A large Korean bank is tapping into the Asian business community in California by buying an Irvine-based community bank.

Marine National Bank, with $105 million of assets, announced this week that it has agreed to be bought by Shinhan Bank in a cash deal valued at $13.3 million, or 1.5 times book value.

"Today, in this market, that's a good price," said Mark E. Simmons, president and chief executive of Marine National. "And all of our employees stay in place, which is unusual in this merger market."

Marine National, founded in 1981, is selling now because the future of community banking will require higher capital levels and greater product diversity, Mr. Simmons said. Both of these areas will be enhanced by the acquisition, he said.

For its part, Shinhan Bank, the seventh largest in Korea with $40 billion of assets, hopes to serve the growing Korean business community in California. There are about 600,000 Koreans in the state, and the number is growing.

To serve this burgeoning market, the bank will form an international department with about six employees. The new service will focus on international trade finance activity, consisting mainly of issuing letters of credit, advising, and negotiating, he said.

"We're seeing more and more Asian banks coming here," said Barry M. Rubens, president of California Research Corp. in Santa Monica. "There's been a tremendous amount of activity in this area over the past year."

Mr. Rubens said he was surprised that Shinhan targeted the Irvine bank, because that area is not the heart of the Korean community, which is in and around Los Angeles. Shinhan will probably branch into the Los Angeles market, he said.

Shinhan Bank will also pump new capital into the bank, about quadrupling Marine National's current amount to between $25 million and $30 million, officials said. The deal is expected to close in the first half of next year.

Like most California banks, Marine National has been recovering from the real estate crash of a few years ago. It made $327,000 in the first six months of 1995, compared with a loss of $267,000 in the year-earlier period. Returns on assets and equity were 0.51% and 7% in the second quarter, which are low but respectable compared with the performance in recent years.

In addition to its offices throughout Asia, Shinhan has a New York operation with $1.2 billion of assets.

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