01/27/2014 12:25 pm ET Updated Mar 29, 2014

A "Generative" Model of Banking in Hawaii

Denise Takashima runs up and down 22 flights of stairs at the Territorial Savings Bank headquarters building on Bishop Street in downtown Honolulu three times a day, thrice a week. That commitment to staying healthy is probably as good a metaphor as any for how this Hawaii-chartered bank does business.

It provides a stark contrast to the still unfolding story of how mega-banking entities like JP Morgan and their celebrity leaders have behaved: with scant empathy for how their actions at the top would impact the ordinary customer with modest assets or a small business. Like the corporations and smaller community banks extolled in Marjorie Kelly's book, Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution, Territorial Savings Bank's ethos seems to be akin to what she describes as a much needed "generative" economic model.

"The generative economy is one whose fundamental architecture tends to create beneficial rather than harmful outcomes. It has a built-in tendency to be socially fair and ecologically sustainable," says Kelly.

Over lunch recently, Takashima who is Senior Vice President, Business Development and Marketing, told one story after another about how the bank operates within the community. "We recognize that an important part of protecting our customers' financial health is saying 'NO' when we have to," says Takashima. Gesturing with one hand held high, she added: "That's why we can count the number of foreclosures amongst our customers on the fingers of just one hand."

Takashima recounted how a colleague passed up the opportunity to make his monthly numbers -- and himself -- look very good when he dissuaded a long-time customer from refinancing her home to underwrite her new husband's business ventures. "This was an older woman who could have lost everything. My colleague did not like what he learned about the new husband and felt it was not in his customer's best interests to put her main asset at risk. Six months later the marriage was over, and she came by to thank him for his prudence and for saving her from financial ruin. He put her interests before his. That's the kind of people I work with at the bank and why I am so proud of how we serve the community," she said.

Old World Intimacy, New Age Technology... and a Human Being on the Phone

In this age of subprime mortgages and unsavory business practices by some very big banks with billions invested in building their brand through advertising, Territorial Savings Bank has an old world intimacy to how it works with its customers. Perhaps that is one reason why they are seeing children of their older clientele continue to bank with them. "We know our customers," said Takashima.

"I see it when I visit the neighbor islands and I hear a Branch Manager tell me that he approved a loan to someone without a lot of assets but whose parents own a grocery store chain. These branch managers really see the bigger picture. They truly know the community and how people are connected. We have introduced apps to serve younger customers who want it but we continue to offer 'personal' banking. A real live person answers the phone. Isn't that refreshing in this day and age of computerized answering services prompting you to press 5 for this or 3 for that? Loans are not reviewed and approved by some anonymous person on the mainland. Decision-making takes place right here, close to the ground, and to the people who trust us to take care of them," she added.

Meanwhile Denise Takashima keeps taking care of herself by taking those stairs -- all 66 flights, thrice a week. "It's a great stress-buster," she says with a laugh.