Marshall Islands Correspondent

MAJURO, Marshall Islands — The first female bank CEO in the Marshall Islands has taken up the reins at Bank of Marshall Islands.

The change of command comes in the bank’s 40th year of operations, as the founding CEO and President Patrick Chen moved to the bank’s parent company, Marshall Islands Holdings Inc.

A new president and CEO, as well as a new vice president in charge of its Kwajalein operations were named by the board.

The move happened on the first business day of 2022, with Velma Edwards assuming the title of Bank of Marshall Islands president and CEO, succeeding Chen, who is now president of Marshall Islands Holdings Inc.

Chen has been president and CEO of BOMI for 40 years since establishing the bank, which has grown to be the dominant bank in the country. Joining him in the move to MIHI is longtime BOMI Vice President for Kwajalein operations Hermai Makroro, who is now a senior vice president in charge overseeing subsidiary companies of MIHI.

Joining Edwards in a top management position is Mercina Wajar, who has been elevated to Makroro’s previous position as a vice president in charge of operations at Kwajalein Atoll. The bank operates a branch on Ebeye Island and one on the U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll missile testing range.

Former Vice President Hermai Makroro (left) and former CEO Patrick Chen (right) congratulate new Bank of Marshall Islands President and CEO Velma Edwards, (center). Both Chen and Makroro have moved to the bank’s parent company, Marshall Islands Holdings, Inc.
Photo by Giff Johnson

Both Chen and Makroro have worked for BOMI since 1982, when it was established.

“We’re not there anymore,” Chen said of this change. “But it’s in the family. BOMI comes under MIHI.”

Edwards has worked for the bank for 10 years and has been groomed by Chen for the past several years to move into the CEO post. She started as a commercial loan officer, working in the loan department for three years. After that, she moved to the compliance section of the bank that is concerned with ensuring the various operations of the bank follow Marshall Islands laws and banking rules as well as U.S. banking requirements, which have allowed the bank to maintain a long-term relationship with First Hawaiian Bank.

Edwards noted that a major focus for the compliance section of the bank is on anti-money laundering work. “People don’t realize it, but the bank invests a lot of time and money to make sure we are in compliance (with international anti-money laundering requirements),” she said. “We are updating things all the time to keep on top of it.”

Since returning to Majuro in March last year from an extended period in Hawaii due to the country’s Covid border lockdown, Edwards has been preparing for taking over the CEO position.

A priority for her in this new role is pursuing BOMI bank access to the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank to be able to independently clear checks into the U.S. banking system and to offer customers other services, such as Visa and Mastercard credit cards. Currently, BOMI relies entirely on First Hawaiian bank for clearing checks, wire transfers, MoneyGram and other essential operations of the bank.

Other options to gain access to the U.S. banking system include the Marshall Islands government either establishing a central bank — which would have a direct link to the US Federal Reserve — or establishing an account with the Federal Reserve. In either case, this would afford BOMI the access that it needs to expand services and customer options. mbj