Texas Bank Grows Fast with a Pan-Asian Strategy

Article excerpt

For a small, niche bank, United Central Bank in Garland, Tex., has big plans.

The unit of Central Bancorp Inc. targets Asian-Americans, and in the last two years it has sprinkled loan production offices around Asian-American communities in eight states. Now, several of the business loan offices have matured, and the bank is converting some of them into full-service branches and looking to bulk up in Atlanta by acquiring a bank there.

United has more than doubled its asset size in the last three years, to $750 million, and president and chief executive officer Keith Ward said its goal is to have $1 billion of assets by the end of next year.

Mr. Ward said he believes the bank can reach this goal because its strategy is different from those of most other Asian-focused banks. Rather than catering to specific ethnic communities, such as Chinese or Korean immigrants, United Central targets business owners in a wide range of Asian communities. In all, its staff communicates with customers in 24 languages, including Urdu, Vietnamese, Korean, Hindi, and Chinese.

"There are some areas where banks are not catering to all the different segments of the population that we cater to because so many [Asian-American] banks are specific to one culture," he said.

Among community banks, United Central ranks as one of the nation's largest originators of Small Business Administration loans. It chooses its target markets by looking for areas where the Asian population is growing and its model could be implemented. The bank does not look for growth in one particular ethnic group; instead, it picks an area and then builds its business around the experienced bankers it hires.

For example, one experienced lender the bank hired in the Los Angeles area is familiar with the city's Persian community, which wasn't targeted when United decided to go to the area. But now the bank is also seeking business in this community.

"We've noticed a large Persian population that we think we can penetrate," Mr. Ward said. "It is based on the person who becomes in charge and their experience."

In Rockville, Md., the company saw a growing Chinese population and hired a Chinese-speaking banker to manage its new branch.

Mr. Ward said that 95% of the bank's customers can speak English so that language is not necessarily a barrier but that speaking customers' native language does make them feel more comfortable. …