Two Houston bankers are separately striking out on their own to serve the city's Asian neighborhoods.

E. Charles Jones, a former senior vice president of Capital Bank in nearby Jacinto City, is setting up Southwestern National Bank just blocks away from MetroBank and Texas First National - Houston banks that have been serving the city's Asian immigrants for years.

And Wen-Leng Henry Wu, former chairman of the board at Texas First National, has applied to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to establish American First National Bank near his old bank.

The two bankers are targeting what some say is a population that has historically been underserved by Houston banks. But one consultant asked whether all the players could survive.

"The two or three banks that are there have done a good job, but there's not room for another two or three," said Bill Strunk, a consultant at Houston's Strunk & Associates.

About 4.1% of Houston's 1.7 million people are of Asian descent, according to 1990 U.S. Census data. In addition, the bankers who attract Asian immigrant customers say it's an expensive market to serve because customers speak many languages and often require risky small-business loans.

Southwestern National got charter approval from the OCC in March and is expected to open this year, according to the Comptroller's Office. The bank has the financial backing of several local Asian businessmen.

If American First National Bank gets regulatory approval, it would be headed by former Texas First National chief executive Samuel A. Bayliss, according to sources close to the bank. Mr. Wu drew away several other Texas First National directors after a proxy fight this year. Neither Mr. Jones nor Mr. Wu were available to comment.

Despite Southwestern National and American First National's interest in Houston's Asian immigrant market, the area's established banks say they're not worried about increased competition.

"Join the party; that's what I tell them," said Don J. Wang, chairman of $485 million-asset MetroBank. "I know these guys, and I know the games they play. I would be more worried about a big bank moving in from California."

David Wang, acting chief executive at $320 million-asset Texas First National, agreed. "We still have room for everybody," he said. "This neighborhood is really booming. We have new immigrants coming in every year."

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