Castries, Saint Lucia, Thursday October 28, 2021:– 1st National Bank of Saint Lucia continues to make news headlines here for different reasons – from the vision of its original founders in 1938, to its recent acquisition of the sub-regional assets of an international bank and the sudden resignation of its Managing Director, both in 2021.
Now it may be banking on its founders’ 20th Century vision to soothe an early-21st Century headache it would have preferred not to have in its 82nd year.
The seven original founders of the island’s oldest commercial bank were just last weekend praised by another long-lasting local institution, The Voice newspaper.
In an October 23, 2021 editorial entitled Saluting 1st National Bank and Its Founders, it recalled “the determination, foresightedness and bravery of seven young men” (who were) “willing to put what they possess on the line in establishing the bank, knowing full well that they could lose it all.”
The Voice described it as “an act worthy of admiration and praise” that “should foster within Saint Lucians a desire to be not just followers but trail blazers.”
It also described it as “an act that should frequently be brought-up in schools as we prepare our children to become the leaders of tomorrow.”
Indeed, few Saint Lucians today will readily name the bank’s original founders: Clive Beaubrun, J.Q. Charles, Joseph ‘Joe’ Devaux, Allen M. Lewis, J.B.D. Osborne, George Palmer and John B. Pilgrim.
Too many – especially those born after Independence in 1979 — hardly-know of The Saint Lucia Cooperative Bank Ltd. that The Magnificent Seven established in 1938, which gave birth to the 1st National Bank of Saint Lucia 66 years later; or that they together invested the $50,000 that created the island’s first indigenous bank.
The Cooperative Bank got its nickname “Penny Bank” from giving poor, working class Saint Lucians — who couldn’t afford what it took to open a bank account at Barclays Bank (DCO) and the other international banks here back then — the opportunity to do so with “one penny” (two cents).
It was also a reliable financial bulwark for Castries during World War II (1939-45), which started one year after it was born and lasted six years.
Indeed, it was the St. Lucia Cooperative Bank that was renamed 1st National Bank 16 years ago (in 2005).
Just days before the Voice editorial’s rightful praise of its bright beginnings, 1st National Bank was in the news for an uncomfortable reason: the sudden resignation (on October 19) of its Managing Director Johnathan Johanness.
In the absence of any official word of confirmation or denial, however, the Social Media rumor mill took-on news spins of its own.
Johanness didn’t (and still hasn’t) confirmed his resignation, but his Facebook Page, on October 19, carried the following quote from Tene Edwards:
“KNOW YOUR WORTH. You must find the courage to leave the table if respect is no longer being served.”
The quote, which coincided with the date of his surprise resignation, was not the ex-MD’s own words. But the obviously-loaded quotation naturally led to hundreds of responses.
The rumor mill has continued spilling this past week, with speculation about his resignation relating to 71 days outstanding leave the MD had accumulated over time.
Among the commentators on Johannes’ Facebook Account are ex-bankers and commercial operators, retired Public Officers, trade unionists, pensioners and others with some historical or current contact with him or the bank.
But none popped any direct questions to him and Johannes chose not to respond, or comment.
No reason for the resignation forthcoming from the ex-MD or the Board, 1st National Bank staff reportedly started getting restless about some of the online comments and trends of news coverage, some of which seemed to suggest that the ex-MD had been sent-packing by the Board, which hired him in the first place.
One day after the rumors started circulating, local online media house, Loop News (Saint Lucia), reported on October 20 that it had been “reliably informed” of Johannes’ resignation.
According to Loop: “While details of the resignation are still coming in, sources indicate that the resignation came as a result of multiple disagreements between Johannes and the bank’s Board of Directors.”
Loop also indicated had been appointed on June 1, 2017.
According to the report: “Bringing a wealth of banking experience to the position, he (Johannes) was very vocal on issues affecting the sector and pledged to transform the bank into a world-class institution.”
One week later, the media has still been unable to get even a hint of explanation from the 3ex-MD, the bank’s Board or Management.
Some commentators have expressed concern about the resignation’s possible effects on the bank’s acquisition of local assets of the former Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), as well as another in neighboring St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
But an insider tells Saint Lucia News Online (SLNO): “The deal is a done deal” and “it cannot be reversed or negatively affected by the MD’s resignation.”
According to the usually-reliable source, “This is a corporate matter affecting the bank’s management and not its agreements that have already been signed and sealed.”
1st National Bank of St. Lucia’s normally-elusive President of the Board of Directors Nigel Fulgence remains his usual self and has made no public statement on the matter.
But with the ex-MD’s supporters evading the expected questions and tending to point accusing fingers at or demand explanations from “The Board”, the ex-MD and/or the Board will most likely be forced to say something, sooner or later, to sooth the headaches caused by their and the ex-MD’s loud silence on the resignation matter.
Meanwhile, while the ex-MD and the Board contemplate on who’ll talk first, shareholders are preparing to meet soon — and for the first time since the resignation.
The 82-year-old bank has invited shareholders to its 82nd Annual Meeting of Shareholders, scheduled for November 4, 2021 at the Financial Administrative Center at Pointe Seraphine in Castries.