First Hawaiian has taken the first step toward regaining its independence.
After 15 years as a wholly owned subsidiary of BNP Paribas, First Hawaiian went public Thursday after raising a little more than $485 million in its initial public offering. First Hawaiian Inc., the new holding company of First Hawaiian Bank, sold 21.1 million shares at $23 a share — the high end of its $21 to $23 price range. Its shares are trading on the Nasdaq.
There hasn't been a bank IPO in the United States this size since Citizens Financial Group in Providence, R.I., was spun off from Royal Bank of Scotland in September 2014. First Hawaiian won't see any proceeds from the public offering, however, as the sale merely constituted its French parent company selling roughly 15% of its ownership stake.
The change of ownership won't yield any major changes to the Honolulu bank's operations, according to its chief executive, Robert Harrison. Calling BNP Paribas a "great partner," he said the $96 billion-asset bank never interfered with his plans.
Of the 1.4 million people in Hawaii, about a third are First Hawaiian depositors. "With the market share that we're fortunate to have, you really have to take care of your customers," Harrison said. "People are looking for that conservative culture."
Aaron Deer, an analyst at Sandler O'Neill, echoed Harrison's portrayal of the bank going on with business as usual. "I don't expect that it's going to have any kind of dramatic impact on the environment" in Hawaii, he said of the IPO. "They've been a big, healthy competitor on the island for 150 years."
First Hawaiian, Hawaii's oldest bank, was founded in Honolulu as Bishop & Co. in 1858, more than 100 years before Hawaii became a state. In addition to Hawaii, its markets today include Guam and Saipan, the largest of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth since 1978. All three have dependable economies driven by tourism and a strong U.S. military presence.
First Hawaiian has no plans to expand further. Asked whether he had identified any other markets that shared these characteristics, Harrison said he had not. "We're always going to stay with areas we know," he added.
First Hawaiian's stock opened on Thursday at $24.20 and was trading at $24.71 on Friday afternoon, giving the bank a market cap of $3.45 billion.
BNP Paribas remains the controlling stockholder for the time being, with about 85% of the bank's outstanding common stock. It plans to sell off its remaining ownership over time, just as RBS did with Citizens. The French bank's decision to cut First Hawaiian loose was driven by the need for more capital to meet regulatory requirements.
One benefit First Hawaiian will receive once completely free of BNP Paribas is that, as a $19 billion-asset bank, it will no longer be subject to Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review requirements.
In its prospectus the bank cautioned, however, that BNP Paribas's ownership may need to fall to as low as 4.9% of First Hawaiian's voting shares before that happens. It may even need to fall to zero. When asked about it, Harrison gave the verbal equivalent of a shrug. It's up the regulators, he said.
But Harrison admitted he would be glad to put CCAR in the rearview mirror. "It's not for the faint of heart. It's a lot of work," he said. "We won't be heartbroken if we don't have to do it."