That’s what the French owner of Hawaii’s biggest bank could be saying to First Hawaiian Bank next year in a deal that likely would lead to more local ownership of the 157-year-old kamaaina financial institution.
First Hawaiian announced Wednesday that its parent company, French banking giant BNP Paribas, may offer stock in First Hawaiian to the public in what could amount to a more than $3 billion sale of the bank with 57 branches in Hawaii.
Such a sale, if executed, would make First Hawaiian a publicly traded company again, but isn’t expected to have much impact on operations because the bank’s local management team and board have long run First Hawaiian independently of BNP.
“I wouldn’t expect any changes,” said Richard Dole, principal of Honolulu-based investment banking firm Dole Capital LLC. “It’s a well-run bank.”
Selling First Hawaiian would end a 17-year link with BNP, which acquired 45 percent ownership of First Hawaiian in 1998 as part of a merger with a California bank and then bought the balance in 2001.
BNP issued a press release indicating that it is contemplating the sale as a way to generate more capital and satisfy a rising regulatory requirement to have a higher ratio of capital to assets.
The French bank suggested that the “strategic alternatives” being considered for First Hawaiian could elevate its capital by around $4 billion.
Representatives of the bank could not be reached for comment Wednesday. First Hawaiian said it could not comment beyond its written statement because of rules restricting communications under U.S. federal securities law governing stock sales.
First Hawaiian had $18.9 billion in assets at the end of September. By comparison, Bank of Hawaii had $15.2 billion in assets at the same time. The value of Bank of Hawaii stock, which is publicly traded, is about $2.7 billion.
Some observers of the local banking industry expect that selling First Hawaiian stock would attract local investors and represent a return to the bank’s past when individuals and companies owned stakes in the institution.
The company’s 24-seat board is stacked with active and retired local business leaders. Among them are retired Kamehameha Schools CEO Dee Jay Mailer, retired A&B CEO W. Allen Doane, Matson Inc. CEO Matthew Cox, Foodland Super Market Ltd. CEO Jenai Wall, attorney Bert Kobayashi Jr. and retired U.S. Army Gen. Eric Shinseki, a Kauai native. Two retired First Hawaiian CEOs, Walter Dods Jr. and Don Horner, also are on the board as is a former First Hawaiian president, John Hoag.
First Hawaiian is led by Robert Harrison as chairman and CEO. He succeeded Horner in 2012.
As a stand-alone public company, First Hawaiian would be required to reveal more financial details than it currently does. As a subsidiary of BNP, First Hawaiian is not required to report its earnings separate from its parent. The bank does report quarterly earnings on a voluntary basis, but those reports do not include as much detail as public companies are required to release.
Publicly traded companies must report, among other things, the annual compensation of top executives, what they pay board members, and details of their income and expenses. Harrison has declined to disclose his compensation when asked by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
First Hawaiian was established in 1858 by Charles Reed Bishop and William A. Aldrich as Bishop & Co., which became Hawaii’s first bank and remains the second-oldest bank west of the Rocky Mountains.
The First Hawaiian name was adopted in 1969 after several earlier changes, and in 1996 the bank acquired 35 branches in Oregon, Washington and Idaho from two mainland banks in its first branch expansion on the mainland. Two years later, First Hawaiian merged with California’s fifth-largest bank, Bank of the West.
The merger made BNP, then known as Banque Nationale de Paris, the biggest single shareholder in the surviving company worth roughly $1 billion. BNP, which owned BankWest, ended up with a 45 percent stake in First Hawaiian Inc., which was renamed BancWest Corp.
Before the merger, the biggest shareholders of First Hawaiian were local companies with major Hawaii land holdings, the Damon Estate and Alexander & Baldwin Inc. Those two companies and other First Hawaiian shareholders received 55 percent of BancWest and shares of the company began trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
In 2001, BNP bought the 55 percent of BancWest shares it didn’t own for $35 a share in a deal valued at $2.5 billion. The buyout removed BancWest stock from public trading and made First Hawaiian and Bank of the West wholly owned subsidiaries of the French bank holding company.
Still, First Hawaiian remained headquartered in Honolulu with local management and board oversight.
If First Hawaiian is spun off into a public company, BNP would still own Bank of the West, which has $74 billion in assets.