If you thought running a business on a remote Pacific island is a challenge, try running a business in the rural outskirts of that island. How Pacific island small business gets a boost from a local bank.

Almost all of New Caledonia’s companies are located in Nouméa, the capital, which is on the main island, Grande Terre. Nouméa grew around nickel mining, and it was the most suitable location to build a port, linking New Caledonia with its closest neighbours Vanuatu and Australia. The capital now has around two thirds of all the 280 000 or so inhabitants of this island state in the south-western Pacific Ocean.

>@Rainer Lesniewski/Shutterstock
©Rainer Lesniewski/Shutterstock

But outside of Nouméa, opportunities for businesses to develop can be hard to come by.

“You just don’t get the same potential for growth in the North Province or the Loyalty Islands,” explains Jean Bourrelly, managing director of Banque Calédonienne d’Investissement says. “Companies with 30 employees or 50 employees and who target the whole island with what they are doing—that’s justnot realistic” outside the area immediately surrounding the capital.

Yet this rural area is home to plenty of small enterprises who can provide local services and expand their client base, but do not have the means to invest in their business. Banque Calédonienne  aims to change this.. “Nouméa businesses can look to become national. Northern ones and especially ones in the Loyalty Islands cannot. So if you imagine a skilled glazier based in Nouméa, they can get work across the whole territory. A guy in the north is not going to get that chance in the capital, and this is what we see for a lot of skilled artisans and craftspeople,” Bourrelly says.

This is arguably the difference between Banque Calédonienne and other banks present in New Caledonia: that they recognise those skilled artisans and craftspeople. Banque Calédonienne is striving to be a financial partner for everyone across the territory, and it is willing to take risks on newer businesses and underserved sectors. It starts with providing small loans so that small businesses can increase their offer to a local client base, but it goes beyond that.

“Our focus is to develop this territory as well as we can, to help as many people as we can. That is our DNA,” says Bourrelly.

The European Investment Bank has already provided two loans to Banque Calédonienne in the past few years. While the first one helped to finance a variety of initiatives, including a small-scale solar power plant and a market garden, where produce is grown and sold on-site, the second loan focuses on small businesses.

Sectors to watch

As well as planning to support companies that provide essential local services and give a genuine alternative to larger players from Nouméa, Banque Calédonienne is also eager to branch out into new and underserved sectors of the economy.

Tourism is one such area. The archipelago has been a tourist destination for decades, yet hasn’t  exploited its full potential. There are a few medium-sized and larger hotel complexes, but options are limited. “There’s real potential there,” says Bourrelly. “I am speaking about individuals creating opportunities for themselves, but also for New Caledonia in general.”

Plenty of people have had the idea of setting up guesthouses and gîtes, but they have found it impossible to finance the necessary works. With this credit line, more people will be able to do that, either as a main source of income or a side project. Bourrelly says that Banque Calédonienne could engage with a significant number of businesswomen this way. “For our small loans portfolio, the ratio of loans to men and women is about 50:50,” he explains. “It is often women who come up with the idea of running a guesthouse. They are in charge of the home and see a way to improve lives for themselves and their families.”

When Bourrelly talks about the islands not exploiting their full potential for tourism, he is not only thinking about accommodation. “I might be biased, but this place is beautiful. The Loyalty Islands especially. The lagoon is one of the most striking in the world. We can do more to get people to come here.”

Now local residents with an idea can ask Banque Calédonienne. For example, the single-person fishing businesses that it has supported could invest in more boats and take advantage of those in different ways, Bourrelly says.

“We have plenty of natural resources. The lagoon could be exploited for tourism. The sea around us is rich and diverse. The blue economy is something we have to look at in terms of sustainable fishing and aquaculture.”