It is not often that we highlight in this column institutions which have played a remarkable role in the development of this country. We are talking here of Institutions, which from inception, were managed and guided by homegrown Saint Lucians endowed with more than 20/20 vision. Institutions, which have not only stayed the course of Saint Lucia’s historical journey, but which themselves have succeeded, generation after generation, in uplifting the lives of Saint Lucians with the dedicated services they offer.
While we could name a few of those institutions, like the National Workers Union, J.Q. Charles group of companies, Carasco & Son Ltd, M & C group of companies and others, some of which are no longer with us, like the St. Lucia Banana Growers Association, our focus today is on 1st National Bank, better known by the older folks as the ‘Penny Bank’.
A proper understanding of how the bank came into existence and the role it played from the moment it opened its doors in January 1938 in steadying Saint Lucia’s banking and financial platform back then, to being a major financial player in the country that it is today, giving hope to Saint Lucians when other financial institutions denied them that hope, cannot be captured with the few words of this column.
There are times when the less that is said is more impactful than the more that is said. And saying a simple “Thank You” to 1st National Bank for having Saint Lucia’s back, through thick and thin over the years we believe captures the essence of Saint Lucians’ gratitude that a lengthy expression of their thoughts on paper may not capture.
Knowing how Saint Lucia was in 1938 and juxtaposing that with the determination, foresightedness and bravery of seven young men willing to put what they possess on the line in establishing the bank, knowing full well that they could lose it all, is an act worthy of admiration and praise. An act that should foster within Saint Lucians a desire to be not just followers but trail blazers. An act that should frequently be brought up in schools as we prepare our children to become the leaders of tomorrow.
How bold and courageous was the move to establish the Penny Bank and how bold and courageous its role in steadying Saint Lucia’s economy when Saint Lucia and Saint Lucians found themselves needing such a facility was in 1948 when Castries ‘died’ from a fiery blaze that gutted most of the town.
Historians noted that the Bank, known back then as the Saint Lucia Co-operative Bank, after the fire was called upon to translate workers pennies into mortgage finance needed for the rebuilding of Castries, a pattern that was repeated time and again, generation after generation, by the Bank as it rose to meet every challenge Saint Lucia faced, from crop failure and economic downturn to hurricane devastation.
Those seven men, now deceased, should be hailed as heroes of the community. Allen Lewis, John Pilgrim, J.B.D Osborne, Joseph Deveaux, Clive Beaubrun, J.Q. Charles and George Palmer had a dream to transform low-income Saint Lucian families and ultimately the country, not only economically but mentally as well, by helping them to dream big, take risks and stride out in confidence.
Those brave men started a business with a share capital of $50,000 back in 1937 –1938, encouraging thrift and taking the giant step to offer shares in that business to ordinary, average, even less than average Saint Lucians, back then selling shares for one dollar, thereby giving Saint Lucians from all walks of life an opportunity to own part of a financial institution.
What a treat that was back in those days.
Generations later the treat has not stopped. Today more Saint Lucians have a say in the Bank than ever before. The original dream of the founders continues to live on as today the bank is purely Saint Lucian, through and through. Simply put, Saint Lucians, and Saint Lucians only, call the shots, presenting excellent service and customer care equal to any offered by similar banking establishments the world over.
We salute 1st National Bank for maintaining, over the years, its grounding in Saint Lucia. We also salute those seven heroic men for the futuristic vision they had. Dead they may be but forgotten, never. And how proud would they be today to see how the ‘Penny Bank’ has changed with the times, becoming not only an essential pillar of the banking sector of their beloved Saint Lucia, but now having the wherewithal (foresight) to acquire the Saint Lucia operations of an international bank – the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC).
Penny Bank, St. Lucia Co-operative Bank Limited, 1st National Bank St. Lucia Limited – the names evoke the development of a small financial institution started by the magnificent seven into an entity that is integral to the economic and social fabric of our country. We wish the Bank the very best for the future.