An Asian-American bank in Los Angeles is focusing on another ethnic group: Latinos.
General Bank, with $1.6 billion of assets, has hired a consultant to develop a strategy to reach out to Hispanics, the largest ethnic group in Los Angeles County.
Though details are still sketchy, the bank's holding company, GBC Bancorp, is considering building branches or buying divested sites in neighborhoods with large Latino populations. It also may buy a check cashing or money transmitting business, said Li-Pei Wu, chief executive officer of the bank and the parent company.
A plan will probably be presented to the bank's directors within 60 days, Mr. Wu said. If they approve it, the bank will hire Latino bankers to interact with the community, he said.
"The Hispanic community is a large yet underserviced market here," Mr. Wu said. Bank officials have held meetings with Hispanic leaders the past six months, he added. "Our idea has been very well received."
General Bank, founded in 1979, has focused onfirst-generation Taiwanese and Chinese immigrant business owners by offering trade finance and real estate and construction lending. It will try to crack the Hispanic market by first cultivating consumers, Mr. Wu said.
California banks have had little success courting Latinos, industry observers said. Despite attempts to attract their deposits, many Latinos still lack bank accounts, and some are said to distrust banks.
"It's a tough market, with different underwriting standards," said Babette Heimburch, president and CEO of Firstfed Financial Corp. in Santa Monica, a $4.1 billion-asset banking company that offers home equity loans to Latinos. "It takes more than just speaking the language."
Hispanics make up about 41% of Los Angeles' population. For that reason alone, said Steve Didion, an analyst at Hoefer & Arnett in San Francisco, General Bank's plan has merit.
California's ethnic market is underserved in general, Mr. Didion said, but "especially Hispanics."