With music, food and well wishes, FirstBank’s St. John branch Wednesday celebrated its move from Cruz Bay to the Marketplace shopping center. First Bank began operations at the new location on Monday.
“Our intent is to provide the best experience in the St. John market,” Victor J. Santiago, senior vice president business director for the Eastern Caribbean Region, said.
FirstBank took over Chase Bank operations at the Cruz Bay location in 2002. Chase had occupied the spot since 1962. The space was small, on two floors and suffered from a serious parking shortage.
The new space, located where Scotia Bank had its now-closed St. John branch, is fresh, spacious, on one floor, and comes with the shopping center’s adequate parking.
“This is 100 percent better,” said Daryl Brow, the bank’s vice president for the U.S. Virgin Islands branches.
It also provides one-stop convenience for residents who want to grocery shop at Starfish market, head upstairs to Chelsea Drugs and run other errands at the shopping center.
With the relocation came expanded hours. Brow said that while the St. John branch used to close at 3 p.m., it is now open until 4 p.m. The lobby doors open at 8:30 a.m.
According to Brow, the branch offers the same services as any stateside bank, including person-to-person transfers. He said this was particularly useful for parents whose children are away at school, since they can make deposits into their bank accounts.
Santiago said that particularly on St. John, many of the bank’s customers are retirees who moved to the island from the mainland. He said they mainly are customers who use “deposit products” and get mortgages.
He said the branch’s growth plan called for increasing the number of depositors and the loan portfolio.
Banking has changed a lot over the years, and the number of people lining up on payday to cash checks is dwindling. Santiago said Social Security payments are deposited directly into the recipient’s account, and the businesses are now asking their employees to open bank accounts so they can do direct deposit.
The St. John branch is one of a dozen FirstBank branches in the Virgin Islands. The others are on St. Thomas, St. Croix and Tortola. FirstBank also operates in Puerto Rico and Florida.
The St. John branch employs eight people, including branch manager Carmen Forbes.
According to the FirstBank website, the bank began operations in Puerto Rico in 1948 as First Federal Savings and Loans Association. Founder Enrique Campos del Toro started with a $200,000 capital investment.
First Federal opened its St. Thomas branch in 1962, becoming the first Puerto Rico bank to open in the Virgin Islands.
The name changed in 1983 to First Federal Savings Bank.
The bank began trading on the stockmarket in 1987.
The switch to commercial banking came in 1994 and with it the name change to FirstBank Puerto Rico.
In 2002 FirstBank acquired all Chase Bank operations in the U.S. Virgin Islands. In 2008, FirstBank acquired V.I. Community Bank.
More information about FirstBank is online at www.firstbankvi.com.