Marianas Variety

Last updateTue, 18 Jun 2019 12am







    Monday, June 17, 2019-9:06:58P.M.






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THIS conversation supposedly happened recently:

 “I’m withdrawing from a Bank of Guam ATM, angry at high fees. ‘No wonder Lou Leon Guerrero is so rich.’ In the middle of my sentence, Bank of Guam president and candidate for governor, Lou Leon Guerrero, walks in.

“ ‘There she is,’ I say with a sour look on my face.

“ ‘What? It’s not working?’ she asks.

“ ‘No, it’s the high ATM fees, that’s why you got so much money.’

“Going into full political mode, she says, ‘It’s the people’s money.’”

“True story!”

It probably is. Which makes it a truly sad story. A bank president has “so much money” because of “high ATM fees”? And her reply — “it’s the people’s money” — was clearly met with derision.

Now I don’t have any candidate in the Guam gubernatorial election, and I’m not familiar with the finer points of Guahan politics that are usually not reported in the media. But I’ve read the autobiography of Leon Guerrero’s father, Jesus Sablan Leon Guerrero, who founded BoG.

According to Tun Jesus, his father started a total of seven small businesses — all of which failed. But “he managed to keep us afloat,” Tun Jesus recalled, “although at times, things were pretty bad. One night I heard my mother crying, wondering where our next meal was coming from.”

After World War II, Tun Jesus worked as a sanitation officer (he flushed chemicals into outdoor latrines), a vehicle dispatcher and a timekeeper for Guam’s Public Works. He couldn’t afford to go to a U.S. college so in 1950 he ended up working for the Navy Bank of Guam (which would eventually be purchased by Bank of America). Tun Jesus started at the bottom of the employee roster, but through diligence, hard work and willingness to learn new things, he climbed to the number three position within a year.

On Jan. 1, 1972 he founded the Bank of Guam with an initial capital of $50,000 (worth about $300,000 today) which he raised partly from the sale of one of his properties. Tun Jesus risked his life-savings and his professional reputation on a business idea he conceptualized and implemented. He said he expected to suffer a loss of about $20,000 (worth about $119,000 today) at the end of the year, but he never wavered and quickly broke even.

In 2016, his daughter, Lou Leon Guerrero, reported that the bank’s assets had reached $1.9 billion. Today, BoG, Guam’s first locally chartered full-service banking institution, is also one of the most successful local businesses in all of the Marianas.

Through all these years, how many local individuals have found employment at BoG? How many ordinary citizens, vendors, small businesses, government agencies and other organizations  have benefitted from the services offered by the bank? And then there’s the annual revenue generated for the government by all the commercial and business activities and tax payments made possible by the bank’s existence.

And what was life before an ATM? Do you still recall that in the past, we didn’t have 24/7 access to our bank deposits? Do we know the costs of installing and maintaining those machines, the required technology and security measures that have to be updated now and then? Are we aware that we can avoid paying any bank fee by simply not doing business with a bank?

That’s what I like the most about businesses. If I don’t like their services and/or their prices, then I don’t have to patronize them. And unlike government, which takes away our money because if we refuse we would be hauled away to prison, businesses give us something in return for our cash — if we choose to deal with them.

You say that in return for the taxes and fees we pay, government gives them back through programs and services. True, to quote P.J. O’Rourke, but “in a slightly altered form, the way a horse gives the hay we feed it back to us in a slightly altered form.”

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