From humble beginnings, legacy of hard work and not forgetting the poor
The opening of the Samoa Commercial Bank’s new $14.3million headquarters on Beach Road, amidst a time of crises, is unmistakably brave.
In the uncertain environment of today where economic prospects are bleak with forecasts only predicting tougher times on the horizon for businesses and everyone, it takes faith, confidence and courage to do something as daring as funding the construction of a multi-million-development.
Which is precisely what Patron, Agamalu Westerlund, Managing Director, Lemalu Ray Ah Liki, and the Samoa Commercial Bank have done by persisting on a big building project in a season where other businesses would prefer to just ride out the storm so to speak.
In doing so, the bank has redefined the way businesses can respond to the tough times – if they choose to emulate - as well as the landscape of the Apia Township. The S.C.B. building is the first of many buildings being planned on that stretch of road once occupied by the old bus terminal and the market. What stands there today is a snapshot of modern Apia that will continue to transform over the next few years as new buildings take over the old.
The new project though represents something far more than just a building. It is the latest step of a journey not just for the people involved but also for this nation.
We don’t have to remind our readers today just how difficult times have been. You would agree with us that Samoa has and continues to journey through a period of time defined by pain, unimaginable losses and tears. It’s likely to get considerably worse before it gets better.
With the tragedy of the measles still lingering in memory, the coronavirus pandemic and economic impact on it has inflicted on each and every one of us; our collective faith is being tested like never before. Things we did not think were remotely possible have happened.
Areas of economic activity this nation – and many other countries - had pinned their hopes upon for prosperity and growth have been nullified by factors beyond anyone’s control. In an age of such advanced technology and so much intelligence in the world, it is inconceivable that something could cripple the global economy, cause so much strife and we can only accept the sad realisation there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.
Which is why we welcome the opportunity to celebrate and embrace success and positive developments, especially something that is born, bred and nurtured in Samoa for Samoans.
The story of the Samoa Commercial Bank is one such story. Their success is the continuation of a legacy started from such humble beginnings by the late Mani Westerlund and his wife, Agamalu, who toiled in plantation work to raise a family, one that included children who were nurtured to respect the value of hard work. Lemalu was among them and he made the bank one of his pet projects.
Opened in 2003 at the Methodist Arcade with an initial investment of $4.5million, 17 years later the bank has only grown from strength to strength with 12 branches nationwide, 141 employees and an asset base of more than $366 million.
But what’s truly commendable is the fact that despite the growth, S.C.B. has not forgotten subsistence farmers, the less fortunate, families and small businesses in the community by giving them easy access to financing that have cushioned the economic blows.
One such initiative launched a few years ago was the Small Development Loan Scheme for the Low Income Earners (S.D.L.S.). Lemalu was “partly” inspired by stories he’d read in the Samoa Observer’s “Village Voice” column which highlighted the daily struggles families were experiencing.
Said Lemalu at the time: “Yes, I saw in the paper that you’ve got this ‘Village Voice’ and I’ve noticed that there are people who want to develop their lands, so that they can improve their prospects with higher income, but then they do not have access to low cost finance, and also they don’t have a good cash flow.
“So we are putting this up for those families, who don’t have the cash flow to qualify for a loan. We are providing the security and we are making everything easy for them. We want these people to succeed and improve the living standards. This is their opportunity.”
This was just one of many ways the bank has helped the community over the years. There is a lot of talk about providing opportunities and an enabling environment for people to flourish and yet they are not given the means to do so.
In some cases, all people need is an opportunity, a small window they climb through and a little bit of a push to get them on their way. By taking a risk on lending to do this for the community, the Samoa Commercial Bank must be encouraged and commended, especially given the economic climate of today.
On Thursday evening at the opening of the bank’s headquarters, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, speaking on behalf of all Samoans, said: “I warmly congratulate Samoa Commercial Bank for its 17 years of service to Samoa.
“As Prime Minister, it is very encouraging to see a locally-owned bank developing successfully – but I would be even more proud when I see a Samoan-Owned bank expand their services into other countries…”
Well the challenge has been laid. But maybe that’s a challenge for another day. Let’s rejoice and celebrate the Beach Road project for now, one glorious step at a time, slowly but surely.
Have a peaceful Sunday Samoa, God bless!