BY J. ARTHUR RATH III – He’d had a great time during a side trip to Hilo in 1969 until the Southern Banker discovered he was without money to pay the food and bar bill. (Dollars may have slipped from his pocket during paying the cab fare to get here.) He asked to talk the manager—for maybe a loan.
He explained he’d come from the American Bankers Association Convention now going on in Honolulu.
“If you have your wallet I’ll accept your bank’s charge card,” she said. “My bank doesn’t have one,” he replied. A thought came into his head, “but I do have a Marine Midland bankcard.”
“Is your name on it? Does it have a black “i” symbol at the bottom?”
He shuffled through his wallet. “Here it is.” He pointed to his name embossed on it. “This is me.” Then he pulled out his South Carolina driver’s license. “This identifies me. Karl Hinke sent me this bank charge card personally. He’s an officer at this Marine Midland Bank.”
She nodded her head. “Yep it shows the same “Black “i” symbol” as appears on First Hawaiian bankcards. We’ll honor it and I’ll add some extra money for your cab fare to your hotel. Where are you staying?”
“At the Naniloa.”
“They’re First Hawaiian Bank merchants. They’ll accept your hotel charges on this Mainland USA card you have. They’ll give you a cash advance, as we will.”
The banker returned to the convention, and told everybody “that his Interbank card from a New York State bank was as good as gold in Hawaii!”
His story and enthusiasm made him a first-class recruiter. The Interbank Card Association grew exponentially from a handful of local banks, before the American Bankers Association 1969 convention in Hawaii, into a nationwide plan unified under the name of “Master Card.”
The Interbank group of founding banks was my client, I had a book “Charge Card Banking, Should a Bank Participate and How,” and was using it to interest banks into becoming part of an interchange system.
There’d been three preceding waves and fallout before I came aboard as The Rath Organization in 1967. The 1969 ABA annual convention at The Neal S. Blaisdell Center was the big chance to recruit banks by demonstrating the interchangeability of local bank cards—and even in far-away Hawaii, of all places!
First Hawaiian Bank who had a strong merchant base in Hawaii made this possible. I asked John D. Bellinger, a fellow local boy, if his bank might provide “kokua.” Would his bank encourage Hawaii merchants to accept other banks’ cards with the Interbank “i” symbol on it?
Karl Hinke, the Marine Midland banker, was the volunteer president of Interbank Card Association. I headed The Rath Organization, known for success in banking promotion and I became Hinke’s point man. We both were Hamilton College alumni and followed an old-fashion Code of Honor. I promised Hinke Hawaii merchants were being encouraged to accept out-of-state cards with an “i.”
Hinke performed magic: Every banker who registered for the American Bankers Association (ABA) convention received a letter from Karl with an invitation to use “this Marine Midland card embossed with your name, on which appears the Interbank “i” while in Hawaii.”
Hinke’s personalized letters explained that First Hawaiian Bank’s merchant customers would accept charges made by this card. They sure did! That’s because Mr. Bellinger foresaw the business bank charge cards from afar could bring in the door to Hawaii businesses. His associates spread the word: “Look for the ‘i’ and welcome it.”
This was Hawaii’s first national convention. Aloha in flower form flowed to ABA and major mainland bank executive offices. Touches of Hawaii were an exciting build-up.
First Hawaiian Bank helped me find a creative booth builder and silk screener who set up our very usual design. Vivacious staff from the local bank interacted with the bankers that poured it—Interbank became the place to go for information and “Kokua” (help)—our theme. (It probably explains why the Southern banker took a side trip to see what is interesting about Hilo.)
This is really a story of kokua between two part-Hawaiian local boys, one from Roosevelt High School, another from Kamehameha, that helped give the concept now known as “Master Card” big impetus in Hawaii. Here is where it caught the big wave. Bankers attending the 1969 ABA Convention began talking about “The Big Kahuna”—the amazing cashless society that worked in Hawaii. It has arrived today in ways beyond what pages in my book on “Charge Card Banking” only presaged.