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Bank of Hawaii to delay closure in American Samoa

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (AP) -- The governor of American Samoa says Bank of Hawaii will delay the closure one of its two branches in the territory for 90 days, delaying a plan that was set to take effect next week and would leave the island with just one bank.

American Samoa Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga said he met last week in Honolulu with Bank of Hawaii CEO Peter Ho to ask for a one-year delay in closing the branches. Moliga said Tuesday that Ho told him the deal was done, but Ho called this week to say one of the two branches would delay closing.

The bank announced its plans in November and had planned to close the locations March 15.

The closures will leave ANZ Bank, owned by Australia New Zealand Banking Group, as the only bank in American Samoa. Moliga and others want a second bank chartered in the United States to open in the territory.

A separate group of local business people and residents is trying to start a community bank to take Bank of Hawaii's place, but it needs approval from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Avamua Dave Haleck, interim board chairman for Community Bank of Amerika Samoa, said the bank needs to raise at least $10 million in equity capital to meet FDIC regulations. The bank's founders have raised nearly $5 million so far and have about 20 letters of intent to invest in the bank, Haleck said.

Community Bank CEO Gary Ayre said the group is filing its official FDIC application this month, with several meetings to follow. He said it will take a couple months to get approval.

"This is a territory that cannot live — I believe — well with one bank. It needs two banks," Ayre said.

Ayre said the group negotiated but failed to make a deal with Bank of Hawaii to take over its local operations.

The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco plans to hold a public meeting next week to discuss options for banking services in the territory. The meeting was set up in response to public comments received by the Federal Reserve about the closures.

American Samoa's nonvoting delegate to the U.S. House, Eni Faleomavaega, helped organize the meeting. He wrote a letter of support to the FDIC in support of Community Bank.

"It is critical to have another bank in American Samoa in order to create a competitive market that would provide consumers in a low-income community with affordable banking, provide access to capital for small businesses, attract investment opportunities and provide necessary services," Faleomavaega said in his letter.