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‘Thank you BSP and people of PNG, it’s not good-bye, it’s lukim yu gen (see you again)’

Thursday, December 10, 2020

"Remember its customer day today! Don't forget to smile under your mask even when you're on the phone." BSP Staff at the Waigani Head Office hear these lines every Wednesdays during morning briefings or 'scrum'.

'Boss, friend, mentor, father-figure, compassionate' are just some traits of the 42-years banking veteran and now retired BSP Group Retail General Manager Paul Thornton.

From the days of posting customer's banking transactions on cardboard ledgers to passbooks and eventually the introduction of SaveCards, the beginning of the electronic banking era and most recently the Integrated Gateway Payment (IPG), he has seen it all in the 42 years he gave to the country's retail banking and microfinance sector.

"I've been blessed, working with so many Papua New Guineans throughout the last 42 years. Back then, each customer would have a cardboard ledger, and we had to post their transactions onto that ledger. Sometimes took us 3 months to balance the passbook savings ledger - sometimes very tedious," Paul recalled.

Paul called-it-a-day, on 1st December, 2020 and while he has gone through many memorable and colourful events in his line of work, one stood out.  "I can still vividly recall seeing an elderly PNG woman use her SaveCard for the first time at an ATM. The encouragement she received from other customers in the queue to help her complete the transaction and the smile on her face when the ATM dispensed her card and cash was priceless."

He has seen the most critical change in terms of access to one's account. The most critical change has been people having access to their bank account 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from virtually anywhere in PNG or the world.

It was only three years after PNG's Independence, when this Sydney boy moved to PNG, as 21 year old in 1978. He went straight to the Mt Hagen Branch of the then Papua New Guinea Banking Corporation or PNGBC.  Paul was amazed at the beauty of the country given more than 50% of the people walking around Mt Hagen town back then were still dressed in traditional gear - tanget etc.

"When I first started, customers could only access their account at their own branch from 9am to 2pm Monday to Thursday and 9am to 5pm on a Friday. If you did not get to the bank during those hours, "nogat moni" (no money), Paul said.

His first job was OIC of the Coin Distribution Centre at Mt Hagen's PNG Banking Corporation (PNGBC Branch).

"What I did each day was to "mute" K2 notes. During my time at Mt Hagen, I filled various roles including Staff Training Coordinator, Loans Officer and Passbook Advisor. I came to Port Moresby branch in 1981 and was the Passbook Advisor and then Lending officer. I eventually filled the role of Manager Branch Operations and Systems and then Executive Manager Strategic Development," Thornton recaps.

A major change in the banking landscape that Paul was a key part of was the transition into electronic banking with the SaveCard. "Because PNGBC had a long history with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), we asked if we could visit CBA to learn about the key issues and required structures to support electronic banking. Myself and a few Papua New Guinean colleagues spent two weeks with CBA but the assistance they gave us probably saved us 12 months-worth of research and development if we had done it ourselves."

In 1997, Thornton started the first licenced microfinance bank in PNG - Village Finance Limited. He moved on to oversee the creation of the OTDF Microfinance for the Ok Tedi Development Foundation and in 2004, led the establishment of the PNG Microfinance for PNG Sustainable Development Program.

"I came to BSP in 2010 where we set up BSP Rural. I was later appointed Deputy General Manager Retail, then General Manager Network and finally, Group General Manager Retail," he said.

"All of the great events in my life have happened in PNG, the most important when I met Theresa," Mr Thornton highlighted of his wife from the Autonomous Region of Bougainville. "A number of us had come down from Mt Hagen to attend a wedding at the United Church at Boroko Drive. Theresa was in the crowd and I saw her and I said 'that's the one," Paul told BSP staff during his farewell at the Waigani Head Office, Port Moresby.

"I'd like to say thank you to BSP and to Papua New Guinea for being so kind and generous to Theresa and I. I'm not going to say farewell or goodbye, it's lukim yu gen (see you again)," Paul concluded.

Among those he worked alongside in BSP was Kili Tambua, who is now GM of BSP Offshore Branches who parted with these words,. "Thank you Champ! You are leaving behind one of the most difficult Strategic Business Units (Retail) in the hands of local talents (from GGM level down), people that you have groomed. You have certainly developed a new path for us and of course with lot of support from Robin (Robin Fleming BSP GCEO) & Hari (Hari Rabura, Group HR) especially. Your story will live on!"

Paul with Waigani Banking Centre team.