UCBH Holdings Inc., a San Francisco banking company that has focused on commercial lending, is laying the groundwork to expand the consumer loans on its balance sheet in preparation for an eventual economic recovery.
Just 5% of its $8.86 billion portfolio is in consumer loans, including residential mortgages, said Douglas Mitchell, UCBH's senior vice president of corporate development.
In an interview last week, Mr. Mitchell said the company plans to add home equity loans, personal lines of credit, and other types of consumer loans. It is also considering the addition of remittance and tax management services.
UCBH, a $13 billion-asset banking company that caters to Chinese-Americans, is not trying to reinvent itself, Mr. Mitchell said. The eventual goal, he said, is for consumer loans to make up 10% of a bigger total loan portfolio.
But Mr. Mitchell said he believes the company has an edge over banks overexposed to deteriorating consumer loans.
"We're in a good position to be able to take more market share by rolling out an effort like this now, when the competition is somewhat at its weakest," he said.
The company has expanded from 27 branches in January 2001 to 71 today in Chinese-American communities in California, as well as Georgia, New York, Massachusetts, Texas, and Washington. (The bank also has three branches in China.)
"This is a way to expand our market share in each of the communities that we now serve," he said.
To spearhead the effort, UCBH named Doreen Woo Ho last week to fill the newly created post of president of community banking. Ms. Ho had headed Wells Fargo & Co.'s consumer credit group.
Aaron J. Deer, an analyst at Sandler O'Neill & Partners LP, said that bank management teams should be thinking ahead to ways to boost revenues.
"Right now, all of the banks are very focused on credit quality, capital levels, etc., but they also need to be thinking beyond the next 12 months," he said. "This credit cycle will eventually turn, and when it does, it will be the banks that took smart strategic actions during the downturn that will be best positioned to grow and take market share."
Joseph Gladue, an analyst at B. Riley & Co. LLC, said that UCBH needs to diversify, given that more than 60% of its loan portfolio is in commercial real estate, construction, and apartment loans.
In the past year, UCBH has had to absorb substantially higher credit costs as residential construction loans soured. This credit deterioration could spill over into the overall commercial real estate sector this year, Mr. Gladue said.
However, consumer loans are also under pressure. The American Bankers Association says the ratio of commercial bank home equity loans 30 or more days past due at Sept. 30 was 2.63% of total loans, up from 2.39% a year earlier. At Sept. 30, 2006, the average was 1.92%.
But Mr. Deer said he is not overly concerned about further deterioration in UCBH's credit quality if it makes more consumer loans.
"At this point in the cycle, everybody's pretty cautious in what they are doing, so I wouldn't anticipate UCBH stretching to grow that part of this business by doing this imprudently," he said.
American Banker was unable to reach Ms. Ho for comment last week. However, Mr. Mitchell said she would also be in charge of attracting both retail and business deposits. The "vast majority" of UCBH's depositors are retail customers who take out certificates of deposit, and only about 4% of its $8.53 billion in deposits are noninterest-bearing. Mr. Mitchell said the company would like to attract more core noninterest-bearing deposits from both retail customers and small businesses, by emphasizing its cash management services.
Ms. Ho is also in charge of cross-selling existing retail services, such as private banking. She spent 25 years at Citibank before joining Wells in 1998 to head consumer credit. From 1998 to 2007 she oversaw rapid growth in consumer lending, particularly home equity loans.
More recently, she headed Wells' enterprise marketing group, where she oversaw global branding, advertising, and marketing programs.