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American Samoa turns to Internet for banking

Fili Sagapolutele, Associated Press

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (AP) -- American Samoa is opening accounts with Utah-based Zions Bank over the Internet now that Bank of Hawaii is shutting down its operations in the U.S. territory.

Zions doesn't plan to open a physical branch in American Samoa but instead will handle the U.S. territory's banking needs online.

American Samoa Treasurer Falemao "Phil" M. Pili has been working with Zions since March to move 26 government accounts to the new bank. The shift becomes effective on Tuesday, the start of the new fiscal year.

Zions says it's focusing on serving the government at this point but is looking to expend its service to American Samoa individuals and businesses.

The government will use a scanner provided by Zions to deposit checks. It's also encouraging employees to get their paycheck with direct deposit, Pili said.

The government is "excited" about using the Zions commercial card which provides rebates. Pili said.

Jacob Heugly, Zions executive vice president of corporate services, said the bank gives back to card users a percentage of what they spend depending on how quickly vendors pay the bank.

Pili said American Samoa doesn't currently get this service from Bank of Hawaii.

"That in its self is a huge savings for us because the amount of purchases going out to the different vendors is a couple of hundred millions a year from just the government alone," Pili said.

Bank of Hawaii said last year it had become increasingly difficult to deliver an appropriate level of service to American Samoa because of the territory's geographic isolation from its other markets.

The Honolulu-based bank's exit leaves ANZ Bank, which is owned by Australia New Zealand Banking Group, as the only bank in American Samoa.

At first Bank of Hawaii was going to shut down its two branches this year. It later agreed to keep one branch open until March 2014 while local government officials tried to set up a replacement.

Last week, the Community Bank of American Samoa applied to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to set up a new bank and receive federal deposit insurance. It aims to operate two branches.

Chairman Avamua Dave Haleck said about 50 founding investors have expressed interest in investing $8 million in the bank. Spokesman Lewis Wolman said the founding investors either live in American Samoa or operate businesses in the territory.