Los Angeles Bank Finds Gold in Immigrant Trade

Article excerpt

Li-pei Wu has built Los Angeles-based General Bank by catering to a niche community he knows well.

Under the leadership of Mr. Wu, himself a Taiwanese immigrant, General attracts the deposits of Asian immigrants. In his 15 years as chairman of General, he has grown the bank to $1.5 billion of assets, from $120 million.

"They have had huge success getting deposits from the Taiwanese community," said Charlotte A. Chamberlain, an analyst with Jefferies & Co., Los Angeles. "And on the lending side, they specialize in trade financing and high-tech lending to the entire Asian-American community."

General now has 15 branches spread over Los Angeles, San Diego, and Silicon Valley, and plans to open loan production offices in Seattle and New York. Mr. Wu said he was also interested in acquiring other banks to help achieve his goal of doubling the bank's size during the next five years.

Mr. Wu identified three keys his bank has used to grab the business of first-generation immigrants. Most important, he said, is to show them you are willing to help.

"Immigrants have some concerns about how to adapt to a new country," he said. "We try to help them. We can't provide legal services, but we can provide advice."

One of the most important things a bank can do is hire employees who speak foreign languages. "We need to make them feel comfortable in their new country," he said, "and make them feel comfortable at our bank."

After the customer has settled in, most need credit cards, financing and other banking products. Mr. Wu said General Bank gets a leg up on the competition by knowing the customer ahead of time. …