New bank yet to get go-ahead

Friday June 05, 2015 Written by Published in Economy

THE BANK of the South Pacific (BSP) is yet to receive the green light from the local banking regulatory body to operate in the Cook Islands.

 

Regulator, the Financial Supervisory Commission’s deputy commissioner Louise Wittwer, said they were still assessing BSP’s application for a bank licence in the country.

In January this year, BSP acquired the services of banking operations of Westpac Banking Corporation (Westpac) in Cook Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Tonga for A $125 million ($133.5m).

“The usual standard application review procedures of the banking regulator are currently being undertaken,” Wittwer said.

Both Westpac and Bank South Pacific’s settlement of the sale agreement depended on both parties meeting all necessary regulatory approvals in the five Pacific nations, she said.

The commission was working towards providing a decision on Cook Islands licensing before the end of this month, she said.

“I am therefore not in a position to provide any indication of when this may occur as we, the Cook Islands Regulator, are just one of five approvals to be sought before Westpac operations would transfer to BSP.”

Westpac Pacific Head of Business Banking David Street confirmed an agreement had been signed by both Westpac and BSP. However, the sale was subject to necessary statutory, regulatory and third party approvals.

“There are dedicated Westpac and BSP teams working with all relevant regulators to ensure a successful and smooth sale with an anticipated completion by mid-2015. We are unable to confirm the exact date of completion until all approvals have been obtained,” Street said.

Before completion of the sale, Westpac would continue to own and manage banking operations in these countries and would continue to meet its customers’ banking needs, he said.

BSP had also offered all current Westpac Cook Islands employees ongoing employment, subject to completion of the sale, he said.

Responding to the concerns raised by some customers on possible changes to some services when BSP took over, Street said everything would remain as it was.

BSP had indicated they have no plans to make changes to current products and services apart from rebranding, retitling or added features.

“Westpac recognises and values that there are Cook Islands customers who hold Westpac accounts in Australia or New Zealand. “The way our customers currently access and operate their Westpac New Zealand and Westpac Australian-domiciled accounts will not change as a result of the proposed sale, and customers may continue to use and access them in the same way as they do today.” 

In an earlier interview with CI News, BSP chief executive officer Robin Fleming said  Westpac Cook Islands employees’ jobs would be safe and that most operations would stay exactly the same as they had been under Westpac. BSP would maintain the same fees as Westpac and would not increase them, he said. 

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