First Hawaiian marks 50 years with Mastercard
Fifty years ago First Hawaiian Bank was looking to break into the fledgling credit card market.
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Fifty years ago First Hawaiian Bank was looking
to break into the fledgling credit card market.
Advertising and public relations director Walter Dods, who later would become CEO of the bank, was tasked with marketing what was then called Master Charge.
“The challenge for us starting it was a chicken-and-egg situation,” Dods recalled Wednesday on the eve of the annual Top 250 Luncheon, which honors the top business revenue producers in the state. “To sell the Master Charge card, we had to have merchants accept it, and the merchants were telling us one by one, Why should we accept your card when there are no Master Charge customers? We said we’ll build up the customer base but can’t build it up if you, the merchant, won’t accept it.”
One man “turned the corner” for the bank, Dods said. Glenn Kaya, then the president and CEO of discount department store GEM and a close friend of then First Hawaiian CEO John Bellinger, agreed for a two- or three-year period to accept only Master Charge rather than BankAmericard (now called Visa), which was offered by rival Bank of Hawaii.
Today, First Hawaiian has the distinction of having the longest continuous relationship of any bank in the world with the company now known as Mastercard. First Hawaiian, which processes about $5 billion in sales a year, is also the largest and only issuer of credit cards in the state.
“I view relationships like yours as being part of the family, which means we’re going to do things together, we’re going to drive each other crazy sometimes, but we’re all going in the same direction,” said Mastercard President and CEO Ajay Banga, who flew in for the day Thursday to mark the golden-anniversary partnership with a keynote speech in Waikiki at the First Hawaiian-sponsored Top 250 Luncheon at the Royal Hawaiian resort.
Bob Harrison, now the chairman, president and CEO of First Hawaiian, said the partnership has allowed the state’s largest bank to keep up with the times.
“We would not be the company we are today without the leverage we gained through partnerships like Mastercard,” he said in an interview after the luncheon. “And them, in particular, have a focus in helping their partners with advisory and technology and new trends. As a relatively small community bank in Hawaii we just can’t keep up with all those trends, and by leveraging with them it makes us much more competitive locally.”
The Indian-born Banga, who has been CEO since 2010, talked about how he has focused on reaching out to communities and social initiatives with an approach he calls the “decency quotient” — a movement that aligns itself with the culture advocated by First Hawaiian.
“You’ve got to make me feel like your hand is on my back and not in my face,” he said.
He also touched upon how important it is to have diversity in the global workplace to have different perspectives and skills.
Banga said afterward that just how it’s important for
a business to have different revenue streams, it’s likewise important for Hawaii
to diversify its economy to another leg of the stool.
“You’ve got low unemployment, and you’ve got tourism as a big driver of the economy, as is the … military bases,” he said. “You’re pretty stable. … If you can get another leg, that would be great. Now, what would that be, logically? It probably has to be something to do with technology because manufacturing is not something you’re going to do to the island and destroy what you have as the attraction. So I think that (technology), combined with a lot of focus on sustainability, because this is paradise.”