instead of the initial scheduled time of 2 p.m.



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