By Bea Cabrera
Bank of Saipan opens new location after surviving the Covid pandemic
Saipan-- Recovering from the impact of Covid-19, the Bank of Saipan has opened its new location on Beach Road, where it unveiled a modern design that breathes new life into the business.
Established in 1978, the Bank of Saipan is a locally chartered institution, which is considered a pillar of the CNMI's banking industry.
John Z. Arroyo, the bank's president and CEO, said the Bank of Saipan operates only in the CNMI, which gives it an advantage over larger competitor banks.
“We are local and that means the decisions are made here. We don’t have to go to Guam or Hawaii or anywhere," Arroyo said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday. "With big banks, the hierarchy is too much sometimes because you need to go up levels and levels before you finally get a decision."
The exclusively local operation, Arroyo said, allows "ease of banking, rapid decisions, expanding products and services."
"They all get made in my office. We deal with clients personally," Arroyo said. "Over the years we have established a personal relationship with our clients which matches the culture in the CNMI."
Currently, the Bank of Saipan maintains two branches on Saipan and one each on Tinian and Rota. The bank currently has 25 employees.
Arroyo said relocating the bank from Chalan Kanoa into the Hakubotan building, formerly a Japanese shopping center on Beach Road, was not easy.
“We opened in Chalan Kanoa because the garment industry, which then was still in full swing, was situated there. When that industry died down, we stayed on but we realized it was getting harder for our clients to come to the bank due to parking issues," Arroyo said.
He also said the space limitations provided no room for remodeling.
"When our lease expired, we thought it was time to move on. We looked at several places and this one on Beach Road made sense because it has great parking. It was big enough for us to expand in the next 10 to 20 years. So there is still enough space for us to grow," Arroyo said.
The Hakubotan building used to be a dilapidated and abandoned structure.
"Rather than to go and disrupt pristine forest, an area that had never been built on before, destroy the trees the ground. So this building is perfect for us,” he added.
The new Bank of Saipan has three floors for different functions and transactions.
The bank's new logo is outlined with vibrant orange color, resembling the letter "s" at first glance. It is designed to appeal to the younger market
“The new logo symbolizes three things that are significant to the bank: first, it is a shield that provides financial protection all over the islands. It is a latte stone that is a true symbol of the Marianas culture, and lastly, it is a fishhook, a tool used to catch fish and for us, it is a tool for financial sustenance,” Arroyo said.
“As for services, we are upping our game by bringing in teller pods, which are meant for efficiency of banking transactions. EaSi Banking and EaSi Mobile enable clients to manage accounts from anywhere with the use of their laptops or phones and Easi Business where they can do bank transactions anytime and anywhere,” he added.
The Bank of Saipan was not immune to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Arroyo said the pandemic affected both the bank and its clients. The bank lost a number of customers when some businesses shut down. The bank had to streamline its operations.
"It was tough on our customers to get loans. There were some people asking for loans but to cover emergency needs and we accommodated them as much as we could," Arroyo said. "Then came the furloughs, the reduced hours and the layoffs that it became (riskier) for us to continue making loans to people who didn't have a way to pay off the loans.”
Arroyo said he had learned early on in his career as a lender that declining clients does them more favor than giving them loans for which they qualify.
"If you do (give them loans), you are just helping them dig a grave for them," he added. "It's better to be just truthful and honest and say, 'look, right now you can't do it but maybe, later on, you can when things change,'” Arroyo added.
Board chair Jose "Joe" Ayuyu noted that the bank has gone through an interesting journey from its relocation, super typhoons and the pandemic.
“We have gone through a lot of difficult times but that’s what life is all about. There’s going to be good times and bad times," Ayuyu said in his opening remarks. "There are other banks on island that are bigger than us but we serve a small community that needs us-- customers that probably cannot qualify for loans from big banks. We know we are small but this is why we have a place in the community.”