East West Bancorp plans to begin promoting in July its ability to let customers do online banking transactions in Chinese.
The San Marino, Calif., banking company - 90% of whose customers are Chinese or Chinese-American - initially will target California's two million Chinese-American residents. It is making partnerships with Chinese-oriented Internet sites and preparing advertisements for the Internet, radio, television, and local newspapers.
The $2.3 billion-asset community banking company has 100,000 retail customers who are "very loyal and extremely niche-focused," making it an "attractive partner" for many Internet businesses, said Dominic Ng, chairman, president, and chief executive officer.
East West expects to promote the Chinese language service jointly with a major telecommunications company, Mr. Ng said. With such a partner, the bank would most likely offer free DSL Internet access to customers who sign up for Internet banking in English or Chinese, he said.
The banking company also wants to continue building its overseas customer base. Of its $1.8 billion of deposits, $300 million belongs to people who live either in Taiwan, Hong Kong, or China.
"Generally they are relatives and friends of our local customers who visit the United States and want some money deposited here," Mr. Ng said. "We feel more customers from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China will want bank accounts in the United States and will want to bank with East West," he added.
East West refined its Axis Internet banking software from Digital Insight Corp. to incorporate the Chinese language capability. It had installed the online banking software in English in March but did so with little fanfare because it was waiting to add Chinese.
After a bank employee translated the entire site into Chinese, Digital Insight incorporated the changes into its program. Digital Insight also is working with California Commerce Bank - a $1.8 billion-asset Century City institution - to introduce a Spanish version of Axis in July.
East West's service lets customers transact business from beginning to end in Chinese. "There are a lot of Web sites in the Chinese language, but when a customer wishes to perform a back-end process, the site reverts into English," Mr. Ng said. "As far as I am aware, there is no bank in the United States capable of doing the entire process in the Chinese language."
For the past few years, East West's 29 automated teller machines have been trilingual - English, Spanish, and Chinese. "Now online banking is somewhat similar," Mr. Ng said.