By Susan Halas
If your picture of a banker is a semi-uptight conservative guy who earns a big paycheck, think again.
Or rather, meet Karen Frampton, Bank of Hawaii’s secret weapon in mid-market Maui. Her current job title is Assistant Vice President and Commercial Banking Officer for BOH’s Maui office.
Frampton is well-spoken and good with numbers. That MBA in Finance from the University of Michigan (Class ‘92) doesn’t hurt one bit.
In grad school she played keyboard in a garage band named The Attitudes. “I was on my own path.” She was one of a handful of women in her U of M class of about 200.
Frampton grew up in a Detroit suburb and took her undergraduate degree in New Hampshire. She spent a year or two after graduation as a service rep in a Boston commercial real estate firm where, she says, “I wanted to be the one making the loans.” She also realized, “I’d never get anywhere unless I could read the statements. I wanted to read and understand the statements.”
In grad school she took it all; finance, accounting, venture capital, commercial real estate and how to look at the financials from many points of view. As most of her classmates headed East, Frampton lined “some appointments in Hawaii” and was on the plane to Honolulu within days of graduation. “I knew I didn’t want to be in New York or the Mid-West.”
She didn’t have to wait long. She was hired within the month by the Bank of Hawaii on Oahu.
Two Years of OJT Training
The bank put her through a two year two year training program that rotated her through a variety of offices and locations both at headquarters and at the branches. Some of her assignments included West Oahu, commercial real estate and exposure to BOH’s interests at the corporate, regional and local level.
She moved to Maui in 1994 and has had multiple assignments here.
“I was 8 months pregnant and about to give birth when they sent her to head the Pukalani branch.” She’s also worked at the Kihei branch under Greg Knue and in Wailuku when Mike Lyons headed the region.
In fact one thing that stands out about Frampton is all the places she’s been and the diversity of her exposure to real life money in Hawaii.
Her current “mid-market commercial” post seems like a sweet spot. She has “about 30 or 40 bank assigned accounts.” These are all clients with gross sales of $2-$10 million a year range.
Her favorite part of the job is “making deals.” She comes from the “management by walking around” school. That’s a style that relies on first hand contact and observation. “Keeping in touch, staying on top of things,” is the way she puts it. “It’s also a good way to spot and anticipate new business.”
But even that is changing: “What I’m finding today is a lot of people use text or want email. I prefer to really know someone.” To her that means a telephone call or an in-person visit.
More Paperwork Than Ever
Her least favorite parts of the job are the ever greater load of paper work and administrative duties.
In 2000 while her children were growing up she went into other ventures, first as a comptroller for a West Maui commercial developer and then serving her own accounting and bookkeeping clients.
Today, 20 years later, she’s back at the bank.
Senior VP “Galen Nakamura called me and I started in August,” she said. “I’m back. I like it.” As for public perception that bankers are the bad guys? “I haven’t felt any anti-bank sentiment.”
Hers is not the biggest portfolio on the earth, but for Maui it’s significant and she likes to make sure her clients are well served. Some of the things she’s financed recently are energy systems including photovoltatic, equipment acquisitions especially for new technology and owner occupied commercial buildings. “Mid-market makes loans for tangible, physical things.”
It’s also her responsibility to see that those loans perform and to keep up with compliance requirements. “The hardest thing a banker ever has to do is to turn down a loan request. It’s a thing that people never forget. You have to offer other options.”
In Hawaii, the last four years have been some of the toughest in memory. A lot of the people she sees are in “the survival mode, they’re holding on.”
It’s Not All Tourism
Even though Maui’s economy is not on the roll it was in the 1990s, there still is a lot of diversity here: it’s much broader mix than might be expected. “It’s not all tourism. People here don’t all do one thing.”
Karen Frampton can talk “bank-speak” if necessary, but most of the time she talks in practical, down-to-earth way. She talks about the importance of the relationship, one size does not fit all. She mentions how important it is to know and understand what the business owners want.
Her advice to others – especially young women who may be considering a career in finance- is: “Get that accounting degree.” She sees accounting as a field with “universal credibility. Knowing accounting means you’ll always have plenty of options.”
She likes her work and clearly she likes Maui too.
She met husband Bill Frampton, a land planner, on Maui paddling canoe in 1995 and married him in two years later. Love at first sight? “Just about,” she replied.
The couple lives in Kula. They have two sons, “10 and 13 in April.” In the past she was active in school activities and her children’s sports teams. She’s a member of the Maui Academy of Performing Arts board and for fun, likes to dance at Iao Theater.
As for her take on banking: “Bank of Hawaii is very progressive; it’s a good place to be.”