By Glenn Wakai
Eating an egg was a treat for Roland Casamina, as a child in Ilocos Sur. He and his three siblings had to share the morsel. They all fought for the yolk.
Casamina was raised on a farm with no running water, nor electricity. He is now the CEO of House of Finance, the 10th largest residential mortgage lender in Hawaii, according to the Pacific Business News. Last year his company issued $143 million in loans, to 273 customers. Casamina has become the Manny Pacquiao of Hawaii’s mortgage lending arena. The family operation outperforms much larger banks and numerous credit unions.
Sniffing out opportunities and calculating risk runs in his genes. His grandfather was a sakada who worked in Hawaii’s plantations in the 1920s. He returned to the Philippines and told stories of paradise in the middle of the Pacific.
Casamina’s father came to Hawaii in 1966 as a butcher. Two years later Roland arrived by boat at the age of 14. His most vivid memory of that transpacific journey was having cereal and milk for the first time. The boy with a newfound appreciation for breakfast, attended Kalakaua Middle School and Farrington High School, before graduating from the University of Hawaii with a degree in accounting.
In 1977, International Savings & Loan was looking for a Filipino speaking banker.
Casamina was sent to be the branch manager in Waimalu. While many of his competitors sat at their desk, waiting for customers to show, Casamina hit the pavement and began cultivating relationships with realtors. In 1985 he was promoted to Vice President and was the bank’s top producer.
Casamina saw the writing was on the balance sheet. By the mid-90s, International Savings became the target of an acquisition by City Bank, which was later purchased by Central Pacific Bank. Casamina seized the moment to venture out on his own: “Sure being a top executive of a bank was comfortable, but limited. It was a leap of faith, but it was calculated. I wanted to control the process and it paid off.”
In 1995, Casamina opened the House of Finance, in a tiny 700 square foot office near the Kalihi Fire station. In 2013, he purchased property on the ewa end of Kalihi and financed a much larger home for the House of Finance.
The company does very little advertising and has grown due to referrals. Casamina says the children of those whom he assisted 25 years ago are now his new customers. He owes much of his success to his loyal and astute staff of 13 who can file loans, quickly secure an appraisal, and get into escrow in a matter of days. What is often a months long process at many banks is only a two-week process at the House of Finance.
Two of his employees are his children. His daughter Clarice, Senior Loan Officer, says despite COVID’s devastating effects on the economy, banks and lenders are in a unique position to grow. Matthew Casamina, Chief Operating Officer, upgraded the company’s computer system, just in time for the era of social distancing. All of that combined with historically low interest rates, have allowed House of Finance to churn out more loans.
“We feel like we’re in triage right now. The inflow of applications is overwhelming,” says Clarice, “You want to help everyone. At the same time, you can’t burn out your staff. You’re trying to help as many families as possible.”
Once loans are secured, they are sold to mainland banks. Roland says his portfolio is about 60% home purchases and 40% refinancing. By the end of July, House of Finance had eclipsed what they had done in all of last year. The company is on pace to loan out more than $200 million this year.
With three Casaminas in charge, the office feels like an extension of home. Grandchildren often sleep on the floor, but at 5:00 p.m. everything changes. Roland says, “Rule number one. You leave work, you don’t talk about work.”
After hours, Matthew leaves his big desk to take on his role as dad for his young children. He replicates the blueprint to success his father created, “I’m just living this life that he’s put in front of us. Mom and Dad drilled home the importance of a work ethic–what you put in is what you will get out. Don’t take anything for granted.”
There are no more egg battles. Roland Casamina continues to position House of Finance and his eggs, sunny side up.
GLENN WAKAI is a Senator and former veteran TV reporter.