When Carl Leu decided to start a Chinese-oriented bank, he didn't look to the Chinatowns of San Francisco or New York.

Instead, the Taiwanese emigrant set down roots in Miami, a metropolis not known for an Asian population.

"I saw that in all the big cities, they have Chinese banks," said Leu, founder and chairman of Great Eastern Bank of Florida. "So why should Florida not have one? Miami is a big city, too. We felt we could do something here."

The vast majority of Asianowned banks are either in New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco, and only a smattering exist in other cities.

But Mr. Leu is betting that the Miami area has enough Asians living there, or at least doing business there, for the bank to succeed. For good measure, however, he's hired a few Spanishspeaking employees.

The $8 million-asset bank opened its doors nine months ago with about. $6 million in start-up capital, primarily from Chinese investors in Miami.

Mr. Leu received a state charter in 1991 and subsequently built the bank's headquarters for $1.5 million. The new bank was constructed with a subtle Asian design suggestive of a Chinese temple with Chinese art in the interior.

This is the first such bank in Florida. The only othex bank that caters to Asians in the region is Summit National Bank in Atlanta, which just opened an Asian branch last month.

"It surprised a lot of people to see that (Great Eastern open)," said Ken Thomas, a bank consultant in Miami. "There usually has to be some critical mass to start that kind of a bank. I didn't even know we had that ethnic group here."

Accordingto the 1990 census of Dade County, there are in fact only 8,847 Chinese in Miami, representing just 0.5% of the total population.

Estimates by bank officials, however, range closer to 5% to 10% of the population. Mr. Leu believes there are up to 30,000 Chinese in the area.

In any case, most of the bank's customers are Chinese, about half of whom are using the bank for import-export sexvices. The bank helps to facilitate trade with Latin Americaand Asia, particularly with Taiwan and China, and provides wire transfers for those sending money back to relatives in Asia.

It also appeals to Chinese customera by having a nine-employee staff fluent in English, Spanish, and five Chinese dialects

The nine-employee staff consists of five Chinese, three Hispanics, and one Caucasian. All speak English.

"[The staff is] an excellent marketing tool," said Edward I. McCarey Jr., the bank's president and Chief executive officer, as well as its lone native Englishspeaker. They (Chinese) are a very close-knit people, and this just makes it more comfortable for them."

Mr. McCarey, who worked as a consultant for the bank before becoming president in August, believes the bank has found a niche in being sensitive to the cultural differences between Asians and native Americans. Many Chinese, for example, in applying for loans are reluctant to disclose their financial condition to strangers.

"If you go to China and you see a Citibank and a local Chinese bank, you go to Citibank," said Mr. Leu, who established an auto parts trading firm in Panama before moving to Miami in 1988.

"They speak your language and make you feel comfortable. We don't want to separate the community and culture, but just to provide a service. There is a need for this special bank."

As of June 30, Great Eastern had roughly $5 million of deposits. It lost $182,000 in its first six months, but its losses are decreasing by the month, Mr. McCarey said.

The bank, a closely held institution with about 100 Chinese shareholders, did not release numbers for the third quarteL While Great Eastern obviously caters to a specialty market,

Mr. McCarey envisions 50% annual growth for the bank in the next several years. He'd like to see it open at least two other branches in the next two years, perhaps m neighboring Broward and Palm Beach counties, and grow to about $50 million of assets by the year 2000.

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