BY MAUREEN N. MARATITA
All banks in the Mariana Islands are occupied with COVID-related issues, but John Z. Arroyo, president and CEO of Bank of Saipan, has an extra project in hand.
The bank is almost ready to open its new headquarters and branch on Beach Road. “The plan is to complete construction by November,” Arroyo said.
He anticipates staff will move into the building in late November or December.
The land is owned by the JCA group and is at the site of former duty-free business, Hakubotan. The building has been redesigned by Architect Samuel McPhetres of GUMA Architects LLC and is being rebuilt by RNV Construction.
Arroyo told the Journal it was time for the bank to take a step forward and the new property will have several advantages.
It offers potential for growth, Arroyo said. “[It is] a big enough space so that over the next 10 years or so we can comfortably move in and fill out the space.” The bank has grown through the years as Saipan developed. “There’s still a lot of potential for growth,” he said.
Bank of Saipan will occupy 9,400 square feet of the building — about half of the space, Arroyo said. “It is central and it’s got great visibility.” He said while the site offers more parking than the bank’s previous location, “It’s more than we need. … The rest of the building eventually will be leased [out].”
The investment in the future will come with a significant price tag. “It’s about $3 million,” he said.
Arroyo said he believes the move and the building will accelerate growth and draw new business.
“It’s going to be unique.” The re-design will give the building a more attractive façade and a more positive experience for bank staff and clients.
“It basically had no windows on it on the bottom floor and was pretty much a concrete pill box.” The new design allows external light into the building and most dividing walls within will be glass to further allow light within the building, Arroyo said.
The building will add to Beach Road, he said. “That was one of the main buildings on Beach Road,” Arroyo said. “We have taken something that was an eyesore and turned it into something attractive and definitely usable and reclaimed that space on a major thoroughfare.”
The new headquarters may soon be even more visible to the community. “The sign is coming soon and should arrive on island within the next couple of weeks,” Arroyo said.
Bank of Saipan is also planning to introduce debit or credit cards by the end of the year, with accompanying merchant services. “We’re in discussions with several networks,” he said.
The move has prompted fresh branding, he said, which will be unveiled as the building opens. “The old logo is going to change,” he said.
As part of its community service, Arroyo said, the bank will also be introducing a financial literacy program, beginning with younger children.” He said that will “introduce the concept of money and making wise decisions on spending and saving.”
Bank of Saipan has three personnel in both its Rota and Tinian branches, with 10 personnel in its Garapan branch and 12 in its temporary administration office in the RJ Building in Dandan.
The bank is moving as terms to renegotiate the lease with its landlord at its former headquarters and branch in Chalan Kanoa “were not acceptable,” Arroyo said. He said the landlord was also renovating the building. The board decided the move was beneficial, he said.
As to general operations in its branches, the bank is operating with the ongoing restrictions of COVID-19, and guidelines for protecting its employees, as well as customers — who understand the necessity, he said. “All of those measures are still in place. We still practice all those guidelines — wearing masks in the office, clear shields between us and our customers; limiting the number of individuals that are allowed into the branch.”
Clients have different approaches to cash and coinage in circulation, he said. “Some of our commercial customers — retail operations and grocery stores … they do need change.” Arroyo said such clients keep cash in reserve. “They tend to hold on to it, especially the ones who cash their customers checks.”
All banks in Saipan and the Northern Mariana Islands have the same challenges, Arroyo said. “We need to get cash on-island; it’s not the easiest thing to do. … We shop for cash among ourselves. Whatever available cash we have, we’re happy to sell to our counterparts.”
As to Pandemic Unemployment assistance customers receive, he said, “They tend to pull that whole payment right out.”
Customers continue to bear debt, he said. “A lot of them are still asking for payment relief.”
Some people and businesses are holding cash or funds, Arroyo said. “We’re offering some very good CD rates to try and attract that money to the bank. That has had some success.” By and large, he said, particularly with businesses, “They tend to want to pull back on moving money; they are not sure down the road what their cash flows might be. Until there’s some kind of assurance, I think money is staying where it’s at.”
All banks are encouraging on-line transactions, and Bank of Saipan is no different. Arroyo said holding cash may speak to a comfort level in troubling times, so that cash is readily available. “We try to do the same thing, but there are still a lot of people who want to walk out of the bank with cash in their pockets.” mbj