American Samoa’s journey: when your Hail Mary is a bank shot

American Samoa

American Samoa. Photo by Dr. Matt Kendall/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

 

The American Samoa Public Bank story continues to fascinate journalists, resulting in some excellent articles, the latest from Andrew Van Dam in the Washington Post:

“It would be an oversimplification to trace all the islands’ woes to a lack of credit and banking services, but it’s a convenient place to start.” …

“How do you operate an economy without a bank?” asked Phil Ware.

When [consultant] Drew Roberts first arrived in the territory and drove past an ANZ branch, he saw cars parked at the drive-through and a line of customers stretching far out the door.

“The first thing we thought was that it was a run on the bank,” Roberts said.  Only it wasn’t an old-school bank run. It was just payday, when everybody scrambled to turn their paychecks into cash before the bank ran out of bills.

American Samoans, Roberts and Ware found, had no access to credit cards, loans or the other financial tools that other Americans take for granted. Islanders living on the mainland faced wire-transfer fees over $150 to send money home.

When Ware agreed to become the first chief executive of the Territorial Bank of American Samoa, he thought it would be a “piece of cake.”

“I had no idea,” he says now.

[Read the full article]

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