Bank of Hawaii plans to close its American Samoa branches in less than a month. While this may not sound relevant to you and me here in Hawaii, it is. Our Pacific Islands are being isolated, basic infrastructure undermined and our families are losing ground. Bank of Hawaii has provided a secure, full-service American-owned banking option for Samoan families and we urge them to keep their American Samoa branches open.

I grew up in Samoa, an unincorporated territory of the United States. I have family there and I maintain close connections to the island.

Bank of Hawaii is one of the few institutions that provides continuity between American Samoa and Hawaii. Bank of Hawaii is the only American-owned FDIC insured bank in all of American Samoa and thousands of families, small businesses and active military depend on it for safe and secure transactions.

I had the honor of helping lead a large interfaith service on APEC in the fall of 2011 where we heard from clergy from around the Pacific Basin: American Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti, Fiji, and Tokelau. We were all from different islands with different histories and cultures, but much of our current plight is the same. Decisions are being made for us that set us back, create new and unwanted barriers to economic self-sufficiency and complicate the development of these islands.

Bank of Hawaii’s announcement that they will close all its branches in American Samoa on March 15 of this year is yet another set back. Bank of Hawaii is the largest deposit-holder in American Samoa with $97 million in deposits. Those families, U.S. military members and small businesses who currently have their accounts at Bank of Hawaii will all be affected by these closures, as will the Samoan families in Hawaii that depend on those branches to send money home. Less FDIC approved banking options in Samoa means more families having to turn
to Pay Day Lenders and Western Union transactions, with high fees and no interest-bearing accounts.

Once Bank of Hawaii has closed its branches March 15, families in Samoa will have no American-owned FDIC insured banking options. Families in American Samoa and Hawaii are already confused and concerned about the branch closings. If we have deposited $97 million through the American Samoa branches, how can the bank not be profitable? For families in American Samoa who have loans through the bank, will there be anyone left to answer questions, address discrepancies, etc.

American Samoa has the 6th highest per capita military recruitment rate of all U.S. states and territories and Bank of Hawaii provides the best way for our service men and women to maintain their accounts and loans, and share funds with their families. Students from American Samoa who attend college in Hawaii have also learned to depend on Bank of Hawaii.

There have been mentions of credit unions or other financial institutions opening on the island some time in the future, but none of those options will provide the connections our families have with Hawaii through Bank of Hawaii. The East West Center has reported that First Hawaiian Bank may be interested in opening branches in American Samoa, but there are no agreements or guarantees that will happen. And if First Hawaiian Bank sees American Samoa as a good investment, why can’t it be a good investment for Bank of Hawaii?

Many of us are calling on Bank of Hawaii to maintain its branches in American Samoa. We are also attempting to enlist the Federal Reserve to weigh in on theses branch closings. Bank of Hawaii is too important to our American Samoa families to lose. Without Bank of Hawaii, many of our families will turn to Pay Day lenders. We value the services that Bank of Hawaii has provided over the years and hope that they will value our families enough to maintain their branches in our communities.

About the author: Reverend Piula Alailima is the Senior Pastor at Wesley United Methodist Church in Kahala. Rev. Alailima is also active with Faith Action for Community Equity.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. We do not solicit particular items and we rarely turn down submissions. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Columns generally run about 800 words (yes, they can be shorter or longer) and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to