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The wait is finally over — TBAS announces the arrival of debit cards and checkbooks

A sign inside the main lobby of the Territorial Bank of American Samoa at the Centennial Building in Utulei welcomes customers to the “People’s Bank”. TBAS has reached a new milestone in moving forward to providing full-fledged banking services to the community. [photo: FS]

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The Territorial Bank of American Samoa has reached a new milestone in its push to provide full banking services for the community, with checking account customers now able to order their checks — some of them have received their checkbooks already — and debit cards are now on island, after being hand-carried from the US.

“Some of our customers have already received their checkbooks while others are coming in to order their checks,” said TBAS chief operations officer, Makerita Polu, during a Samoa News interview late Monday afternoon, along with Bank president, Philip Ware.

The two bank officials revealed that more people are coming in to open personal accounts; however, due to the high volume of new accounts being opened, some customers have to wait.

“We’re very appreciative of our customers and we ask for your patience. When they come in to open an account, we can’t open them all within the time that we would like to open them because there are so many,” said Ware. “We will work diligently to have everybody’s account set up. We don’t like to make our customers wait and we are very grateful and appreciate your patience.”

The government-owned TBAS opened its doors on Oct. 3, 2016 and last December it was assigned a transiting routing number by the American Bankers Association. With the routing number, TBAS was able to start working — in February this year — on setting up its “master account” with the Federal Reserve.

Early last month, TBAS confirmed during a news conference that it has opened a Master Account with the Federal Reserve Bank, San Francisco. With this account, TBAS can access the US payment system used by US financial institutions.

At the time, TBAS was awaiting for the Federal Reserve to give the final “green light”, which is activating the account — allowing the bank to start accessing the payment system and implementing new banking services such offering checkbooks to current consumer accounts on the checking side, business accounts, and ACH (Automated Clearing House) service, which is an electronic network for financial transactions in the United States.

During the Samoa News interview Monday, both Ware and Polu confirmed that the final OK from the feds was granted at the latter part of last month (April) prompting the bank to move forward with expanding its services to include checkbooks for current consumer accounts on the checking side.

Polu said some of the bank’s customers have ordered and received their checkbooks and more customers have ordered their checks. For new checking accounts, customers are ordering checks the same time they open their accounts.

“Some customers who received their checkbooks showed me their checkbooks,” said Ware, who arrived last Friday from the US following several meetings with federal officials and others regarding local banking services.

Ware hand carried with him the new debit cards for TBAS customers. “It would have taken 10 to 12 weeks if the cards were to have been sent through the mail to get here, but debit cards are now on island,” he said, adding that special arrangements were made with the local Customs Office as well as the US Transportation Security Administration — which handles security at US airports — for him to hand-carry the debit cards.

Polu said the bank is currently working on activating the debit cards and the process is expected to be completed sometime next week, followed by an announcement from the bank, which will also provide its own point-of-sale (POS) terminals to local businesses.

She said the first POS machine arrived early this week and TBAS is conducting tests in-house, before sending them off to vendors. “We’ll have our own POS machines that we will be rolling out. We have applications for our POS machines from the business community,” Polu explained.

“Once we get a firm handle on the existing [banking] services we will start looking into the future for some additional services including commercial loans” and other banking services for businesses, said Ware, who added that the bank already has some commercial checking accounts.


TBAS is also working on adding new services to its online banking platform. Currently, customers with personal accounts are able to do “internal” transfers — money transferred from one account to another (savings and checking) or to pay a TBAS loan online.

“Within a few days we will be completing the process of transferring to ‘external accounts’, in which a TBAS customer can transfer funds to another [outside] financial institution,” said Polu, noting that TBAS customers will also be able to transfer from an external bank to a TBAS account.

"We haven’t gotten the business platform on ACH for online banking just yet. Maybe in a couple of months, we’ll be able to do that, and also have businesses do payroll on ACH,” she said. “We will continue to add more services to our online banking platform.”

Ware acknowledged that this is a great achievement for the bank in moving forward to providing the best banking services to the community.

“We did it. We did it,” Ware declared and credited Polu for the hard work in reaching this milestone in the bank’s short-history.

“I want to say that we could not have done it without Makerita. She made it work here and I made it work from the US,” said Ware as he and Polu together commended the hard work by the TBAS management and staff.

Both Ware and Polu also expressed sincere appreciation and a “big fa’amalo” to the many people who helped make this a reality.

“Thank you for your support and patience,” was the message from the bank officials to the community.

“I am working very very hard to get good banking services down here on the island. I am committed to doing this and I’ll continue to do this,” Ware added.

Read tomorrow’s edition for details on how TBAS has attracted attention from other jurisdictions in the US, including those in Europe.